Despite loss, Malaga's Pellegrini stands strong

Posted by David Cartlidge

Even in this important moment for Malaga, some things in life just eclipse football matters. This weekend Manuel Pellegrini had to deal with a situation that made all of Malaga's struggles pale in comparison.

Before Saturday's loss to Real Sociedad, Pellegrini found out his father, Emilio, had died. The Chilean's reaction were to not tell his squad or anyone else at the club, until after the game was over. His players were stunned to learn of the passing, but not in any way shocked how their coach handled it.

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"We would like to win this one for him. First, our coach did not tell us about his father passing away - that shows his greatness,” Martin Demichelis said in the press conference ahead of Malaga's match Tuesday at Dortmund, the second leg of their Champions League quarterfinal tie.

Pellegrini’s character has always been admired, respected and spoken well of - this was another clear example those sentiments hold weight.

The coach immediately flew to Chile from Madrid after the game - which Malaga lost, 4-2 - and communicated with the club he would be back for this, the biggest game in club history.

Saturday's game featured just three of the side that started the first leg against Dortmund in the form of Vitorino Antunes, Weligton and Manuel Iturra. It was their fifth defeat in their nine games after a game in the Champions League this season, winning just twice in that period. The period since New Year's Day hasn’t been exactly been ideal either, with just six wins in 19 outings.

The seventh, Malaga hope, will arrive on Tuesday evening in Germany.

Every game in the Champions League has been the biggest, of course, in the club's debut season in the competition. They constantly have operated within small margins against much superior opponents.

This one though, so perfectly balanced at this crucial stage, has genuine prestige. Suggesting Borussia Dortmund were favourites, Jesus Gamez quipped that everyone said the same about Zenit St. Petersburg and Milan before Malaga swept them aside in a whirlwind opening to the group stages.

Gamez and his teammates have learned to be quietly confident, and trust each other's abilities. The end product for the most part has brought about success, and when there isn't one much is justifiably attributed to the limitations they have. Eliseu returned this week after injury absence and could play a part on Tuesday - that would certainly give the team some much-needed slack to work with.

It was no surprise they shut out Dortmund, who before the game had scored in all their Champions League games this season. It was Malaga's seventh Champions League clean sheet after beginning that campaign with five in a row (qualifying included). Malaga have conceded just six goals in total in the competition, the joint-lowest total of the teams still alive along with Juventus.

The Italian side, of course, are champions in their country, steamrolling Serie A last season (and nine points ahead now), while Malaga battled for a fourth-place finish. The more perspective you spin on it, the greater Malaga's achievements really are.

They are all crafted by Pellegrini, the man they nicknamed "The Engineer". This week, it was confirmed there would be a street named after him in Malaga. Who else could have done this job so impressively under such constraints? Pellegrini has, frankly, been streets, ahead, as always. An engineer certainly, but an innovator and motivator, too.

All his qualities have come to the fore, and they have touched everyone within and outside the club this season. His demeanour this weekend was just another measured reaction to adversity this season - he behaved as he did when he had players sold from under him and insisted the club would move on and worked without quarrel.

There was no baiting of the board, strategically attacking people in the press or disrespecting his employers, despite how it seemed they were doing so to Pellegrini.

In such an emotional week for the Chilean, maybe he’ll get a reward of that sort, too. Beating the Germans in their Westfalenstadion fortress would mean matching his achievement of taking Villarreal to the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2004-05.

The Yellow Submarine were also in their debut UCL season, and also written off. He did indeed use ingenuity and knowledge to solve problems, seek out solutions, the very definition of an engineer.

Maybe that was an even greater challenge with that he achieved with the team from Castellon, but in this new world of financial superpowers and greater desire for success the efforts with Malaga deserves credit in its own right.

“We’ll give him (Pellegrini) the huge game he deserves,” Demichelis said. No one doubted the Argentine’s words, the centre-part of this family atmosphere at the club.

Pellegrini has brought this family together; from the spare parts in charge of the club, to the fans who have offered unrelenting support, and finally to the players who in Germany go to the death with him against the Yellow Wall.

A street named after him today - maybe the city next if Malaga triumph in Germany. Pellegrini wouldn't want that, of course. "The Engineer" would rather just keep his head down and work.

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