A referee does his job if he officiates a football game in orderly fashion without becoming the centre of attention.
There can be no worse feeling for a referee when he impacts the outcome of a game by making a wrong decision. But affecting the outcome of an entire campaign is much, much worse.
And yet retired ref Howard Webb thinks he made a mistake in the 2008-09 season that helped Manchester United secure the title.
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Webb was in charge of United’s game against Tottenham on April 25, 2009, as Sir Alex Ferguson’s side looked to move three points clear of Liverpool at the top of the table with the end in sight.
Yet first-half goals from Tottenham’s Darren Bent and Luka Modric looked set to change the narrative.
That was until Webb made a decision that he calls a “matchchanger”.
Ten minutes after the restart, Michael Carrick broke through on goal and was caught by Heurelho Gomes as he tried to round the Tottenham goalkeeper. Webb was unwatered in his decision to point to the penalty spot.
However, replays showed that Gomes was right to be annoyed. He got a hand to the ball and Carrick fell over his body. The penalty shouldn’t have been awarded.
Go to 1:09 in the video below to watch the incident.
Cristiano Ronaldo converted the resulting spot-kick and suddenly, United had the momentum. They added another four goals in a second-half rampage.
It’s impossible to tell for certain the game’s outcome had the penalty not been given - United could have still staged a comeback.
Yet it still lingers in Webb’s memory.
Impact on the title
In an interview with Sport Magazine, the 2010 World Cup final referee was asked to reveal his biggest mistake.
“The one that’s talked about most is the [Nigel] De Jong tackle [on Xabi Alonso in the 2010 World Cup final], which should have been a red card,” he replied. “But that’s only because it was such a high-profile situation – that’s not the biggest mistake.
“The one I really was annoyed about most of all was Man Utd v Tottenham at Old Trafford (pictured). It was April 2009 – I’d just been appointed to do the FA Cup final; I was on a high.
“Tottenham were winning 2-0 early in the second half; lovely ball by Wayne Rooney played towards Michael Carrick. Gomes, the goalkeeper, came out... Carrick got a touch on the ball and was wiped out by Gomes. That’s the way it looked to me.
“Actually, Carrick got a touch of the ball, but Gomes got a big hand on the ball as well – good tackle by Gomes. I’d misread it, gave the penalty, and United went on to win 5-2 from 2-0 down. It was a matchchanger, that’s why it hurt. And it had an impact on the league title, too.”
Liverpool fans certainly haven’t forgiven Webb. United ended up pipping them to the title by four points.