I sometimes wonder whether I have a destructive thinking pattern which takes my fears and paranoia and brings them to fruition. When we went three nil up, I must have been the only Chelsea fan in that ground muttering like some demented Shakespearean hag “it’s too early, too early, it’s too damn early”. I was already picturing the headlines of a historic United come-back….
I would like to think that Howard Webb is just a poor referee – that there is nothing more sinister than that. I would like to believe that the fact that 17% of the total number of penalties he has awarded have been to United is just one of those meaningless statistics. I would really like to convince myself that the performance in this game was down to simple ineptitude but I can’t. To make things clear, I am not saying that Mr Webb is in anyway dishonest, nor am I calling into question his integrity, but the fact of the matter remains that he still seems to favour some teams above others.
I put this down to simply “being human”. The magnitude and power of United and especially Ferguson is well documented and is generally simply accepted. If your professionalism is questioned by Fergie, it will inevitably make headlines. Invariably the press, knowing which side their bread is buttered, will side with the United Manager. To progress up the refereeing ladder one cannot make too many headlines. To remain welcome at a Ferguson press conference you report the world as perceived by Old Red Nose.
Every time I looked down at the dugout Ferguson was in the 4th official’s ear – do you think he at any point told the United manager to sit down? The United players surrounded and barracked Webb with total impunity throughout the game. Scholes clearly told him to go and “procreate elsewhere you vernacular for ladies private parts” – the referee did not feel that even warranted a yellow card. These are all small things but together they give an edge and United more than anyone do not need a helping hand.
The thing about that second penalty was not only the fact that it was never a penalty – it was the fact that it was so pivotal in the game. Anyone who has watched, played, managed, refereed football for any length of time would have known the effect that the awarding of that second penalty was going to have. So as a referee, you have to be absolutely sure – and the fact is he got it wrong. It broke Chelsea and inspired United.
The other thing is the reaction that Webb’s refereeing received – the press barely raised an eyebrow. They used terms such as “United were fortunate”, and that the penalties were “softish” and that it was “not one of Webb’s best games”. Now had the refereeing decisions been reversed, Lord Govan would have been screaming blue murder and the papers would have been used like words like “travesty” and “diabolical”.
All that said, it would be remiss of me not to discuss our own culpability in our surrender of a three goal lead. Now I know I am obsessed and I know the name Mourinho has crept into a few of my most recent columns but that’s because we seem to be missing the qualities he bought to us most under Villas Boas – one of them being mental strength. Jose’s Chelsea always grew stronger and more determined in the face of injustice. Not this team.
The award of the second penalty heralded the almost certain capitulation and like a self fulfilling prophecy we handed United their come-back on a plate. The only surprise that I had was that we didn’t go the whole nine yards and hand them the win too.
Villas Boas was incandescent with rage during his post match interview as were many of us fans, but I doubt many of us would have allowed Malouda a full 90 minutes – if at all any, so he needs to look at himself too.
And while I am socking it to AVB, if I was Ryan Bertrand, I’d have been typing up a transfer request as soon as I saw that first team selection. Not only does he not pick the young left back to cover Ashley Cole’s suspension, but just to run salt into the wounds actually plays one of our worst performers of the season out of position in that role. Bertrand is 22 – no longer “a kid” – he is either good enough or he isn’t. Play him or buy another left back & release him to develop a career elsewhere.
Many have bemoaned the fact that Lampard, Terry, Drogba etc are still first team regulars, claiming they are too old – but without them our team is weak willed. Many will point to Villa Boas’ age and point out (quite rightly) that he has a lot to learn, but what happens to Chelsea while he is establishing his managerial credentials? I’m beginning to believe that we got him one club too early, but we are where we are and we can only hope that the likes of Arsenal, Newcastle and Liverpool are kept at bay long enough for us to somehow hang on to 4th.