Manuel Pellegrini, the Manchester City manager, has backed the punishment handed out to CSKA Moscow for the racial abuse suffered by Yaya Touré and said he cannot understand why the Russian side tried to deny it.
In the aftermath of the monkey chants directed at Touré during City’s 2-1 win in Moscow last month, CSKA rejected anything untoward had happened and claimed that the midfielder was the only one on the pitch who had heard the abuse.
Their punishment was to have part of their ground, the Khimki Arena, closed for their next Champions League fixture which since it is against Bayern Munich will not help City if they hope to win the group.
“The fans of CSKA made an important mistake,” said Pellegrini. “As for the club, I don’t know why they denied it at the beginning but Uefa acted and gave them the punishment they deserved. I hope we can leave it in the past but it is something for Russian fans to consider because they have a World Cup in their country.”
Touré will once more form the pivot of City’s midfield against CSKA, although Pellegrini thinks it unlikely he will be distracted by any reckless need to take revenge. The prize of overseeing a first qualification for the knockout phases of the Champions League is far greater. “Maybe Yaya can’t forget what happened in Russia,” he said. “But this will be a special match for him because Manchester City can go to the next stage. He will be only thinking about football.”
CSKA would have been right to claim that not everyone on the pitch heard the taunts. Matija Nastasic, who was part of the City defence that night, said he was unaware of the furore until it appeared in the media. However, their defence that only Touré heard them was roundly rejected by a Uefa commission which ruled that CSKA should become the eighth club this season to have their ground fully or partially closed because of racial chanting.
It is highly unlikely there will be a repetition at the Etihad Stadium on Bonfire Night, not least because there have been only 500 tickets sold for the away end. City said their stewards will enforce the club’s zero tolerance policy for racism that they employ at all home games.
The match cannot fail to be a more testing examination of Costel Pantilimon’s ability than Saturday’s 7-0 massacre of Norwich which saw Joe Hart’s understudy given precisely one serious shot to save, which may in any case have been going wide.
Pellegrini said Hart had reacted well to his demotion and added he might even have welcomed the break. “Joe is a professional player,” said his manager. “For him it is also a good thing to have a rest after playing so many matches. Nobody wants to be left out but he thinks it will be useful for him.”
Should City win they will be guaranteed qualification for last 16 of the Champions League, an express aim of the club’s owners which previous manager Roberto Mancini, for all his domestic success, failed to fulfil.
Pablo Zabaleta was signed by Mark Hughes just before the Abu Dhabi takeover in 2008 and he more than anyone in Pellegrini’s squad would understand just what victory would mean. In the long term it would help improve the club’s Uefa coefficient which determines in what pot they find themselves come the draw.
In the short term it would give them a chance of glory. Jürgen Klopp, the Borussia Dortmund manager, remarked last year that if City ever did get through the group stages, they would be a match for any club.
“Our performances in Europe were really poor over the last two years,” said Zabaleta. “But in the last four or five years this club has been improving incredibly. We know the owners have been spending too much money to try to have one of the best teams in Europe. Sometimes, it takes time. We won the FA Cup and the Premier League but it is time for this club to take a step forward. Hopefully, in the next few years we can be one of the top clubs in Europe.”