The life of a top level referee is a tough one. Before the age of blanket coverage of the beautiful game referees could go about their job and to a certain extent slip into the background when the work was done. Such an existence is no longer possible as a bad day at the office now sparks irate calls to football phone-in shows, frame by agonising frame replays of incidents, oh, and death threats have become another occupational hazard.
One man in black who has had an eventful season is Premier League referee Howard Webb. Webb has emerged in recent years as one of the up and coming whistlers in the world game. He has been entrusted with many important Premiership games, Champions League occasions and looked a safe bet to officiate at next year’s World Cup in South Africa.
That status now looks in danger as he has become embroiled in controversy following the award of a last minute penalty to Brazil in their Confederations Cup match with Egypt. Egypt have lodged an appeal against Webb’s decision to award a penalty for handball and send off defender Ahmed El Mohamady. The complaint hinges on the belief that Webb, who initally gave a corner, was swayed by his fourth official who consulted a television replay.
Speaking to the BBC, Egyptian assistant coach Gharib Chawki said: “We’re not contesting the referee’s decision but the way it was made. Or maybe the rules have changed and nobody has told us. The decision has been made after a statement by the fourth official, after watching the monitor, that it should be a penalty.”
This furore was the last thing Webb would have wanted at the end of a season where a number of his decisions have drawn the ire of managers and fans alike. Webb was the man in the middle for the Barcelona-Bayern Munich Champions League tie where, instead of giving a penalty to the home side, he booked Leo Messi for diving. It was a very poor decision that left Pep Guardiola resembling Ian Curtis from Joy Division on the sideline, a performance that landed the young coach a touchline ban.
Tottenham fans will also remember the penalty he gave at Old Trafford when he adjudged Michael Carrick had been dragged down by Heurelho Gomes in the penalty area. To his credit Mr Webb admitted his mistake in this instance but we tend to remember such high profile mistakes and Harry Redknapp’s post match comments were not of the forgiving nature.
Referees are human, they make mistakes and Howard Webb has made a few this season, but there is no doubt he is one of the better referees around. I am sure any referee will take criticism on the chin for an error of judgement or a rash card but to be castigated for making the right decision seems unfair and highlights the ridiculous nature of FIFA’s refusal to use technological aids in football. Nobody wants to see the flow of the game constantly interrupted but surely there is room for a compromise that would rule out problems like yesterday.
FIFA plan to introduce additional officials behind the posts to assist the referee at a number of levels next season but there is no inclination at this point toward using television replays. The issue gets brought up regularly during the course of a season but FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s language on the subject leaves little room for interpretation.
Perhaps this incident, whereby the correct decision was made, may convince football’s regulators of the benefit of technology. Unfortunately for Howard Webb, he may be made the scapegoat for a quite embarassing scenario.