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Manuel Pellegrini: “the best football is played in Spain”

Ahead of the first leg of Real Betis’ Europa League round of 16 tie with Manchester United on Thursday night, their manager Manuel Pellegrini spoke to the Guardian about his experience of English football and his current stint at Los Verdiblancos. 

English football or Spanish football?

“I was lucky to live in Manchester, to see how United and City fans lived and breathed football,” Pellegrini said. “City’s success made new demands of United. Traditionally they were bigger, but it’s changing – kids tend to support winning teams.”

The 69-year-old was full of praise for English football having enjoyed a fruitful spell with United’s rivals Manchester City from 2013 to 2016. “England’s way is the right way,” he added. 

“There’s less simulation and referees let it flow. The spectacle matters and there’s strength. City, United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham, now Newcastle, could all compete for the league. The distribution of money is better – the amount generated. In Spain the gap is significant.”

Despite his admiration for English football, the experienced Chilean manager claims Spanish football is the best in terms of quality. “England is the best league, but the best football is played in Spain,” he said. “Look at the Champions League and Real Madrid or Barcelona are champions. In the Europa League, Villarreal and Sevilla.

Manchester United vs Real Betis

Quizzed on whether Betis winning the Europa League would represent as big an achievement as United winning the Champions League, Pellegrini replied: “Much bigger. United have won it – they have a history. Betis have that desire but compete from an unfavourable position. You can’t compare Betis to United. Even getting the chance to face them is pure hope.”

It will undoubtedly be a stern test for Erik ten Hag’s side tomorrow night, who will be looking to bounce back from their embarrassing 7-0 loss to Liverpool on Sunday

Betis currently sit fifth in La Liga – just three points off the top four – and are unbeaten in four games having held Real Madrid to a 0-0 draw last time out

Speaking on Betis’ Copa del Rey triumph under his tutelage last season, Pellegrini expressed his pride at this achievement. “To win the cup after 17 years – it’s a whole generation, kids who weren’t alive last time,” he said.

“The only league is from 1935, another era. To bring that happiness to Betis fans whose support is absolutely unconditional – at other clubs numbers might dwindle – is unforgettable.

“When you win at clubs used to winning things, everyone’s happy, but reach a cup final with Betis, a Champions League semi with Villarreal, a quarters with Málaga, and thousands wait at the airport – those emotions are so intense because of the clubs they are. I’ve won 12 trophies but that experience is priceless.

Pellegrini will be hoping to lead his Betis side to a famous victory over United at Old Trafford on Thursday night before attention turns to the second leg at the Benito Villamarín next week. 

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