De Jong deserved a red says Webb

By Paul Gardner

Six weeks after the event, we now get referee Howard Webb's explanation of why he did not red-card the Netherlands' Nigel de Jong in the World Cup final.

An explanation that is factually sound, that makes a lot of sense  ...  but is not entirely satisfactory.

Webb admits that he should have shown de Jong a red card for his high kick into Xabi Alonso’s chest. But, he says, his view of the incident (he was behind Alonso) was such that, although he knew it was a high foot he could not see clearly exactly where de Jong’s foot had landed, or how forcefully, or “how bad it was.”

I’ve looked at the replays, and completely concur -- he was not in a good position to see the actual impact. That was just one of those things -- no blame attaches to Webb.

But when Webb says that the “decision not to red-card him [de Jong] was not based on me not wanting to send someone off in the World Cup final, it was based on the viewing angle I had,” he is surely shading the truth. In fact, he himself admits that he was applying special standards for this one game: “Being a World Cup final, I wasn’t prepared to make a guess. It’s the pinnacle of a player’s career.”

I imagine that most referees would be enforcing more stringent standards in such a game, it was just unfortunate that Webb’s insistence on being super-correct resulted in him getting a crucial call wrong.

Webb also dealt with a particularly irritating claim made by the Dutch, who went berserk claiming that Webb erred late in the game in denying them a corner kick, and instead giving a goal kick to Spain. He did get it wrong, and he has admitted it. The Dutch reasoning after that borders on the imbecilic, claiming that the winning goal “followed” that error. It did -- but nearly a minute later, and that minute contained a 25-second spell during which the Dutch controlled the ball. As Webb put it, “So how far back do you go?”

Not only did Webb give insights into his own actions, he also had some comments on the behavior of the players. He felt, in the difficult circumstances, he might get some help in calming things down from players he knew from the English Premier League -- he mentions Fernando Torres, Robin Van Persie, and Dirk Kuyt -- but “the assistance was not as forthcoming as I’d hoped for.” In fact, Kuyt later claimed that Webb was “slightly more for them than for us ... that ultimately cost us the Cup.” That, after de Jong had got away with his midfield kung-fu display, is a bit much.

My sympathy for Webb is tempered by what sounds like inexcusable naivete on his part -- “I sensed in the tunnel how much both teams wanted to win it, having not won the World Cup before. I sensed the tension.” And he seems surprised that, even with Torres, Van Persie and Kuyt “the sole desire was to win.” What can he have been expecting?

For the first time that I can recall, we have a World Cup final referee speaking out, fairly promptly and fairly straightforwardly, on controversial incidents from the game. This is progress. We don’t usually hear a word from World Cup referees.

Silence has been the preferred referee policy for as long as I can recall. The official policy, in fact. Not that long ago, in the early 1970s, this was the wording of a FIFA memorandum to referees: "It is not the duty of the referee nor is it a useful function to explain his decisions to the players or spectators. Any attempt to do so can lead to confusion, uncertainty and delay."

Extraordinary. Of course we’ve moved on, but we’re still not where we should be with referees and their viewpoint. Mostly, I feel, because the referees, as a group, do not have a voice. We are told, ad infinitum, by Sepp Blatter that the sport would be wrecked if video replays were allowed -- but we don’t know what the referees think about the matter. That is a form of secrecy that is imposed on referees by the threatening power of FIFA. But another form of secrecy comes from the referees themselves. They still, after over 150 years, have not developed a system of signals to let everyone know what offense they’re calling when they blow their whistle.

Evidently FIFA and the referees are afraid of too much light being cast on refereeing activities. When Mexico was victimized in South Africa by an awful non-call from an Italian assistant referee that allowed Carlos Tevez to score for Argentina, FIFA spokesman Nicolas Maingot announced sternly: “A clear mistake. This will be corrected. We will work on this.” He was not talking about the refereeing error -- that was ignored. What had upset FIFA was the fact that the television replays -- clearly showing the gaffe -- had appeared on the big screens in the stadium where everyone could see them. Shameful!

8 comments about "De Jong deserved a red says Webb".
  1. ckg beautiful game, August 27, 2010 at 8:43 a.m.

    Howard Webb is a 1st class official. He was right to withhold red if he could not fully judge the level of the foul committed. In this day where so many roll & writhe in supposed pain only to get up, sprint 40 yards & score a wonder goal or if they miss fall back down. Mr Webb had to be sure. He could have maybe used some help from an assistant who had a better angle. But for you to watch 50 replays from every angle is unfair of you to be so critical.

