We’re used to it, of course. The post-match interview with a manager whose side have been beaten.
The referee’s fault, the linesman’s fault, the opposition player who cheated, the man in the crowd who coughed just as the £30 million striker was about to score. We’ve heard pretty much every excuse that we can imagine, and some that we can’t. This week hasn’t really been that out-of-the-ordinary in terms of the excuses that managers being paid millions a year are prepared to manufacture in order to deflect the blame from themselves. Let’s see:
(1) The referee
A huge match between two of the world’s biggest club teams shouldn’t be refereed by a man from a Third World country like Sweden. That was the basis of Manuel Pellegrini’s argument after his Manchester City team were beaten 2-0 in Manchester by Barcelona. It’s almost impossible to imagine the kind of mental state that would lead an apparently intelligent man to spout such utter claptrap. It’s as if he’s trying to suggest that the referee had been plucked from a parks game in the Stockholm suburbs and told “Get on a plane, you’re refereeing Man City v Barcelona tomorrow”. The idea that “there is more important football in Europe than Sweden” is arguably true, yet what gives Pellegrini the right to tell a nation of millions that not a single one of them is up to the job of refereeing a football match in which his darling superstars are taking part?
One could argue that Chile, from where Pellegrini hails, is hardly at the centre of the footballing universe and that the job of managing a financial behemoth like Manchester City should really fall to someone who comes from a “bigger” footballing nation. And that would be nonsense too. Wouldn’t it?
(2) The sendings-off
Martin Demichelis of Manchester City brought down Lionel Messi (either just outside or just inside the penalty area) and received his marching orders for “denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity”. Those familiar with Messi’s work can hardly deny that that was the case. Pellegrini insisted that the foul was outside the penalty area (surprise!) and that, anyway, a foul on his winger Navas a few seconds earlier should have meant that the ball didn’t arrive at Messi’s feet, as Man City should have been given a free kick by the nasty old Swedish referee.
I can’t find Pellegrini’s view on why his best defender, Vincent Kompany, tried to play Messi offside when the easiest thing in the world would have been to close down the Argentinian. Perhaps he did mention it and the papers decided not to report his comments. Or perhaps it’s easier to blame a referee from that backwater than consider that one of your best players made a big mistake?
(3) The laws
Currently, if a defender denies an attacker an “obvious goalscoring opportunity” through fouling him, then he’s sent off. If that foul occurs in the penalty area, then the attacking team gets a penalty as well as the luxury of playing the rest of the match with more players. This, according to managers and fans of Arsenal and Manchester City, is palpably unfair. (No, I don’t remember them saying this before, either).
They whine that, in effect, a team is being punished twice for one misdemeanour. But that’s precisely what was in the mind of the game’s legislators when the laws were changed. If there is an element of “double punishment” then defenders (and goalkeepers) won’t be daft enough to commit such fouls. Will they? Sadly not.
They whinge that “it spoilt the game” when they were reduced to ten men, as if uppermost in their minds is the desire to entertain the fans who pay sky high prices to watch their heroes in action. They choose not to comment on whether the lumbering Demichelis scything down Messi “spoils” the game. They offer no opinion as to whether seeing the Arsenal goalkeeper bring down Robben (who could have been badly injured) “spoils” the game.
On those questions we are met with absolute silence.
(4) The “European” game
In the good old “blood and thunder, stick it in the mixer, boot the winger into Row Z” English Premier League, referees allow people to get away with things that they just don’t on the continent. Johnny Foreigner has gone soft, whilst over here it’s still a man’s game, albeit one where the best twenty players are all Johnny Foreigners.
So, after Arsenal and Manchester City lost, these defeats were partly explained by the “continental” referees giving “continental decisions”. Which doesn’t strike me as particularly surprising in a “continental” competition, but Mssrs Wenger and Pellegrini appeared to be shocked by this. Their previous experiences of European club competitions, ten years in the case of the latter and over twenty years in the case of the former, appear not to have equipped them for the startling revelation that the game is refereed differently in most European countries. For in excess of £6 million a year, I’d have thought reminding your players of this fact may have been a good idea. It seems not.
So if, as expected, both “The Gunners” and “The Citizens” go out of the Champions League in three weeks’ time, expect a tidal wave of hard luck stories. The referee, the laws of the game, the alignment of Saturn with Jupiter and a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon rainforest will all get their fair share of the blame. The idea that their teams were just not good enough will get short shrift from Mr Wenger and Mr Pellegrini. It’s not the kind of thing you can admit when you’re being paid millions a year, I understand that. So they’ll look elsewhere, for conspiracy and ineptitude, anything in order to rationalise why their teams, who regularly rip apart Norwich City and Fulham, failed to make it to the last eight of the best football competition on the planet.
And the man whose Malaga side just had to NOT let in two injury time goals against Dortmund last season, but failed, won’t have to answer any difficult questions. And the man whose club have a solitary FA Cup victory (on penalties) to show for the last ten years of his leadership, well, he won’t have to answer any difficult questions either. No, much better to talk about a referee, a conspiracy, unfairness, hard luck and injustice.
That’s the “name of the game”, as a pop group from that backward Scandinavian country once sang.