Wednesday 24 January 2018 / 10:32 PM

Footballing Feast At The Etihad

Pellegrini’s comments mar a footballing feast at the Etiha.

A totally out-of-character rant from Manuel Pellegrini marred what was a fascinating football match between Man City and Barcelona on Tuesday night, and is almost certain to land the Chilean in some seriously hot water.

A number of Pellegrini’s remarks in his post-match press conference levelled serious accusations about the integrity of match referee Jonas Eriksson, and it seems highly unlikely that Pellegrini’s comments will go unpunished by UEFA in the coming days.

There are two things that are particularly bizarre about Pellegrini’s tirade. First of all, as we pointed out, this sort of behaviour is very much out of character. Unlike many of his counterparts, the ex-Malaga boss is renowned for his diplomatic and uncontroversial comments in the media, preferring to concentrate on his teams’ performances rather than comment on the more contentious aspects of games.

The second and perhaps more pertinent reason why these comments seem so odd is that they are largely unfounded – in the case of some of them, laughably so. Let’s take a look at some of the things he said last night:

“I don’t feel that we had a referee who was impartial to both teams”

For those who didn’t watch the game, there were two key incidents in close proximity to each other that may have led Pellegrini to make this comment. Barcelona won a penalty after Martin Demichelis fouled Lionel Messi, but in the build-up to the penalty Pellegrini felt that his player Jesus Navas had been fouled by Sergio Busquets and that play should have stopped. To add fuel to the fire, replays suggested that the foul from Demichelis that resulted in the penalty took place outside the box. Demichelis was the last man and was duly shown his marching orders with Messi dispatching the penalty with customary ease.

It is, of course, easy to sympathise with Pellegrini. If the challenge from Busquets on Navas was indeed a foul, then Barcelona effectively scored from the ensuing – and from City’s perspective, illegal – play. Furthermore, whilst there can be no doubting that Demichelis’s challenge was a foul, if it had been given outside the box then City would have only conceded a red card as opposed to a red card and a penalty.

My issue is not with Pellegrini’s obvious displeasure at this series of decisions, but rather the way in which he has chosen to voice it. Rather than say, “I think the referee made a rubbish decision”, he has gone a stage further and questioned the impartiality of the match official. Rather than merely questioning whether Eriksson made the right decision, he has suggested that there was some level of intrinsic bias in the way in which Eriksson refereed the game. Quite simply, these sorts of comments have no place in football. UEFA is a multi-million pound organisation and the accusation that they would employ someone who would deliberately favour one team over another is a very serious one indeed.

“The referee decided the game”

No, Manuel, what decided the game was one team scoring two goals and the other team scoring no goals.

The Chilean was, of course, referring to the two contentious decisions in the build-up to Messi’s penalty, but to pin the entire result of the game on the referee on the basis of those incidents is, quite frankly, absurd. For a start, it is highly debatable as to whether Busquet’s challenge on Navas was a foul. There was certainly very little contact and it was certainly not the sort of foul that would be given in the Premier League. For me, it was a 50/50 call and Pellegrini can have no complaints that his side emerged on the unfortunate side of the coin.

And so to the penalty. What is absolutely clear is that Martin Demichelis clearly denied Lionel Messi a goalscoring opportunity. It was a textbook red card challenge, and there can be no debate about that. So regardless of whether or not Barcelona had been awarded a penalty, City would definitely have played at least 35 minutes with ten men.

Furthermore, although Pellegrini’s comments suggested that it was obvious that the contact had only occurred outside the penalty box, a close look at the replay indicates that there is a strong case to be made for contact continuing inside the box. Once again, given that it is an extremely difficult decision to make, the referee cannot be blamed for coming to the conclusion he arrived at.

One can understand Pellegrini’s frustrations, but really, suggesting that the referee decided the game smacks of sour grapes and an intent to rid himself of any blame. Indeed, the decision to play Martin Demichelis instead of Joleon Lescott could equally be blamed for the result as there’s a great chance that had Lescott played, City may not have gone down to ten men. Pellegrini’s analysis is naïve, shortsighted and precious.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to put a referee from Sweden in charge of the match”

Perhaps the most preposterous of them all. It was on the grounds of experience that Pellegrini felt the Swede should not have refereed the game, but quite rightly it is UEFA who makes the decision as to whether their match official is sufficiently qualified. This bizarre prejudice about a referee from Sweden being less experienced because he’s from Sweden is obscenely discriminatory and will – one would think – be quite rightly punished.

“I think it’s a mistake to nominate a referee that has [previously] had problems with Barcelona”

The background to this comment is that 12 months ago, Jonas Eriksson refereed a game between Barcelona and AC Milan and turned down a number of penalty appeals from Barcelona players.

Pellegrini felt that the way that Eriksson refereed the game was him making up for that game. Let’s skip over the fact that this is a highly insulting and an unfounded thing to say about a professional person and consider the logical conclusion of Pellegrini’s proposal.

The City boss thinks that if a team has had an issue with a referee, that referee should not referee that team again. If this sort of approach was enforced, teams would surely just be able to complain about referees and therefore never have to participate in games refereed by that individual again. This would mean teams only playing matches refereed by referees that they approve of, which would, of course, be highly damaging for the sport. Teams participating in UEFA competitions quite rightly have to accept the referee selected by UEFA. Any sort of departure from that would be highly damaging for the game.

Pellegrini’s post-match comments soured what was a highly absorbing game of football and are sure to be dealt with severely by UEFA. In trying to defend his team and castigate the referee, the Chilean has all but consigned himself to spending the return leg of this fixture in the stands of the Nou Camp rather than in the dugout and in control of his team. He’s only got himself to blame.


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About the author

Seb Greenwood

CBS’s longest-serving contributor, Englishman Seb is our leading football correspondent, pulling no punches with his opinions on the Premier League and the international scene.

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