  2. Kent James, August 27, 2010 at 9:45 a.m.

    Webb did a credible job on a very difficult game. He was right to not issue a red unless he was sure (WC final or not). Penalty kicks and red cards should not be guessed at. It was also good to hear his explanation. I think the FIFA directive should be interpreted as applying to game conditions; the referee should not get into a discussion about a call with the players. Most good refs will give a quick word of explanation if the players (or coach) are confused, which should help keep the game flowing (and hopefully give players some confidence in the ref's understanding of the game). But if the ref were obligated to explain every call, it might slow the game down (as coaches or players disputed the validity of the ref's explanation), and lead to more focus on the official's actions. On the other hand, referees should be willing to offer explanations after the game about specific incidents, so that the public can better understand how referees operate.

  3. Eric Young, August 27, 2010 at 10:51 a.m.

    I totally agree with Kent James comment here.

    And I tend to agree with FIFA's constant standard of not wanting to stop a game's flow. It aggravates us all when they won't use cameras at the goal line and/or instant replay to catch and expose the red card World Cup incident mentioned here.

    But here is a simple policy that I think could be introduced. How about a 5th official for televised games that could be allowed to review questionable fouls during a game. The center ref would only have to make the foul call itself--and maybe not even have to issue a card at the moment the incident occurs. Meanwhile, the 5th ref could review the play as often as needed. If--at some point he determined that a card could and should be issued--then that card could be given at the next stoppage of play.

    This might clean up the cheathing and otherwise unethical behavior that goes on in a Pro game if each player knew there was an eye in the sky watching them.

  4. Juan R, August 27, 2010 at 1:06 p.m.

    At least Spain won, and the soccer gods also made sure that a Dutch player was eventually sent off. It was a tough game to referee because of the approach that the Dutch brought. I'd give Webb the benefit of the doubt on De Jong's karate kick. At least he came out publicly and talked about it.

  5. Brian Something, August 27, 2010 at 5:38 p.m.

    I can't fault Webb for not giving de Jong the red if neither he nor his assistants saw it clearly. There are certain decisions you should not give unless you are as close to 100 pct sure as possible. Red cards are one of them, penalty kicks are another. The only question I have is that he gave de Jong a yellow, if I remember correctly. What could he have seen that justified a yellow but not a red?

  6. beautiful game, August 27, 2010 at 8:41 p.m.

    What are the AR's and the fourth ref doing...does Webb want to get a second opinion. The Dutch brought an alien game plan to the final, they deserved no mercy.

  7. David Mont, August 28, 2010 at 12:04 p.m.

    I don't get it. Webb was unsighted and couldn't clearly see the De Jong incident. However, he was sighted enough to issue a yellow card. How could he, if he couldn't see the incident? "he could not see clearly exactly where de Jong’s foot had landed, or how forcefully, or “how bad it was.”" -- so, what was the yellow card for? A high foot by itself does not warrant a card.

  8. Robert Kiernan, August 29, 2010 at 5:42 p.m.

    I've got to say I'm amazed just how willing everyone here is to give Webb "the benefit of a doubt" about this crucial non sending off... yes the Dutch played the game of football by attrition, but the Spanish also played to get that second yellow issued most all the match... neither team did much to actually "play", instead this match will be remembered for the one time Arjen Robben decided NOT to go to the turf...with Puyol tugging on him all the way...and what do we learn from this,well that a player clearly SHOULD be diving or he won't get the call, that a player like DeJong or Van Bommel can get away with murder out there, but a defender like Hettinger better watch his step... this is never going to be remembered as even an entertaining final, and if Webb made any attempt to engage his "assistant" Referees...well it was clearly done very subtly... until a linesman in position to call this sort of thing actually CALLS it to the head referee's attention, I refuse to call them "assistant" referees because they clearly don't see themselves as such. As far as a rhythm to this match, well Webb made pretty damned sure that there wasn't much to be had...just how many yellows did he feel were necessary anyway? But a player like DeJong who PLAYS in the league that Webb works certainly couldn't really be that much of an unknown factor to him... yet in being "evenhanded"with him, Webb gave the destroyers out there free reign and so also encouraged all the other gamesmanship in response.
    Nothing good is likely going to come from this...the goons will continue to be goons, the divers will continue to dive and try to play the officials and the Officials shall continue to not work together as a unit to prevent any of this... just a terrible final and a poorly handled one at that!

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