After a five-year wait, the big day finally arrived for former Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini on Tuesday as the roundabout named in his honour was officially unveiled.
The greatest coach in the club’s history, now at the helm at West Ham United (where Mario Husillos is director of football), has always maintained links with the city ever since he departed for Manchester City in June 2013. He, alongside his wife Carola and his grandchildren, frequently return to the province, making the most of any break in the Chilean coach’s unrelenting schedule and never placed much importance on the delay. “I receive the recognition of Malaga every time I come and feel the warmth and the appreciation of the people. The time will come when it comes,” he is credited as saying a year and a half ago.
Clearly still following the club's fortunes very closely, it would be difficult to rule out a return one day. Ahead of the ceremony, Pellegrini spoke to SUR and reiterated that he felt “very grateful” for the recognition.
–When the mayor Francisco de la Torre told you that day at the airport that he would like to name a street or something similar after you, you said it was “an honour”. This is now going to be a reality...
–Yes, from now on I am going to feel even more of a connection with Malaga than Ialready have.
–The truth is that you’ve never really left. You’ve brought teams to train in Marbella, you have a house here, you’re in contact with people at the club, you call to offer support when things aren’t going so well...
–I always have a place in my heart for the city and the club. I have my home here and I come every time I get the chance. I said when I left that Malaga would be an important part of me when I retired but the reality is that it has been a permanent part of me.
–Five years have passed since the decision to name the roundabout was approved. Why has there been such a delay since?
–I don’t really know. I went to Manchester City, it was postponed for some reason, then I went to China... Then not too long ago I met with [Diputación provincial government head] Elías Bendodo and he suggested this time because it’s when the Premier League takes a break.
–And now the day is here.
–As much as it has been delayed, my love and gratitude to Malaga has never changed. And to have my name on a roundabout is a great joy.
–This is a personal opinion but this recognition is not only for your work as a coach but also your personality and rapport with the fans.
–I think it’s a combination of things. I always said I would have loved to have stayed on at Real Madrid but the greatest compensation was to be able to come to Malaga. Perhaps some people won’t understand but they were three wonderful years in every aspect and for that reason I always say that signing with Malaga was one of the greatest decisions of my life.
–Perhaps for you one of the most wonderful moments was nothing to do with winning a game or qualifying for the Champions League...
–I think so. It was the Liga game after we went to Dortmund [Pellegrini found out just before the Real Sociedad game that his father had died but went ahead with the game without telling anyone]. It was in Dortmund’s ground [the return leg, the next game] that the Malaga fans showed me such affection. You know me well, I’m very cool and calculated, but that feeling was indescribable. A few days later at La Rosaleda, that warmth is something I will never forget.
-You’re here now with Malaga top of the league. You must be pleased following the club from afar.
-Yes, of course. Seeing Malaga top of the table... I always say that Malaga has a great team behind the scenes. There are so many good people at the club that I can’t forget who are always ready to lend a hand when needed.