He may have awarded 14 yellow cards and 1 red, which realistically could have been more, but I believe Howard Webb deserves a fair bit of credit for his performance in the World Cup final. Currently, Webb is facing a decent amount of criticism from both the Dutch and Spanish sides, media types and football fans world wide. But why?
In fairness, Webb may have made 1 or 2 mistakes, Nigel de Jong should definitely have seen red for his kung fu style chest kick on Xabi Alonso, but overall, and in the grand scheme of the game, Webb was dealt a terribly difficult hand by the cynical nature of the Dutch players who set up negatively and set out to destroy any hope of a free flowing match. That very fact is a shame in and of itself because of the attacking talent the Dutch side possess.
Every decision Webb made to show yellow was in fact justified. How can anyone criticize Webb for simply following the rules of the game and showing yellow cards when the fouls were so deserved of a caution? All too often in football the referee is blamed for a terrible performance, for losing control of a match, or for bottling it while certain players attempt and get away with nothing short of murder while the ref is left to rue his decisions.
The Dutch, led by Bayern Munich captain Mark van Bommel turned the midfield of the pitch at Soccer City into a minefield of rash tackles, mindless aggression and a negative brand of football the great Dutch fans never thought they’d see. Rinus Michels must be rolling over in his grave, while Johann Cryuff must be happy he’s away managing Catalonia after viewing such a contemptuous display.
After such a disheartening loss in the World Cup final, the Dutch must now ask themselves whether they prefer defeat at the hands of Spain and such a negative set up, or a defeat more ambitious, a defeat like that of their Euro 2008 exit at the hands of the Russians. In Dutch football, questions must soon be asked hopefully followed by answers that lend hope and attacking flair to the Dutch who hold such an important part of football history in their hearts.
As tackles flew in from the opening stages of the match, Webb attempted to let the game flow by not brandishing yellow cards. As the rough play further escalated, Webb had no choice but to pull caution after caution in attempts to gain back control from the reckless players on both sides. Webb’s decision to caution the first few players deserved of one seemed to not matter as reckless tackle after reckless tackle broke any flow that was established in the first half.
Where I believe many in the media are wrong in their criticism of Webb is simply placing all or most of the blame on Webb’s shoulders when it was the players, specifically the Dutch, who must hold the majority of the blame for their actions in attempting to stifle the game and nick a goal on the counter. A feat they so narrowly missed from achieving.
Shocking as it was because of the nature of the players on the pitch, only one red card was shown. Webb could have shown a second yellow to Arjen Robben for kicking the ball into the Spain net after play was blown dead, but he didn’t. Webb allowed the game to continue on without sending Robben off, another example of Webb’s poise and clear judgement in such a massive game. Had Webb shown a second yellow to Robben, he would have been crucified by the Dutch and many in the media for taking too much control of the game and favoring Spain over the Dutch. On such a grand stage, Webb, regardless of his decisions, seemingly unable to win.
No, Webb was not lenient, unfair, card happy, or failing in making the tough decisions the game so required. The players must take responsibility for their actions in a game that has allowed football to take a small step back, at least in this country, to winning over new soccer fans. The World Cup final now over and although it wasn’t one for the ages, it was no fault of Webb and his team but of the Dutch players and their preparation as they, not Webb, did in fact bottle it.