Former Premier League referee Howard Webb has lifted the lid on the one decision he made which he wishes he could reverse.
Webb is widely considered one of the best referees of the 21st century and officiated the 2010 World Cup final – where he infamously failed to send off Nigel de Jong for leading with his studs into Xabi Alonso’s chest.
However there is another call which Webb regrets more.
The incident came in 2009 in a match between Manchester United and Tottenham during a heated title race between United and Liverpool.
Spurs led 2-0 at Old Trafford heading into the second-half thanks to goals from Darren Bent and Luka Modric – only for Michael Carrick to earn a penalty for the hosts after being brought down by Heurelho Gomes.
Webb pointed to the spot – but immediately realised something was wrong.
Recalling the moment after he awarded a penalty, Webb said: “I was expecting the usual cursory appeal that you get from the players, not the huge look of absolute astonishment and amazement and incredulousness on the look of Gomes.
“It was obvious within seconds I’d got the decision wrong. There was something more to this.”
Replays clearly showed that Gomes had got to the ball first to palm it away but neither assistant referee offered clarification and the call stood.
Cristiano Ronaldo hammered home a penalty to halve the deficit.
What happened next went down in Premier League history, with Wayne Rooney striking to equalise for United before a further three goals – from Ronaldo, Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov – saw Spurs lose 5-2.
After Rooney equalised, Webb could see what was going to happen.
“You just know,” he added, speaking to The Athletic. “You can tell as a ref. You can see the momentum shift.
“You can see the way the game is going. At 2-1, you never know. At 2-2, you can see the way this game is going.”
Webb, who refereed over 500 professional matches and is now general manager of the MLS’ Professional Referees Organization, believes VAR is useful for helping eliminate glaring errors from the game.
“The good thing now is that we do have a system in place where we can rectify some of the more egregious errors and we’re pretty pleased with the way it has worked so far,” Webb added.
“The fact that we have been able to rectify some big errors, we’ve been able to give officials confidence — so in that game at Old Trafford, I could have had a much better final 30 minutes knowing that I had, yes, made an error, but having seen it again from a better angle, I was able to put it right.”