Arsene Wenger reckons Manuel Pellegrini would have always known that Pep Guardiola would one day replace him as manager of Manchester City.
Pellegrini will leave the Etihad Stadium at the end of this season after a deal was struck to bring in current Bayern Munich head coach Guardiola.
He has been denied a fairytale ending after Real Madrid knocked his City side out of the Champions League at the semi-final stage – while a top-four finish is far from certain.
City, currently fourth in the table but with rivals Manchester United and West Ham able to catch them, host Wenger’s Arsenal on Sunday knowing defeat means they cannot finish inside the Barclays Premier League top three.
And Wenger feels Pellegrini has always had the shadow of ex-Barcelona boss Guardiola looming over him during his three-year tenure at City, during which time he has delivered three trophies.
“Once they took (director of football) Txiki Begiristain (from Barcelona) you could see what was coming,” he said.
“He has always known that in the back of his mind I think. I have big sympathy for Pellegrini, until Sunday. It is difficult because once you have less power when the players know you are moving out. I think the players respect him highly, I don’t think it impacted the season at Man City.”
A victory for Arsenal is enough to secure a spot in the Champions League group stages, while fourth place faces a tough qualifier at the start of next season.
Wenger admits having the uncertainty over Champions League participation can have an affect during the summer months.
Asked if it can affect players deciding to join the club, the 66-year-old replied: “Yes, we experienced that a few times.
“It creates pressure in pre-season because you can play against teams who are more difficult and you are not necessarily ready and sometimes you play teams who have already played four or five games in their championship.
“It’s more because we want to be directly in the Champions League next year, everyone fights to be in there. When you do it, everyone says it’s normal. The teams who are not in, then you realise how big it is.
“No one wants to be in the Europa League until the semi-final maybe. You want to be in the Champions League.”
Having sat top of the table at the start of 2016, Arsenal fell off the pace set by shock champions Leicester – who charged to the Premier League crown.
The Foxes have not played the type of possession football which has become the style widely regarded as the best way of claiming success.
But Wenger insists he will not change his own philosophy despite Leicester beating his side to the title and lengthening Arsenal’s 12-year wait for their next one.
“We have the type of players that if I say tomorrow we will only defend with Mesut Ozil in the team, it would become difficult,” he said when asked if he would consider changing his approach.
“I have gone to the European managers’ meeting for 20 years and we always have the same debate. When Barcelona, who always has the most possession in the Champions League goes out, everybody says, ‘Maybe it’s the end of possession football’.
“We have Leicester here and Atletico Madrid who have gone on twice to the (Champions League) final in three years so still it raises questions about football based only on efficiency.
“It shows that if it is done well it can be very successful but over a longer period, still possession will dominate. When you are not successful, it is questioned and I can understand that.”