Few match officials inspire the same simultaneous passion and vitriol as Howard Webb.
The 43-year-old has decided to hang up his whistle after 25 years, to take up a new role as technical director of the official referees’ association. “I am very excited to start this new chapter in my career," Webb told the BBC.
Webb surpassed Graham Poll as England’s leading official, and made his mark on the 2010 World Cup final between the Netherlands and Spain, which the latter won 1-0.
As with so much of his career, he divided opinion over his handling of the biggest sporting event in the world. Despite sending off Holland’s John Heitinga , he ultimately failed to stop the aggressive band of heaving and scissor-kicking that was to become known as “anti-football”.
Having taken charge of over 500 Premier League and Football League matches, social media may have been awash with critics of the former policeman – not least thanks to former Liverpool forward Ryan Babel, who was fined after posting a mocked-up picture of Webb in a Manchester United kit on Twitter.
Whatever his reputation, he infuriated United fans when he sent off Cristiano Ronaldo in the Manchester derby at Eastlands. Although the Portuguese star was given a second yellow for an indisputable hand ball, his first came for a seemingly innocuous challenge on Nedum Onuoha.
Liverpool fans, too, felt the brunt of Webb’s wrath in the FA Cup earlier this year, when Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain got away with a clear foul on Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan’s reputation seemingly went before him as the Anfield side were denied a blatant penalty.
Watch: Howard Webb clashes with Lewis Holtby
For all his shortcomings, however, Webb will be remembered by many for a glorious moment at White Hart Lane in Ledley King’s testimonial. Lewis Holtby appeared unabashed, receiving a yellow card after hacking down Webb, and received a push in the back in return.
In fact, Webb’s finest hour of his decorated career also came in N17, in an unassuming FA Cup fifth-round tie between Tottenham and Bolton. Just minutes into the game, Bolton’s Fabrice Muamba collapsed suddenly on the pitch, receiving defibrillator treatment. Webb’s policeman past was to come in handy as he coolly abandoned the game.
Premier League fans’ opinions on him are unsurprisingly mixed. Having officiated as many games as he has, he has no doubt wronged most teams at some point. Nonetheless, he was awarded an MBE three years ago for services to football, and has promised to explain dubious decisions to fans on referees’ behalf as part of his new role.
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