Pep Guardiola is determined not to talk about referees in his press conferences, and given how he acts in the heat of the moment it is probably for the best.
It’s fair to say Guardiola doesn’t really understand English referees. He cannot get his head around their decision-making process; it’s not simply that they are more lenient than European refs, as is generally accepted across the continent, but that they are often willing to let robust tackles or off-the-ball grappling go unpunished, only to spring into life and issue cards for the same thing moments later.
Guardiola is not the first manager to be baffled by Premier League officials, but is fair to say his touchline – or tunnel – behaviour can be a little more excessive than most of his counterparts.
His reaction to Fabian Delph’s red card at Wigan on Monday night is the latest example of how the Catalan can let his emotions get the better of him.
Since he arrived in England 18 months ago he has remonstrated with coaches on a pretty regular basis. It is obvious by now that he can be a spiky character; even when decisions have gone City’s way he has argued with his opposite number, taking exception to how they have reacted. These, though, are usually the type of rows that are part and parcel of the game in any country.
Against Wigan on Monday night, however, we saw that he is prone to going a bit further, and we perhaps learned that Guardiola’s reactions are directly linked to how much is at stake, and the importance of a perceived injustice.
The bigger the game, the bigger the drama, the more likely it is that Guardiola will do something “ridiculous”, as he has called it.
He refers to knock-out games as ‘finals’, which may explain why he has rowed with the managers of his three FA Cup opponents this season (though Paul Cook, Neil Warnock and Sean Dyche are hardly shrinking violets, so you cannot overlook their role), while the referees have felt the sharp end of the Catalan’s tongue, too.
Twice last season – in big games against Liverpool and Chelsea – Guardiola’s anger with the officials was clear to see at full-time, and City were fined for failing to control their players in those matches, too.
In both of those games Guardiola felt, as many neutrals did, that City deserved to win. They didn’t, however, and that is surely a major factor in his anger.
(Guardiola approaches the officials following a game against Chelsea in December 2016)(Guardiola and the officials after a game with Liverpool in March 2017)
His entire approach to management is focused on controlling every aspect of a match, to limiting external factors. It’s not just his infamously detailed tactical preparations, but his commitment to ensuring his players have everything they need off the pitch in their everyday lives.
But combine his animated, if not argumentative, nature with an injustice in a big game and you will see Guardiola at his worst.
When his best-laid plans are thrown out of the window by factors outside his control, usually referees, he seems to struggle to process it. It is why he will unleash his fury on the officials in the heat of battle, but not discuss it afterwards, once he has calmed down.
Guardiola himself has admitted that he struggles to control his temper when things don’t go his way.
“Sometimes you feel you go,” he said recently. “For example, the ridiculous I did with Redmond. I don’t want to do that, believe me, but sometimes you do that. Sometimes you control yourself, and say it’s not necessary to go there…”
“The ridiculous” is one way to describe his animated discussion with Southampton’s Nathan Redmond, although the wording was most likely an attempt to translate a Catalan phrase – fer el ridicul – which means to embarrass yourself. Whatever the motives for his animated chat with the winger – supposedly it was all complimentary – Guardiola knows it didn’t look good.
Simon Mullock, a respected reporter for the Sunday Mirror, published an article explaining the Catalan’s behaviour soon afterwards. After asking about referees at a press conference last April (it was already a sore subject back then), Mullock was taken to one side.
“At one point Guardiola shoved me in the chest,” he wrote. “Then he grabbed me by the arm and spun me around by the shoulders. In the end, he shook my hand and gave me a hug.” Guardiola was explaining the differences between English referees and their European colleagues, in his usual animated manner.
It is clear the City boss can go over the top even when he is being friendly.
Not that he sees referees as friends.
“I certainly got a full and frank explanation about what makes English referees different from the rest and why he strives not to talk about match officials in public,” Mullock added.
Listening to Guardiola after the game on Monday night, you would never have known that he took such exception to Cook and the officials. The Catalan said he agreed with the decision to send off Delph, and that “nothing happened” when him and the Wigan boss continued their disagreement in the tunnel.
The Catalan had time to compose himself before facing the press, something which has probably saved him from a few FA charges in the last few months.
In fairness, in all those confrontations with the officials he must have managed to avoid saying anything too objectionable. You would assume he has never called their integrity into question, the one thing that usually lands managers in trouble. Maybe he has been complimenting them all this time.