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Howard Webb admits his biggest mistake saw Manchester United reignite title charge in 2008/09 season

  • Webb recalls a debatable penalty that was awarded to United when they played Tottenham Hotspur
Rohith Nair
Modified 02 May 2016, 18:05 IST
Howard Webb mistake Manchester United 5-2 Tottenham Hotspur
Howard Webb admits his biggest mistake was awarding Manchester United a penalty against Tottenham Hotspur in 2009

Howard Webb has been retired for two years now but he is arguably the most famous referee in the Premier League in the last decade. Having officiated over 500 games in 13 seasons in the Premier League, European competitions, and even the World Cup, Webb is well respected for his decisions and opinions after he became a pundit who analysed refereeing decisions. 

The former police officer has come a long way and is now the technical director of the Professional Game Match Officials Board. The son of a referee himself, Webb recently gave an interview to Sport magazine where he admitted his biggest mistake in his career. 

A qualified FIFA international referee, Webb was in charge of the 2014 FIFA World Cup final. And his decision to not send off Netherlands’ Nigel De Jong for kicking Xabi Alonso in the chest has been discussed over the years, but Webb admits that was not his biggest mistake. 

More: Know your Premier League referees and who they support

“The one that’s talked about most is the [Nigel] De Jong tackle, which should have been a red card,” Webb explained. “But that’s only because it was such a high-profile situation – that’s not the biggest mistake.”

Webb’s mistake saw Manchester United beat Tottenham 5-2 after going 2-0 down

Instead, Webb casts his eye back on a Premier League match in April 2009. Manchester United hosted Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford and the Red Devils had got off to a nightmarish start, going down 2-0 after Darren Bent and Luka Modric had put the Spurs in front. 

“The one I really was annoyed about most of all was Man United vs Tottenham at Old Trafford,” Webb explained.

“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.”


At this point, Wayne Rooney put Michael carrick through on goal with a beautiful pass which forced Spurs goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes to rush off his line and get to the ball. It seemed like a 50-50 ball and Carrick went down in the box, forcing Webb to point to the spot in spite of Gomes’s pleading protests. 

“Gomes, the goalkeeper, came out,” Webb continued. “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!”

Cristiano Ronaldo penalty Howard Webb mistake Manchester United 5-2 Tottenham Hotspur
Cristiano Ronaldo netted the penalty that sparked Manchester United’s comeback

Cristiano Ronaldo stepped up and put the penalty away to spark a comeback that eventually saw United win 5-2 to leapfrog Liverpool who had taken top spot before the game. 

“I’d misread it, gave the penalty, and United went on to win 5-2 from 2-0 down. It was a match-changer, that’s why it hurt. And it had an impact on the league title, too,” Webb concluded.

The Red Devils eventually finished the season four points above Liverpool to take home their third title in three years. 

Published 02 May 2016, 17:22 IST
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