The Teacher and The Engineer

Posted by Simon Curtis

The journey from Dartford to Santiago is a long and undulating one, taking in a variety of interesting stops along the way, and (in football terms, at least) serves to link Manchester City's greatest-ever manager with Senor Manuel Luis Pellegrini Ripamonti, the man who may someday surpass him.

On Saturday, at halftime during an FA Cup match running inexorably away from Pellegrini's side, as they were outfought and outthought by a second-tier Watford side playing a brand of adventurous counterattacking football that was reaping huge dividends, Pellegrini enacted a Malcolm Allison-esque counterrevolution. Needing three goals to quell the unrest and prevent the domestic press from frothing over in hyperbolic Schadenfreude, the wily Chilean manager replaced two defenders with two more defenders, released a plodding central defender in the midst of a disastrous day's work to play a passing midfield role, and in the glint of a South American eye, turned the match around. It was magical, enthralling stuff from The Engineer. Watford, dignified and energetic, were ultimately floored by the tinkering of a craftsman, whose talent deserves to be recognised for what it is: the work of a master.

- Mooney: City recover from early sting
- Pellegrini: I wanted a new team

Allison's years as Manchester City manager are well-trodden territory. Like Pellegrini, Allison was a burly central defender and a constant and central figure in what was being built at West Ham United in the 1950s. Similarly, in 450 games played for Club Universidad de Chile, Pellegrini wrought a reputation for tactical mastery and organisational skills beyond the norm.

John Cartwright, a West Ham youth player in the '50s who later became a decorated England under-21 boss in the '80s, described Allison's influence as generating "a form of communism at the club -- the players really ruled it. In short, the dictatorship of the football proletariat."

Tuberculosis put a premature end to Allison's playing career, but by the time he arrived at Manchester City in 1965, he was becoming Big Mal, the larger-than-life womaniser and champagne imbiber. A giant Havana cigar was never far from his lips, an expensively cut sheepskin coat slung around his bear-like shoulders, but beneath that brash exterior lay an articulate and innovative football brain. From tactics to match preparation, from diet to the weight and design of the first-team kit, nothing escaped his attention.

Pellegrini cuts an altogether more sober figure than the effervescent Allison, but underneath the veneer of easy booze and structurally intriguing women was a man tied up in the mechanics of the football pitch, in finding the answers to the game's tactical conundrums. A blood brother, in other words, of Pellegrini The Engineer.

Under Allison, City would undergo a complete revolution, from dropout second-tier no-hopers, playing to crowds as low as 8,000, to European trophy winners and League champions within three short years. Allison, under the watchful gaze of general manager Joe Mercer, engineered the brightest attacking machine English football had seen since the Tottenham double-winning side of 1961.

Much like Pellegrini's current City side, unable to stop scoring goals in this 2013-14 season, Allison took his influence from a pure source (the great Hungarian side of the mid-'50s of Ferenc Puskas and Nandor Hidgekuti) and gave his side wings. Where now the skills and touches of David Silva, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero dismantle barriers as quickly as they are erected, so Neil Young, Colin Bell, Mike Summerbee and Francis Lee did an identical job 40 years ago.

Allison insisted to the enthralled TV cameras that "it's a simple game and we try to keep it simple," and his homely sound bites resemble those of his modern-day successor in an uncanny way. "Our football flowed a little like my hair," Pellegrini has been quoted as saying in recent weeks. Both men strip away the mystique and deal with the practical reality of having to win.

Today's landslide of attacking football, using the width of the pitch and the clever quick thinking of Pellegrini's mini-marvels, has its forebears in Allison's late '60s City side. The attacking verve of both sides has been constructed on the simple principles of their master trainers.

Both were keen to see City score more goals than the opposition. Both were relatively relaxed about the weight such a philosophy might burden the defensive axis with. Both thought it strange how rivals tried to complicate what is an utterly simple game. Both produced City sides that were effective but beautiful to watch.

In Pellegrini, the erudite football engineer, the man of simple ideas and brave principles, Manchester City may just have found, after so many long years searching, the true successor to Big Mal.

The Teacher may hand down the reins to The Engineer.


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