Honest, stylish and well-educated, to the point of boasting a degree in Civil Engineering, Manuel Pellegrini certainly cuts an intriguing figure in the often ruthless world of professional football. “That´s just the way I was brought up and the way I am,” said the experienced Chilean supremo, currently at the helm of La Liga big-spenders Malaga.
Now in his eighth year in Spanish football, having enjoyed an impressive five-season spell at Villarreal and a solitary campaign at Real Madrid, Pellegrini joined the Malaga revolution in November 2010 following the dismissal of Jesualdo Ferreira. And though his mission during his first term was to keep the Andalusian club in the top flight, expectations are significantly higher following this summer´s spending spree on a host of established names.
In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, the respected strategist discussed a range of issues including his club´s ambitious project, Barcelona and Real Madrid´s La Liga dominance and his dream of one day coaching the Chilean national team.
FIFA.com: What do you enjoy most about working in football?
Manuel Pellegrini: That feeling of tension you get on a Sunday. As a coach I´ve always enjoyed Sunday matches. It´s the adrenaline rush you get, the tightrope you walk every week between winning and losing. I think that´s the best thing (about working in football), at least for someone like me who´s very competitive.
And the worst thing?
There are several things but, for me personally, the worst feeling is the one you get when we wake up on a Monday after a defeat. That feeling of loss, of being responsible... Whenever you get a rush of adrenaline that´s inevitably followed by a low which, when you throw in a defeat and everything that entails, I think it´s the worst feeling in the game.
How do you manage to keep it together in the face of such extreme highs and lows?
You have to have a sense of balance and a firm conviction in your own ability. You also need to be selective about what you take on board. For example I read a lot of information in the press but I don´t read many people´s opinions – only those which I know I simply have to read. You have to be able to filter out the criticism you get after every match.
You usually cut a very calm and thoughtful figure, but is there anything that makes you lose your cool?
A lack of respect and a lack of commitment. Those are two things that I can´t abide in football or anywhere else.
What´s your verdict so far on your third club post in Spanish football?
I´m grateful for the maturity I´ve gained as a coach and the fact I´ve managed to establish myself here, as there aren´t many South American coaches that are successful in Spain. Of course, my time at Villarreal felt different because it was my first job in this country. The level of responsibility here with Malaga is different, because I´ve now got eight years in Spanish football behind me and I´ve made a name and a reputation for myself. Our aim is to qualify for European competition, and I feel there´s a lot of responsibility on my shoulders to achieve that.
Europe is the aim for Malaga but, despite the big-name summer signings, is it a realistic objective given last season´s relegation battle?
The only realistic objective is to always try and win your next game. You have to be careful when it comes to setting goals. I always want to take my teams to the top, but if you´re over-optimistic you can leave yourself open to a lot of frustration. You have to put yourself to the test every Sunday, with everyone pulling in the same direction.
How do you handle the extra pressure generated by bringing in so many new players?
I thrive on challenges and I´m pleased there´s so much expectation surrounding us. I think that we´ve gone about our business pretty well, but for this project to come together on the pitch in every game we´re going to need time. Also, Malaga´s signings have caught the eye much more than those of teams like Atletico Madrid, Valencia, Sevilla and Villarreal simply because they´ve got potentially much stronger squads than we have and so haven't needed to sign as many players. That said, I think we´re going to try and match those teams, who are already strong and accustomed to playing in Europe and challenging for trophies.
In spite of the efforts made by the chasing pack, do you agree that the La Liga title remains a two-horse race between Barcelona and Real Madrid?
There´s no room for speculation in football. There´s no doubt those two teams have moved very far ahead of everyone else, because the championship race used to be more open. That said, all the other teams still dream about closing the gap again. Here in Malaga we´re starting a new project this year and it´d be great if we could be successful from the off. But the aim of this project is to improve year on year and close the gap as much as possible within a reasonable time frame.
Turning to your homeland, how do you rate Chile´s chances of qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™?
Provided Chile are able to secure their place (in Brazil), I´m confident they´ll have a good tournament because we´ve got a generation of youngsters playing their football abroad for big clubs. Some of these lads are truly outstanding, so there´s quality to spare. The national team has made great progress in recent years under Marcelo Bielsa and it´s now [Claudio] Borghi´s job to strengthen the squad and build on that progress.
One of those foreign-based players is Alexis Sanchez. What´s your view on his move to Barça?
He´s a very good signing for Barcelona. He´s a young player who´s come on leaps and bounds and has three years experience in Italy under his belt. He´ll be a great addition to Barça´s squad, while the move will also benefit the Chilean national side. He´ll be able to pass on the experience he gains when playing for such a big club.
In the absence of Brazil, how do you see South American Zone qualifying panning out?
The way the qualifying competition pans out will have more to do with whether the teams involved can keep improving their standard of play, regardless of Brazil´s involvement or not. That said, the fact that Brazil´s place is guaranteed gives the other nations a better chance, but if they can´t step up to the challenge that won´t make much difference. What´s really needed is an improvement in the quality of the domestic game (in South America).
When it comes to the job of Chile coach, your name is often mentioned. Is it a role you´d ever be tempted to take on?
Yes, of course. It´s the kind of role that as a coach you´d like to take on at some point. I´m at Malaga at the moment, I´m happy here and I´ve got a four-year contract. It´s very likely this´ll be my last job in European football and let´s see if when it comes to an end the timings coincide with an opening with the Chilean national team.