Friday 23 July 2010

World Cup Final 2010: Howard’s Way

This post takes a look at some selected incidents during the second half and extra time of the World Cup Final match between the Netherlands and Spain on Sunday 11 July 2010 in South Africa.

This is a rather lengthy post, so if needed please scroll down to the end to see the summary.

By now, from the analysis of the first half and at the half-time break, there are clear indications that Howard Webb has a game plan which is geared towards keeping players on the park, even though some players do not merit being there.

At half-time, the score is 0—0, Holland has three cautions, Spain has two, and players are aware that it is a battlefield out there on the pitch.
The questions are: will Webb continue with his game plan or will he modify it? Will he try something different? At the start of the second half, HKRef believes Webb still has a chance to stamp his authority on the match. Let’s see what happened:

The answer to Webb’s approach is clear to all (except perhaps Webb himself) when in the 48th minute, as Spain prepare to take a corner, Webb whistles and approaches players in the penalty area. Webb publicly warns Ramos (#15) and van Persie (#9) about holding.

[“Anymore, and you’re outta here … is that clear??” says Webb]

The players nearby (i.e. Mathijsen, van Persie, de Jong, Pique, Ramos, Puyol) all hear but do not listen.

[“Peace brother, it’s cool,” says Ramos]

And then the players continue … as if the referee had never ever warned them.

[van Persie is all over Puyol]

Howard's Way is clearly not working!

In the 50th minute, Spain’s Pedro (#18) is sandwiched between two Dutch players (#7 and #5). The referee whistles for a foul. *

In the 54th minute, Holland’s van Bronckhurst (#5) takes out Ramos (#15) again and finally receives a caution. Webb appeared to have cautioned van Bronckhurst for making a tactical foul (rather than for van Bronckhurst’s persistent fouls).
NOTE: when Webb cautioned van Bronckhurst, Mark van Bommel was instantly in Webb’s face, haranguing him. Captain van Bronckhurst has to tell van Bommel to go away.
[Bookings Update: Holland(4) Spain(2)]

In the 56th minute, Holland’s Heitinga (#3) fouls Villa (#7) with a late follow-thru challenge that Webb missed. Webb is ball watching. A few seconds pass and then Webb whistles and goes back to caution Heitinga. This is an example of referee teamwork. Someone must have told Webb about Heitinga’s reckless tackle on Villa, because Webb missed the foul. Was it AR Cann or 4th Official Nishimura?
[Bookings Update: Holland(5) Spain(2)]
The TV commentator said: “Webb is on a record at this rate”. In fact, Webb had just surpassed the previous record number of cards shown in a World Cup final match: Brazilian referee Romuald Arppi Filho gave six cards in the 1986 final.

In the 58th minute, good offside decision by AR Cann. A free kick by Robben is hoisted into the penalty area and Heitinga connects with his head. However, Heitinga was in an offside position as the ball was kicked.

Yet another foul on and free kick to Spain, in the 59th minute. So far, Holland has committed 15 fouls (or at least 15 fouls that were given).

In the 60th minute, the ball hits Webb on the ankle; then Robben fouls Alonso.

In the 83rd minute, Robben breaks with the ball and races towards the Spain penalty area. Puyol has his arm around Robben’s waist, but Robben continues until keeper Casillas blocks the attack. Robben is furious at not being awarded a foul (and perhaps a second caution for Puyol). However, it is clear that Webb (who is positioned near the halfway line directly behind the play) did not have the optimal angle to see Puyol’s attempt to hold Robben.

Webb gives a public warning to Robben to calm down, but Robben continues his dissent. Webb cautions Robben, and once more van Bommel is in Webb’s face harassing him.

In the 87th minute, a free kick is awarded to Holland. After Spain’s Fabregas is substituted on, Sneijder takes the free kick and it hits Spain’s Navas who is standing only 7 yards away. Sneijder complains to Webb, who does nothing except to signal the throw-in to Holland. **

[Spain’s Navas is only 7 yards away during the free kick]

In the 89th minute, good offside decision by AR Cann against van Persie (#9). However even though Webb has whistled, van Persie continues forward and shoots across goal and onto the far post. Webb goes over to talk to van Persie (who has already been cautioned). ***

The 2010 World Cup Final goes into extra time (this is the sixth time this has occurred in the history of the World Cup).

Comical scenes in the 91st minute, as three Spanish players (Fabregas, Iniesta and Xavi) tumble in sequence one after another, starting from outside the penalty area. The Spain bench appears to want a penalty (especially for Xavi, Spain’s third player to go down), but the replays show there was no foul. Heitinga was merely shielding the ball as Xavi kicks Heitinga's leg and then trips over his own feet.

In the 97th minute, van Bommel fouls Xavi. Xavi is angry and asks Webb to caution van Bommel (who is already cautioned) by signalling an imaginary card. However, Webb continues with his game plan of talking to and verbally warning players.

