FEATURE | European Coach of the Season, 6th: Manuel Pellegrini

This article is part of Get Football’s European Player and Coach of the Season series, as we countdown our ranked top 12 in both categories to name the winners ahead of the Champions League final at the end of the month. Read every profile and see the full ranking right here.

After finishing the 2019-20 season in 15th place, Real Betis turned to the experience of Manuel Pellegrini. As it transpired, the appointment of the Chilean proved to be a masterstroke, with Los Verdiblancos ending last term in sixth position, securing them a place in the Europa League.

For all of their success in Pellegrini’s first season in charge, the question marks appeared at the start of the current campaign, with many unsure whether Betis could manage the workload of domestic and European football.

However, rather than faltering under the pressure, Betis have risen to the challenge this season, with Pellegrini overseeing a Copa del Rey win, a top-five finish and a foray into European competition.

The former Manchester City boss has achieved all that while transforming Betis into one of the most aesthetically pleasing teams that the Spanish top flight has to offer. 

Their pure entertainment value makes them a must-watch every matchday, while they act as a great advertisement for La Liga. Only Real Madrid have averaged more shots on target per game in La Liga this season, while Los Verdiblancos are the fifth highest scorers in the league. The attacking talent that includes the likes of  Nabil Fekir, Sergio Canales and Juanmi combined with a hint of defensive vulnerability makes Betis a thrilling team to watch.

For all of their attacking flair, their Europa League campaign ended in the last 16, but eventual finalists Eintracht Frankfurt did require a last-minute winner in extra time to overcome the Andalusian side.

That European expedition did not hamper their La Liga form as Betis managed to end the campaign in fifth spot, bettering last season’s sixth-place finish. 

Despite finishing in fifth position, it seemed as though the Andalusians would enjoy even more success after spending a significant proportion of the campaign in the Champions League places. 

They may have fallen short in their quest for a top four position, but very few people would argue that this season has been another unmitigated success, with Pellegrini’s crowning moment as Betis boss taking place at Estadio La Cartuja last month. 

The night of April 23 and the early hours of April 24 will go down in history for those who are devoted to the green and white side of Seville after they witnessed their beloved team lift their third Copa del Rey trophy. The victory on penalties in one of the most memorable Spanish cup finals in recent memory was the culmination of an extraordinary journey in the competition.

Pellegrini guided his side past the potential banana skins of CFI Alicante, CF Talavera and Real Valladolid in the opening rounds of the Copa del Rey before the last 16 draw threw up a mouthwatering tie with city rivals Sevilla. However, what should have been a spectacular El Gran Derbi, was marred by crowd trouble after Sevilla’s Joan Jordán was struck by a metal pole when the contest was level at one goal apiece.

After the match was abandoned, the sides came back the next day to complete the remainder of the encounter behind closed doors, with the derby decided by a left-footed strike from Sergio Canales. 

Real Sociedad were then dispatched with ease before a stoppage-time winner from Borja Iglesias in the second leg of the semi-final against Rayo Vallecano sent those in attendance at Estadio Benito Villamarín into delirium. 

The prize for the 3-2 aggregate victory over Rayo was a final date with Valencia. Iglesias was once again pivotal, as he opened the scoring against Los Che, but his effort was cancelled out by Hugo Duro.

With neither side able to find the elusive winner in 120 minutes of tense and gripping action, the fate of the Copa del Rey was to be decided by penalties. A packed out La Cartuja watched on with bated breath as nine of the ten spot-kicks were dispatched, with Yunus Musah firing over from 12 yards to ensure the trophy would only travel a short distance across the city of Seville to the Benito Villamarín.

It was a cup victory that ended a trophy drought of six years for Pellegrini, and not only was it a vindication of the fine work that has been undertaken by the experienced manager, but it also demonstrated that at the grand age of 68, the Chilean is showing no signs of letting up.

Pellegrini may still take Betis to new heights, but whatever the future may have in store, no one can dispute the fact that he will go down as one of the greats in the club’s history. He will always be remembered as the man to guide the side to just their fourth major trophy.

The motto of Betis may translate to “Long live Betis even when they lose!”, but Pellegrini has shown his adoring faithful at the Benito Villamarín that football is a lot more fun when you win.

Ben Sully

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