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Manuel Pellegrini interview: Man Utd may crumble – or come at us with a knife between their teeth

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Manuel Pellegrini interview: Man Utd may crumble – or come at us with a knife between their teeth – Getty Images/Fran SantiagoWhat now for Manchester United? It is the question that has been swirling around football since Sunday but, away from the ghouls and the rubber-neckers, there is one man who has a vested interest in the answer.Manuel Pellegrini, now the Real Betis manager, knows United better than most, having spent three years in charge of Manchester City. “I’m sure they see me as the great enemy,” he laughs.Yet the 69-year-old concedes he is at a loss as to what will greet Betis as they become the first side to take on United after the trauma of that 7-0 Anfield defeat.“I don’t think United have ever been hit as hard as this. I don’t know how the team will react,” he tells Telegraph Sport. “Whether they’ll go down or come at us with a knife between their teeth.”Speaking in Spanish, Pellegrini paints a vivid picture of United’s response but it is true that the scale of Sunday’s defeat has – fairly or otherwise – suddenly thrown question marks over Erik ten Hag’s rebuild.Pellegrini, though, believes a side like Manchester United will never be down for long. He has been impressed by improvements made under Ten Hag, but adds: “An institution as big as Manchester United would always be resurrected. They have invested a lot of money to become competitive again against City, Liverpool or Chelsea.”Ah, money. Since Pellegrini brought up the issue of spending, this feels like an appropriate time to bring in his own experiences of how teams speculate to accumulate. Pellegrini’s return to Manchester comes just weeks after City were hit by a bombshell set of charges relating to financial fair play, covering the entirety of his time at City. The Chilean signed 23 players during his spell at the club, spending £100 million in his first transfer window alone.So was he aware of the rules – or that they were being broken? “I wasn’t involved in those matters,” he says. “I was in charge of the sporting side of things.”Manuel Pellegrini interview: Man Utd may crumble – or come at us with a knife between their teeth – Getty Images/Alex LiveseyEven still, Pellegrini – speaking for the first time about the charges – is ready to launch a robust defence of the club. Some critics have suggested that City’s six Premier League title wins are now tainted. What does he have to say to them?“If anyone thinks that, they are wrong,” he hits back. “It is not tainted. What happened on the pitch is indisputable. I will always feel like a Premier League champion. We won it fairly.”He is on a roll now. The most extreme punishment, however unlikely, could see City’s titles expunged and the side thrown out of the league. “Even though there might be some sanctions, a team that finished second could never feel like the champion after not winning on the pitch,” Pellegrini continues. “There may be administrative punishments, but no one will ever be able to take away that title or the emotions we experienced.”’Man City are getting closer and closer to what Man Utd has been’The point made by some observers, of course, is that City’s wins are a victory for extreme spending and not sporting meritocracy. Pellegrini emphatically disagrees. “There are many clubs that have spent fortunes,” he says. “Maybe not as much as City, but they have spent large sums of money to make the league grow.“I insist, more than the money, you have to look at the seriousness of the project, and in that respect City’s project is not too flawed. Their leaders have given serious answers as to what their plans are. The proof is that they have won many leagues in recent years, and that investment is rewarded. City was not a popular club, and since the arrival of Abu Dhabi it has become one of the world’s leading clubs. It’s getting closer and closer to what United has been for England.”The influence of Pellegrini, one of the more affable men to manage in the Premier League, on City’s rise to the top is often overlooked. Mark Hughes navigated the chaotic early years; Roberto Mancini won the unforgettable first title; and Pep Guardiola has handled the transformation of the club into a relentless winning machine.So what about Pellegrini’s legacy? “The club shared a way of seeing and understanding football like mine,” he says. “That’s why they contacted me directly and not someone else. We did that for three years and then everything else followed.”Every manager in football has a shelf life but, given City were openly trying to recruit Guardiola when they appointed Pellegrini in 2013, how does it feel to know your job is somebody else’s to take?“It never bothered me because both Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain were very honest with me from the first moment,” he says. “When Mancini left, there were only two options at City: Guardiola or Pellegrini.“For various reasons, Pep didn’t go and they chose me. I never felt questioned during those three years. The work improved season by season and when Guardiola wanted to come, I left with a lot of friendship and no hard feelings towards anyone.”

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