When Howard Webb took charge of both the 2010 UEFA Champion’s League final and the World Cup final within the space of two months, he had reached the absolute zenith of his profession. He commanded the respect of all players (in no small part because he could probably knock seven shades out of them), the envy of all referees and the general opinion from fans that there is ACTUALLY a good referee on the planet. Four years on and he has become a big-game bottler. He will fly to Brazil 2014 to officiate on the back of his reputation, not his record.
Howard Webb is your prime example of a referee who gives the advantage to the defensive side. He shirks from the big decisions. Go back to the FA Cup tie between Arsenal and Liverpool at the Emirates. Howard Webb gives Liverpool a penalty. Correct decision. When Suarez found himself bowled over in the box just minutes later Howard Webb waved play-on. Pretty much as stonewall a penalty as you are likely to see. What would another converted penalty have made the score? 2-2.
Since the last World Cup, of the 11 penalties Howard Webb has awarded in the last half-hour only one has been a penalty with the potential to change a match. Compared this to his record prior to the World Cup where 83 of the 154 he awarded had that potential and percentage-wise you have a change of over 40. Those stats can’t be coincidental.
Since the same day, of the 22 red cards Webb has given just one has come in a penalty decision. Before the World Cup it was seven from 46, down from 15 per cent to less than five. With the Premier League average at 11 per cent, Webb falls comfortably short of this.
Not once in a career of over 500 games has Howard Webb ever given a red card inside the first 15 minutes of a game. You’ll often hear commentators cite ‘common sense’ and refs ‘allowing the game to flow’. Where Webb may have ever felt he needed to give an early red card his famed ‘common sense’ has prevailed literally every single time.
In terms of his style, he isn’t one for losing control in games. He doesn’t get involved in melees, he speaks firmly and pointedly with captains and offenders, and still conducts himself in a uniquely composed manner. But his record has shown a weakness when it has come to stamping his foot down on a game.
For want of sounding unbiased, managers will regularly, and through gritted teeth I might add, assure themselves that the decision balance themselves out over the course of a season. And in the case of Arsenal vs Liverpool, with his refusal to award Liverpool a penalty preceded his decision to allow Steven Gerrard to get away with a tackle worthy of second yellow card, this notion I suppose is accurate. But the decisions remain incorrect. Howard Webb is no longer worthy of his seat at the high-court of world referees and he has shown he is no longer the big man for the big occasion.