In the 109th minute, Xavi and Robben tussle for the ball. Robben loses out and flaps his arms, asking Webb for a foul. Webb, as usual, simply waves down Robben’s protests.
Then, as Iniesta charges towards goal with the ball, Heitinga puts his arm over and across Iniesta who promptly falls down. Heitinga receives his second caution, and is sent off. Webb manages the wall and gets 10 yards. However by the time Xavi takes the free kick, the wall distance is 8 yards. **

[Webb correctly paces out 10 yards]

[But as Webb moves away, the wall distance creeps down to 8 yards]

In 113th minute, offside decision against Robben. But Robben (who has already been cautioned) continues forward and kicks the ball into the net. Webb simply warns Robben (as he did to van Persie for the same action in the 89th minute ***). Some might argue that Webb is being consistent; however, considering that Holland are down to 10 men with seven minutes remaining, some may consider Robben to be time-wasting.

In the 115th minute, Fabregas fouls Holland’s Elia about 33 yards out from the Spain goal. Webb’s wall management is poor. The wall distance is only 7 yards and as a result when the free kick is taken the ball hits Fabregas, who is at the end of the wall closest to the referee, and is deflected out for a corner kick. Webb missed this deflection and gives a goal kick. **

[Wall distance is only 7 yards and the ball subsequently hits the wall and goes out for a corner]

Next, in the 116th minute, Webb is unconvinced that Holland’s Elia is fouled (sandwiched) by two Spain players.
[NOTE: is Webb consistent? See 50th minute. *] Subsequently, the ball breaks for Spain and Iniesta scores.

After the goal, Holland’s Mathijsen berates AR Mullarkey for not flagging offside, and then throws the ball down against the ground. Webb cautions him. Webb then cautions Iniesta for removing his shirt for celebrating his goal.

In the 120th + 1st minute, Holland receive a free kick but Xavi kicks the ball away. Webb cautions Xavi for unsporting behaviour (time-wasting). ***
[Bookings Update: Holland(8+1) Spain(5)]

In the 120th + 2nd minute, whilst running for the ball Spain’s Torres pulls up injured. Holland do not put the ball out and continue with play.
NOTE: HKRef agrees with this approach, because the decision whether to stop or continue play rests (and should rest) with the referee.
Law 5 states that the referee:
• stops the match if, in his opinion, a player is seriously injured and ensures that he is removed from the field of play.
• allows play to continue until the ball is out of play if a player is, in his opinion, only slightly injured.
However despite Law 5, time and time again it is usually players who decide whether to stop or continue play; players usually take this decision away from the referee. This time though, because time is so tight, players forget all manner of ceremonial sporting gestures and simply get on with the game until they hear the referee’s whistle.

At full time, van Bommel and Sneijder continue to complain and protest at Webb. When AR Cann arrives next to Webb and tries to calm down Sneijder, Sneijder snaps and emits an angry outburst.


1) Throughout the match (and even after the final whistle), there were signs that Howard’s Way did not work. Players simply did not respect the referee. Webb perhaps had a couple of opportunities to change his game plan but instead stuck to his guns … with disastrous consequences.

2) Webb’s game plan was to try to keep players on the pitch, no matter what, and for that he had to rely on his man-management skills. This post shows mainly pictures of wall distances, and these provide a snapshot of Webb’s (mis)management of players during this highly-charged final.

3) The importance of teamwork. There is no doubt that the two ARs were excellent, especially with their offside calls. The 4th Official was relatively incognito, although to be fair we do not know what his actual contributions were to Webb. As stated previously, Nishimura is probably a non-native English speaker and he appears “culturally polite”, which may impact on how the match officials communicate with one another. Nishimura has to understand Webb’s Yorkshire accent and Webb has to understand Nishimura’s English through their two-way earpieces. Two incidents where teamwork was needed—due to Webb perhaps being unsighted or guilty of ball watching—occurred in the 29th minute (de Jong’s studs challenge on Alonso) and the 56th minute (Heitinga’s reckless follow-thru on Villa). During these incidents, was it the AR or the 4th Official (or both) who communicated what they saw to Webb?

4) Was Webb consistent? No and yes. For “no”, please see selected incidents marked with * and ***. For “yes”, Webb was consistently poor at managing the players (also see incidents with **). The players simply lost respect for him because they knew he was too lenient.

Finally, much has been written by outside observers about Howard Webb’s performance at the 2010 World Cup final match. But the truth about “Howard’s Way” has yet to emerge ... and no doubt a book deal will be offered. Perhaps then, a better insight into how Howard Webb prepared for and performed in the biggest game of his refereeing career will surface.

Related Posts

How Does a Referee Prepare for a World Cup Final?

World Cup Final 2010: Mixed Signals and Expected Teamwork

World Cup Final 2010: First Half

World Cup Final 2010: Importance of the Half-time Break

Puzzled by Poll

1 comment:

  1. Webb does a great impersonation of a policeman in the first photo. "Oi Sunshine, anymore trouble from you and I'm kicking you out. Understand?"