Manuel Pellegrini's overachievement in the Champions League has made him the right man for Manchester City, says Iain Strachan
By IAIN STRACHAN
Roberto Mancini has paid the price for Manchester City's failures in the Champions League, as the competition's miracle worker - Manuel Pellegrini - prepares to succeed him.
Following the dismissal of Mark Hughes in 2009, Mancini was hired as a safe pair of hands, with experience of winning league titles during his time in charge of Inter Milan.
The Italian delivered on that count, bagging the English Premier League crown in 2012, having already ended the club's long trophy drought when he collected the FA Cup a year earlier.
But Inter made little impact on Europe during Mancini's tenure at San Siro, and he fared even worse at the Eithad Stadium, overseeing successive group-stage exits from the Champions League.
City's owners - with ambitions of developing a global fan base and significantly bolstering the club's prestige and commercial revenue - understand that success is measured not just in league titles but, more importantly, continental exploits.
The owner, Sheikh Mansour, and his chairman, Khaldoon Al Mubarak, want City to make a habit of reaching the latter stages of the Champions League, and, before too long, see the club's name engraved on the 'cup with the big ears'.
There was little sign of that project being on track under Mancini, and, although the team's surprise FA Cup final defeat to Wigan on Saturday signalled the end of his reign, a victory in the comparatively minor competition would have been unlikely to save him.
With Pep Guardiola already snapped up by Bayern Munich, the ex-Barcelona duo now running the show at City - chief executive Ferran Soriano and director of football Txiki Begiristain - reportedly moved for the next best option, Pellegrini, having sounded him out as early as February.
The 59-year-old Chilean has a distinguished recent managerial history, guiding tiny Villarreal to the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2006, and taking Malaga to the last eight this season.
He spent one campaign in charge of Real Madrid in 2009-10, finishing second behind Guardiola's Barca, before being pushed out in favour of Jose Mourinho.
His brief stay at the Santiago Bernabeu should not be considered a failure - Real racked up 96 points that season, their highest in Liga history at the time.
Even at their best domestically, City struggled to impress in Europe and failed to get past the group stage.
Regardless, it is Pellegrini's glittering portfolio of European overachievement - feats bordering on alchemy given the budgetary constraints he was forced to work under - which look to have earned him the top job at the Etihad Stadium.
Bankrolled by wealthy Qatari owners ahead of 2011-12, qualifying for the Champions League at Malaga was not Pellegrini's toughest task.
It was this season, after those same owners had withdrawn their financial backing and a fire sale ensued, that Pellegrini truly worked his magic.
Out went key men Santiago Cazorla and Salomon Rondon, with Nacho Monreal following in January.
But a shrewd combination of loan signings and free transfers saw the likes of Roque Santa Cruz and Javier Saviola arrive at La Rosaleda, joined by Diego Lugano and Lucas Piazon mid-season.
With veteran Joaquin and emerging star Isco playing key roles, Pellegrini took Malaga to within touching distance of the Champions League semi-finals, only to lose dramatically to Borussia Dortmund in injury time.
Given what Pellegrini has proved capable of producing on a shoestring budget, just imagine how much the Chilean can achieve with the backing of one of the world's wealthiest clubs.
Also counting in his favour is Pellegrini's reputation as a diplomat. Liked and respected by his players, there will be no repeats of the infamous feud which saw City lose the services of Carlos Tevez for half a season after the star striker fell out spectacularly with the equally fiery Mancini.
Pellegrini is a polished media performer, able to act as a figurehead of the club and maintain a positive relationship with the press.
By contrast, the combustible Mancini often shirked his responsibilities following a defeat, dispatching assistant manager David Platt to make the excuses.
It was the combination of European underachievement on the field and personality clashes off it which cost Mancini his job.
If, as is widely expected, Pellegrini fills the vacancy, City will have opted for the polar opposite of their former manager - a shrewd, smooth operator and a Champions League mastermind.
Provided they do not repeat the unjust axing Pellegrini suffered at Real, he is highly unlikely to disappoint.