“This guy is doing my bloody head in” said the old bloke sat behind me at the Etihad on Tuesday evening on at least five or six occasions.
He was of course referring to the man in the middle, Jonas Eriksson. And boss Manuel Pellegrini was clearly irked by him also, as one of the most timid managers in the game lost it in his post-match press conference and insisted that not only did Eriksson cost the Blues the match, but that he had planned to wrong an error he had made against Barcelona in 2012 from the first whistle to the last.
It always sounds like sour grapes when a team loses and fans, players and managers alike proceed to blame poor refereeing. However, there is no denying that Mr Eriksson and his officials had a bit of a mare. The game’s changing moment, Martin Demichelis’ foul on Lionel Messi, was undoubtedly a red card, but outside the box. Dani Alves should have been sent out for a string of bad tackles on City players. And Cesc Fabregas was wrongly ruled offside late on as he crossed to set up a Barca tap in.
Yet none of this is what infuriated the masses inside the stadium. Those are the kind of mistakes that are par for the course, sadly. No, it was Eriksson’s constant blowing up for even the most innocuous of challenges.
This isn’t a trait adopted by just this one referee- it’s indicative of officials across the continent.
Understandly Pellegrini was angry and upset after the game, but he was wrong to suggest that this is just a problem with Eriksson. Annoyingly Gary Neville hit the nail on the head once again when he tweeted this as the fallout began:
The former United full back was talking about his side’s trip to Istanbul in 1993 where they were defeated in one of the most hostile atmospheres there has ever been on the European stage. United were convinced that the referee that night, Kurt Röthlisberger, was “on the take,” such was his performance and apparent favouritism towards the Turks. Although the Swiss was banned for life four years later after being found guilty of bribery, subsequent investigations found nothing from this particular match to suggest that he had taken a back hander.
The point that Neville was making is that referees are completely different in the Champions League to those that we contend with in the Premier League every week. Every little touch, 50/50 or shoulder-to-shoulder challenge and the whistle will be blown.
This was the case on Tuesday with Eriksson. Watching Alvaro Negredo tussle in the air as the lone striker alongside Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano was like watching England play in the World Cup; physical challenges involving a strong striker being penalised, to English eyes, for no apparent reason.
Perhaps Neville is right and that City were displaying “European immaturity.” After all, this is only our third year as a Champions League outfit. What is clear though is that Eriksson represents all referees that City will come across in Europe. And if the Blues are to avoid the kind of evening that they’ve just endured, then they will have to adapt their game in European competition to accommodate this style, for better or worse.
Howard Webb, Phil Dowd, Mark Clattenburg- I will never say a bad word about you again… (I probably will).