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
News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
football
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
News
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
i100
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Travel
travel
Life and Style
The veteran poverty campaigner Sir Bob Geldof issues a stark challenge to emerging economies at the Melbourne HIV/Aids conference
health
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and John Malkovich talk Penguins of Madagascar at Comic-Con
comic-con 2014Cumberbatch fans banned from asking about Sherlock at Comic-Con
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
filmGuardians Of The Galaxy should have taken itself a bit more seriously, writes Geoffrey Macnab
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

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform