Analysis: What caused Manuel Pellegrini to explode so shamefully after Manchester City defeat to Barcelona in the Champions League?

The usually reserved Chilean launched an astonishing attack on Swedish referees after the 2-0 loss at the Etihad

Football correspondent

In the cold light of Wednesday, Manuel Pellegrini’s outburst against Swedish referees revealed itself for what it was: absurd, ridiculous, contemptible and an embarrassment to Manchester City. Yes, Pellegrini really did say football is “more important in Europe than in Sweden” and that it was “not a good idea” to put a referee from Sweden in charge of a Champions League knockout tie. A five-match touchline ban is possible, though three matches is more likely, if Uefa charges him for “inappropriate comments” – possibly today.

The eruption after City’s 2-0 defeat to Barcelona was the more extraordinary because of the image the 60-year-old has conveyed for the past six months. So uneventful have his press conferences become that at least one international news agency has stopped showing up.

To some extent, the grey exterior belies the other Pellegrini persona which can occasionally take hold. All those who witnessed his reaction to a Scottish referee’s performance in Malaga’s 3-2 Champions League defeat at Borussia Dortmund last year will tell you so. It was an excoriating outburst from him that night - “We could not, or they did not want us to, get through. After we went 2-1 ahead, there was no refereeing” – though he was not banned. The outburst should be viewed in the context of events around that time – Pellegrini’s father had died and he had just returned to Spain – though it demonstrates an individual more willing to cut loose and blast off than he lets on.

It can’t be said that Pellegrini is unaccustomed to the pressure, even though he is in unchartered territory here, chasing silverware on four fronts this time after building a reputation on making small clubs, Villarreal and Malaga, walk tall. Yes, the 2004 Intertoto Cup, won with Villarreal, (ital)was(close) the last trophy he claimed, but this is also a man who has managed in the red heat of River Plate and was subjected to unconscionable abuse in Spain at the hands of the sports daily (ital)Marca(close). After he joined Málaga, the paper declared him the "worst" thing about the club’s game. "I should thank the editor of Marca for making me so famous," he replied.

And yet, for all that, there is evidence that Pellegrini is feeling the stifling heat of this decisive moment in his club’s season. It explains why, having resisted all goading by Jose Mourinho – the master of odious manipulation – he broke two weeks ago, accusing Mourinho of lying about money Chelsea had spent and decisions City had been given by referees. The disproportionate reaction to Tuesday night’s events felt like the response of a manager who took them personally.

It was his decision, after all, to follow a pragmatic tactical instinct – rather than the more free-flowing beliefs of his sporting director Txiki Begiristain. And that defensive strategy was sent up in smoke by a player in who he has invested so much personal capital. Martin Demichelis, whose error turned the night, is the individual Pellegrini has signed twice and with whom he clearly enjoys a particularly strong relationship. The two of them have been here before, because Pellegrini has often fielded Demichelis against Lionel Messi and often seen Messi get the better of him and score

It compounded things that Pellegrini apparently felt the niggle of a number of small decisions going against his team – “from the beginning I felt the referee was not impartial” – and like anyone seeking validation of their conspiracy theory, there was a half thought-out notion in the back of his mind. Perhaps Begiristain had told him about the two penalties that referee Eriksson refused Barcelona in the 2011 Champions League quarter final against AC Milan, giving Pellegrini his conviction that Tuesday night let the Swede balance things out. Begiristain was at Barca in 2011. Pellegrini certainly lacked a firm grasp of the detail, citing the Milan match as a group stage game from last autumn.

The factual mistake compounded the feebleness of the Chilean’s press conference, which even gave Brendan Rodgers a run for his money. It was Rodgers who claimed in the same conference theatre back in December that a Greater Manchester referee – Lee Mason of Bolton - had been prejudiced in favour of City and against Liverpool. The City manager is not even helped by a universal sense that his team were wronged. Several referees observed yesterday that Demichelis’ dismissal and the penalty were reasonable, in real time.

Sweden’s current absorption in the Winter Olympics means that Pellegrini’s comments will not invite a back page backlash in the country’s sporting press today, though his rant has gone much further than Stockholm. City’s manager has demonstrated he is not, after all, above the circus and the nonsense of football.

Suggested Topics
Sport
The sun rises over St Andrews golf course, but will it be a new dawn for the Royal and Ancient Golf Club?
sportAnd it's Yes to women (at the R&A)
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
footballToure's lack of defensive work is big problem for City
Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week