Caught in a Troubling Webb

So, referee Howard Webb came out on radio and admitted that he now feels the penalty he awarded to Manchester United in their 5-2 win over Tottenham on Saturday was a mistake.

The article, posted at Soccernet, details Webb’s appearance on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire. Read it here. Here’s a highlight:

There, see that? Was that really all that difficult? Webb can’t change history. He can’t go back in time and undo the call. And he can’t help Tottenham grow a pair and not fold faster than paper at an origami class.

But Webb can admit his mistake and move on. And I applaud him for it, and you keep an eye out to make sure he doesn’t make a similar mistake again. The fact that he will put in work to see where he went wrong is very encouraging and professional.

Now, would it have been that difficult to hear the same thing from Jair Maruffo after his colossal foul ups in the DC-LA game during Major League Soccer’s opening week – one on a handball and one for not stopping play with two players suffering head injuries? There never was an explanation that I saw, there never was a statement, nothing. When I covered MLS for the newspaper I worked for several years ago, and such a controversial situation occurred, a pool reporter was selected from the press box and was allowed to ask the referee three questions, and all the writers could then use the information. I don’t know if this policy is still in place, and if it’s not, it’s an abomination in this situation.

Course, now we read here, there, and everywhere that Maruffo may have received a gift in the form of a jersey from the Fire’s Cuauhtemoc Blanco following Chicago’s 2-2 draw with Columbus over the weekend. The Crew led, 2-0, before Crew defender Gino Padula was sent off for a foul on Blanco. The Fire scored twice, everyone gets a point, and Blanco was allegedly seen tossing his jersey into the official’s room.

It is natural – but not correct – to now be convinced that something sinister was at work not only Saturday, but in the aforementioned DC-LA game, too. If we had ever gotten an explanation from Marrufo for his actions that day, the perception battle wouldn’t be so hard to win. If, say three days after the game, Marrufo released a statement through US Soccer and/or MLS, noting his errors, apologizing for them, and explaining what he thought he saw in the heat of the moment – some fans would still have been all over him, I’m sure, but the openness of communication and the ability for the public to understand his thought process would have made things a lot better.

Having never done that, and now having his name associated with another issue – one that potentially (and that’s a big word there) has far greater consequences than a bad penalty call and a worse game management decision, there will probably be fans that will go back and wonder if what they saw was above board both back in March and this past weekend.

I’m 99.995% sure that it was.

It’s the 0.005% reamining that creates the problem right now.

The sooner the right folks get to the bottom of everything, the better. And the more openness with which they do it … well, that wouldn’t hurt either.

Personally, I hope the 99.995% part of me is right.


2 thoughts on “Caught in a Troubling Webb

  1. Marrufo’s career has definitely been one of extremes. His entry to MLS featured the Southlake game where he give Brandon Prideaux two yellows, but no red. He managed to overcome that horrific mistake to become one of the first four full-time men’s referees as well as being assigned MLS Cup final and being fasttracked for FIFA World Cup duty. A great story of redemption, indeed.

    But just like a mercurial player who has national team talent, but not consistency nor temperment, maybe Jair’s downside is too great to continue at the level he’s currently at. Maybe a step back to the chorus.

    Every referee blows calls, even Graham Poll – with fourth official Kevin Stott’s lack of help – made a hash of yellow cards at a World Cup.

    But Jair keeps sabotaging his own career. If it were just on-field stuff, he’d fit in with most of the current crop of USSF officials.

    However, the appearance of off-the-field impropriety – which I honestly believe is innocent – is just not a smart move. It’s a horrible personal decision at exactly the wrong time. When the spotlight is on, that’s the time to be squeaky clean, not getting chummy with players.

    I’m not worried about his technical competence, all referees screw the proverbial pooch from time to time. I’m worried about his understanding of responsibility and circumstance. Being a FIFA level referee (insert Byron Moreno jokes here) should be, at least in the United States, a mark of something more.

  2. I have long thought MLS’ and USSF’s handling of controversial referee calls has been terrible. Althougth, I suppose the last 8 years has sensitized me to the act of keeping all actions secret, I really didn’t give it much thought. I agree that the apology/explanation is a good thing, and I think it should be required in every red card and penalty kick situation. If anything, it’ll force the USSF referees to learn from their mistakes. I can accept that a referee can make mistakes. What I can’t accept is a referee that insists on being correct when all evidence proves otherwise. That’s not impartiality, its incompetence.

    Personally, from the USSF’s perspective, they’ve slapped the wrist of a man who’s entire profession requires him and expects him to be independent. He says accepting the gift from Blanco was a mistake, but if this had happened with an auditor and a huge investment firm, the auditor would have his license revoked.

    Maruffo knew he could not accept the gift, and although the punishment may seem harsh, he should have either lost his FIFA license or at least have been suspended for period of time (greater than 1 week).

    The integrity of the referees will always be called into question, but given the number of match fixing scandals in the game today, this wrist-slap just makes USSF/MLS look weak.

    In this particular case, Blanco is at fault too. He knows he can’t give a gift to a referee. As a result, I’d say that he should give a signed jersey to everyone in attendance at that game.

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