Manchester City have worked their way through a fair few managers during their long and often tumultuous history but many who have succeeded in the hottest of hot seats fall into a similar category.
Among the many studious types to reign at City was Manuel Pellegrini, the taciturn Chilean who one could hardly imagine getting animated at his own wedding. Pep Guardiola’s predecessor sometimes transmitted a cool confidence and on other occasions a grim detachment, depending whether his glassy stare was accompanying a 6-0 win or a 3-0 defeat.
Part of the criticism leveled at Pellegrini was that he lacked a rapport with the crowd, a mirror image of the problem that befell Mel Machin in the late 1980s. Having hauled a youthful but talented City side out of the second division, Machin oversaw a thrilling and totally unexpected 5-1 win over Manchester United.
Such was his character, however, that you would have been hard-pressed to see which manager had won and which had lost in the post-match interviews. When you take into account the fact that the opposition manager on that occasion was Alex Ferguson, one of the game’s sourest losers, Machin’s straight face took some beating.
Then-City chairman Peter Swales even used Machin’s quiet character as the rod to beat him with. On sacking him a few short months after the United thrashing, Swales claimed his manager “lacked repartee with the home crowd,” a wonderfully ham-fisted misuse of the English language.
There have been other quiet men who have experienced good fortune at the helm of the good ship Manchester City: Tony Book, the club’s right-back and captain during the first glory years of 1967-70, when the club won all the domestic trophies on offer as well as the European Cup Winners’ Cup, was also successful as City’s manager in the late ’70s.
Book, an apparently shy man of few words, took City to a League Cup triumph in 1976 and runners-up spot in the league behind Liverpool a year later. Swales also shipped him out before the manager had proper time to prove himself. His successor, Malcolm Allison, had also been in charge during the aforementioned glory period (1967-70).
Allison — a larger-than-life character given to drinking champagne, smoking Havana cigars and wearing outrageous hats — had linked up with another quiet genius in Joe Mercer. The pair worked perfectly together, with Mercer’s quiet homilies proving useful alongside the younger man’s excited hyperbole.
In recent years, City have been attracted to the two opposite types: The screaming, tactically bereft Stuart Pearce (2005-07); the icy Swede Sven Goran Eriksson (2007-08); Mark Hughes (2008-09), the quietly spoken Welshman in charge when the Sheikh Mansour windfall arrived; and the gesticulating genius Roberto Mancini (2009-13), drafted in when the job proved too high-profile for Hughes.
Manchester City’s extravagantly unstable character down the years might well suit the animated types like Kevin Keegan, Pearce, Allison and Mancini. However, the studious types have often faired better.
The man entrusted with the latest chapter in this long-running soap opera is often seen as a unique genius, not one easily pigeon-holed with anyone else. Indeed Guardiola’s background, influences and style of play tend to mark him out as a trailblazer rather than the second coming of anyone else.
His insistence on tactical rigour, flexibility and pushing the boundaries does, however, draw a clear parallel with Allison, a coach revered as ahead of his time for trying to instil the skills and ideas of the famous Hungarian national side of the mid-1950s into a humdrum domestic football scene.
Allison was not averse to using dance coaches for players’ balance and introducing diet regimes, which would not catch on in the mainstream for another 30 years. Like Guardiola, he was undeniably stubborn and refused to consider the possibility that his methods might have been even the slightest bit off-target.
Like Mancini, Allison enjoyed baiting his main rivals, on more than one occasion waiting for the ground to be full before walking out at Old Trafford and making his way towards the Stretford End to lift the requisite number of fingers in the air to predict the margin of City’s triumph.
Guardiola has some of this arrogance, especially in his unwillingness to curb his tactical ways. There is more subtlety in his dealings with the press, but we have already seen that he can also be mischievous. Unlike Allison, however, the Catalan is most at home when his players are doing the talking for him. On the eve of a season that will make or break his reputation in England, City fans will be hoping that their superstar coach maintains a quiet watch as his team carries all before it.
When all is said and done, he would no doubt prefer to join the long list of quietly successful City managers and not the equally long one of arm-waving failures.
Simon is one of ESPN FC’s Manchester City bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @bifana_bifana.