Man Utd v Liverpool: Ryan Babel's 2011 Twitter swipe at Howard Webb made PL history

Man Utd v Liverpool: Ryan Babel's 2011 Twitter swipe at Howard Webb made PL history

Former Liverpool winger Ryan Babel hardly had a massive impact during his time at Anfield, managing just 12 Premier League goals in his four years on Merseyside.

The Dutchman did end up carving out a piece of English football history over that period, though, when he became the first player ever to be fined for a social media post.

Controversy never seems to be far away whenever the Reds clash with fierce rivals Manchester United – and their FA Cup third-round encounter at Old Trafford on January 17, 2011 proved no exception.

Referee Howard Webb was at the centre of the post-match debate after Liverpool fell to a 1-0 defeat on the day, with Ryan Giggs putting the Red Devils through thanks to a penalty after just two minutes.

Awarded barely 30 seconds into the match, Webb’s decision to penalise Daniel Agger for a foul in the box on United’s Dimitar Berbatov appeared generous, as the Bulgarian fell to the ground theatrically. 

It was a big early blow for Liverpool, but worse was to come just after the half-hour mark when Kenny Dalglish’s men were reduced to 10-men.

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Captain Steven Gerrard was given his marching orders following a lunging challenge on Michael Carrick. 

Babel took aim at referee Howard Webb after the defeat

The visitors made their feelings clear on the pair of match-altering calls after the final whistle with Daglish, in particular, fuming over the soft nature of United’s penalty. 

Babel, who had entered the tie as a second-half substitute, chose to take to social media to express his anger at Webb’s performance. It ended up being the most expensive tweet of his life. 

“And they call him one of the best referees? That’s a joke. SMH,” wrote Babel in a scathing assessment of the Rotherham-born official. To hammer home his point, the Liverpool man included a photoshopped image of Webb wearing a United shirt.

Babel had to have known that such an accusation towards a senior official wasn’t going to down well with FA chiefs, but even he must have been caught off-guard by the extent to which they decided to make an example of him.

In handing down a £10,000 fine for the post, administrators left no doubt that such behaviour wouldn’t be tolerated in future.

Babel’s situation probably wasn’t helped by the fact that Webb had been chosen to referee the World Cup final just six months earlier and was one of the game’s premier officials at the time.

Ryan Babel in action for Liverpool

Aside from the hefty financial penalty, Babel was also ordered to apologise for his actions, which he did in a further Twitter post.

“Sorry Howard Webb,” he wrote. “My apology if they take my posted picture seriously. This is just an emotional reaction after losing an important game.”

Let’s face it. A £10,000 fine is not going to affect a Premier League footballer in the same way as it might those in other walks of life. 

That said, a five-figure bill is a pretty considerable price to pay for letting off some steam following a game. It’s no surprise we haven’t seen too many go as far as Babel in the 11 years since. 

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