It says something about the state of refereeing in this country when Howard Webb is described as the best this country can offer.
The ex-police officer looks authoritative enough but many of his key decisions have not replicated his confident demeanour. The decision to give Valencia a penalty last weekend was the tip of the iceberg for many Liverpool fans.
Webb came in for huge criticism at the tail end of last season when he gave United a penalty against Tottenham, which ultimately led to them coming from 2-0 down to win 5-2. It was an incident that left the Spurs camp incensed.
“I think it was a case of a referee crumbling under the pressure at Old Trafford really,” said midfielder Jermaine Jenas.
Manager Harry Redknapp added;“United were not going to win unless something like that happened. The referee has not done it on purpose, it is just a bad decision but it was the turning point.”
Webb was chosen as England’s representative at Euro2008 and will attain the same honour at the forthcoming World Cup finals in South Africa. But the list of costly errors made by the Yorkshireman has grown at a worrying rate this season.
The 38-year-old even admitted to his ‘lowest point’ as a referee at the start of last year. Webb made two costly mistakes in the game between Birmingham City and Wolverhampton Wanderers and was forced to apologise to Blues fans.
“I am disappointed to have an influence on a goal like that. It is probably the lowest point of my professional refereeing career,” said a remorseful Webb.
But it’s not just in England were Webb has left a bad taste in the mouth of football fans. As a select FIFA and UEFA referee, Webb often gets appointed to high profile Champions League and Europa League games. In the midst of this year’s competition Greek fans of Olympiakos were upset when Webb gave opposition Bordeaux a free-kick in a dangerous area despite a perfectly good tackle from Lomana Lua Lua. The resulting ball in gave Bordeuax the lead in the tie and was seen as a massive turning point in the game.
A quick search of youtube makes for grim viewing as users from across the globe post somewhat humiliating taunts at the referee. To remain objective however, it is important to stress that all referees make mistakes – but are Webb’s failures a bridge too far for somebody who is rated as England’s best?
It would be a shame for Howard Webb to be shown up on such a grand stage as the World Cup but this country has seen it before. Remember a certain Graham Poll (who was supposedly England’s best ref at the time) taking charge of a game between Croatia and Australia at the 2006 World Cup?
Evidence suggests if Poll and Webb are tagged as ‘England’s best’ then surely this country is not producing a particularly high standard of referees. Growing calls for video or goal-line technology have been claimed as a necessity for referees to get decisions right but when the men in black are at fault for such basic mistakes it must surely be a greater priority to develop top class referees first.