Scapegoating is an unfortunate part of football, both in the media and on the terraces. It’s an ugly but commonplace element of the game that can disrupt a player’s form and adversely affect a team.
Martin Demichelis has certainly been a victim of scapegoating since his move to Manchester City from Atletico Madrid in the summer.
He’s been singled out by journalists and supporters as a weak link in Manuel Pellegrini’s side, criticised unrelentingly, even when his performances have been decent.
Against Barcelona, he was once again targeted by a section of City fans, with a couple of nervous early touches and misplaced passes jumped by a small minority. Not only was it unfair on the player, particularly when only a few moments of the game had passed, but it threatened to breed nervousness and discontent to the other players.
Fortunately for City, that didn’t happen. Demichelis soon settled and was giving arguably his finest performance for the club until disaster struck. A reckless challenge on Lionel Messi saw a penalty given to Barcelona and the Argentine was sent off.
The contact was outside the box and the penalty decision was wrong, but the red card was most certainly correct and Demichelis’ rashness cost his side. Barcelona went on to win 2-0 and City now face a huge task trying to qualify for the quarter-finals.
Even-handed criticism of Demichelis for his challenge is valid, as are those questioning the wisdom of the decision to play him given the pace in Barcelona’s attack; however, over-the-top abuse is not acceptable and, in fact, is way off the mark.
Listening to some, you’d think Demichelis has been single-handedly responsible for every City defeat this season. The fact is that he has performed admirably at times without receiving the recognition for it, a climate which has bred a ridiculous level of contempt for the player.
City's win at Fulham was a prime example: He was a threat from set pieces all afternoon and kept a determined Fulham side at bay yet was castigated for his perceived failing by Alan Hansen on Match of the Day in the evening.
Against Barcelona, City held their own for much of the time before being reduced to 10 men, and Demichelis was a key part of that performance. His mistake in sliding in on Messi is undeniable, but some of the ill-feeling that has followed has been ridiculous.
Demichelis is an easy target. His lack of pace is painful to watch, particularly in the Premier League which is notoriously intense and, as one journalist recently said in the City press room, he has a turning circle the size of the QE2.
He sometimes appears laboured—out of place in a City side full of intent and speed.
These are fair criticisms of the player, but what’s been plainly unfair has been the irrational desire of many to cast Demichelis as some kind of joke. He reads the game well, is excellent in the air and, despite his propensity for the odd hospital pass, is comfortable in possession.
At 33, he was never signed as a long-term option. Pellegrini wants 11 players who enjoy having the ball at their feet, and Demichelis was a cheap purchase brought in to begin the process of implementing that style of play before a younger, better version can be signed.
The anger directed at him as at times felt irrational and uncalled for, and if a lie is repeated often enough, it tends to become part of the collective psyche.
Many of those most vocal in their criticisms are unlikely to have watched him particularly closely. Demichelis has been hamstrung by constant lazy fault-finding and vitriol this season. He's far from perfect, but the myths surrounding his performances are becoming a farce.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @TypicalCity.