Football: Pellegrini's promise the catalyst for Caball-hero

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini (centre left) celebrates winning the match after a penalty shootout with Willy Caballero.
Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini (centre left) celebrates winning the match after a penalty shootout with Willy Caballero. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Hands up all those who wondered if Wilfredo Caballero might prove a danger, a needless risk for Manchester City in the League Cup final.

Yes, most of the press box, the majority of City fans filing into Wembley Stadium before kick-off, perhaps even the defenders who would surely have opted for Joe Hart with silverware on the line.

The wonder of sport is that those downbeat expectations can be turned on their head, gloriously, in the space of a few minutes, or three saves. Caball-hero indeed.

You come to a Cup final hoping for drama and, after a scrappy first 45 minutes, this one became a corker with an enthralling final twist as the disparaged Argentinian, aged 34, enjoyed the crowning moment of his career.

"My first trophy," he said afterwards.

Caballero was on the bench for Boca Juniors 13 years ago when they won the Copa Libertadores and again twiddling his thumbs when they won the Intercontinental Cup. He got the medals but, really, he could not have felt fully deserving.

He enjoyed good times at Malaga, and reached a Champions League quarter-final, but he must have been resigned to life as a stand-in, a reserve.

And, then, on Sunday at Wembley, he emerged from the shadows and basked in the sun.

Who, aside from Liverpool's dejected fans, could not feel happy for him or for Manuel Pellegrini, who had his vindication but, typically, was not about to crow about it.

"I prefer to lose my title than to lose my words," the City manager explained afterwards, saying it was a matter of honour to have stuck with his reserve goalkeeper, a promise he made to the Argentinian that he would play in the club's Cup matches this season.

"My word is more important than football," Pellegrini added, sagely.

It was a small risk, picking a second-choice goalkeeper but Pellegrini had brought Caballero over from Malaga, knew his talent and trusted in it even after those five goals struck past him by Chelsea recently.

That faith was richly rewarded in the penalty shoot-out.

The Manchester Evening News apologised to Caballero after the final, having urged City to pick Hart before the match.

Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet had a turbulent afternoon himself, pulling off several notable saves yet was also at fault for allowing Fernandinho's shot to fly under him early in the second half to give City the lead.

The Belgian had many fine moments - more than the largely untested Caballero in the first two hours of football - but, as a loser, is stuck with the memory of that key mistake for the goal.

Cruel game, football - or gloriously unpredictable if you are Caballero.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2016, with the headline 'Pellegrini's promise the catalyst for Caball-hero'. Subscribe