The appointment of Howard Webb to referee Tuesday’s Champions League match between Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund has been viewed all around Spain as a big blow to Madrid’s chances of overturning the 1-4 deficit.
The Englishman has taken charge of three of Madrid’s Champions League games in recent seasons, last season’s 2-1 defeat in Munich, a 2-2 group stages draw with AC Milan in 2010-11 and a 2-1 group win over Werder Bremen in 2007-08.
He has overseen two previous Dortmund games, which involved one draw and a defeat for the Bundesliga side.
To the Spanish fans, the memories of the 2010 World Cup final between Spain and Holland when Webb failed to send off Nigel de Jong for a violent kick on Xabi Alonso is still fresh in the memory. They probably believe Webb is not the most suitable candidate for the night.
One refereeing expert and a former Ildefonso official Urizar Azpitarte wrote on Monday that Webb’s nervousness could ruin Madrid’s plan to rout Dortmund as the Englishman is very likely to interrupt play consistently, thereby slowing Real’s whirlwind, fast- paced game.
“I believe the appointment of the Englishman Howard Webb is unlucky for Madrid,” Urizar said. “I do not believe it suits Madrid’s style of play. If the game is not tough, with not much physical contact, there are no problems with Webb.
“But if it gets difficult and you must show valour, as we hope happens, he will be an official who stops everything, halts the game too much, gives too many long explanations, cooling down the game. And in the penalty areas he lets all kinds of things go in order to keep both teams happy.”
Urizar who was among La Liga’s top officials in the 1980s, also wrote that Webb “is not in the best physical shape, but positions himself well.”
Another Newspaper, Marca also devoted a large space to Webb’s appointment on Monday. Reporter Ruben Jimenez wrote that the Yorkshire policeman was “possibly the most famous referee in the world, following (former top Italian referee Pierluigi) Collina, from whom he has inherited the bald patch.”
He however added that Webb’s performance in Spain’s 1-0 World Cup win in Johannesburg had damaged his reputation:
“There will be few people who do not know the British official, known to Spanish lands for his disastrous refereeing display in the World Cup final in South Africa, which ended with the greatest joy for Spanish football, but will also be remembered for the De Jong’s kick in Alonso’s chest, a move which is closer to taekwondo than football,” Jimenez said. “Webb, the referee in that game, only showed a yellow card to the Dutchman.”
Given that both Jose Mourinho and Cristiano Ronaldo praised the Englishman who took charge of Madrid’s semi- final leg away at Bayern Munich last season, one will have to wonder if such criticism holds water.
“Webb is an ideal referee, there is no problem as he has lot of experience of games at this level,” Mourinho said before the game. “Madrid have good feelings about all referees. We will help him to do his work so that his decisions are correct, knowing that he can make mistakes.”
Marca also accepted that Ronaldo had had no problem with the official when they met in England.
“The truth is I like the referee a lot,” the ex- Manchester United attacker said. “He is English, he has refereed many of my games there and I like him a lot. Things do not always go well for him, just as we players do not always play well.”