There was a bank of photographers to greet Mourinho’s arrival in the dugout before kickoff. He posed for a selfie with a fan. His every movement in the technical area was tracked during the game, and after it as he congratulated his new Tottenham players on their 3-2 win over West Ham.
One person, in particular, would have been glad of such scrutiny on the “Special One” on his return to the Premier League on Saturday: His opposite number that day, Manuel Pellegrini. On the list of under-pressure managers which seems to be growing by the week, Pellegrini might be at the very top after a dramatic slump by his West Ham team over the last two months.
Since a 2-0 victory over Manchester United on Sept. 22 that was more emphatic than the score line suggests, West Ham hasn’t won any of its eight games in all competitions. Six of those have been losses, starting with a 4-0 thrashing in the English League Cup by third-tier Oxford United, which incidentally fielded a weakened lineup that night. The other five defeats have come in the league.
In that time, the Hammers have slipped from fifth place (on 11 points) to fifth from bottom (on 13 points). They have conceded three goals in each of their last three games, losses to Newcastle, Burnley and Tottenham.
Fans booed Colombia midfielder Carlos Sanchez as he came on as a substitute against Spurs. They sarcastically applauded goalkeeper Roberto every time he caught the ball or controlled it with his feet, thankful he didn’t make yet another mistake after a month full of them. Against Burnley, for example, he punched the ball into the net for an own goal.
Felipe Anderson, a Brazil international and the team’s one-time record signing at $42 million, was withdrawn at halftime against Tottenham; fellow winger Andriy Yarmolenko was taken off before the hour mark. Neither, it felt, had the stomach for the fight.
Does Pellegrini? Reportedly earning 10 million pounds (nearly $13 million) a year, the 66-year-old Chilean doesn’t seem to be inspiring his players. How, West Ham fans will wonder, did he get the label of “This Charming Man” during his time at Manchester City, which he led to the Premier League title in 2014?
West Ham spent more than $100 million pounds during the 2018 offseason when Pellegrini arrived. In July this year, the club broke its transfer record to sign French striker Sebastien Haller from Eintracht Frankfurt for a reported 45 million pounds ($55 million), but he is getting little service because of the ponderous build-up behind him.
Pablo Fornals, an attacking midfielder who shone for Spain in the under-21 European Championship, hasn’t settled in east London since his move from Villarreal and must be wondering what he has walked into.
Pellegrini might point to injuries, especially that of goalkeeper Lukas Fabianski which has coincided with West Ham’s drastic dip in form and has necessitated the selection of mistake-prone Roberto. Manuel Lanzini, the Argentina playmaker, is also currently out because of injury.
When they return, will Pellegrini even be in the job? The “sack race” — as it is often referred to in the British media — is well and truly on following the firing of Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham last week, which prompted the return of Mourinho to English soccer.
Also under pressure are Marco Silva at Everton and Unai Emery at Arsenal. There is even renewed scrutiny on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United, now Pochettino is on the market. Pellegrini won’t be alone is sitting uncomfortably as the Premier League heads into its packed winter schedule.
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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80