It seemed as though the selection of referee for today’s Man U v Spurs match at the Theatre of Hollow Myths was spot on and just right for the job in hand. Howard Webb is a man who has proved time and time again that he’s one referee who knows exactly how to deal with the acknowledged divers of the best Man U tradition. Howard does not shirk his responsibility, Howard acts decisively. Howard doesn’t even hesitate; he gets the whistle to the lips and blows shrilly for the statutory penalty. We’ve seen it repeatedly down the years. The man is Mr Consistent, and his collection of Premier League title winners medals have been due reward for this.
But clearly, something went badly wrong today. A goal down at half time, and needing their main man on form in the second half, Man U increased their divers complement, using all three specialists at the club with Ashley Young joining Welbeck and the promising young triple-salko expert Januzaj. Between them, these three gave Webb every opportunity to award penalties, with brilliant build-up play leading to immaculate finishes, landing on the face in the box in the approved fashion. Webb, though, appeared to have forgotten his lines completely, refusing to give even one penalty and actually booking the latest “New George Best”! His performance was disgraceful, and he is expected to be carpeted at Carrington later this week. On this performance, Webb’s place in Moyes’ matchday squad must be in doubt.
Looking at the displays of the three-man dive squad against Spurs, any and all of them could have had success on the day were it not for the official deciding to come over all impartial, in blatant breach of the standard contract. Let’s take Danny Welbeck first:
Danny tried hard, but possibly a little too hard. One of the tabloids, the Metro, has chosen to be a little treacherous and highlight one of the lad’s less subtle dives – and oh dear, it does look bad (see here). Overall, not one of Danny’s better displays. But, at the risk of straying into irrelevant areas, at least he scored.
Moving on, let’s check out the promising young Adnan Januzaj’s form:
Young Adnan again is a trier and he shows real potential. The fact is though that he’s been booked at least twice now, for “simulation” as they prefer to call it these days (cheating is such a nasty word). This may indicate that he’s perhaps not yet a true Man U class diver. It’s a part of his game he’ll obviously be encouraged to work on – Moyes is on record as saying he’ll be having a chat with the lad, and there are good, solid examples of effective diving already at the club, from whom he can learn a great deal. But for the moment, he’s flattering to deceive, and there are even suggestions that the blatant nature of some of his “precipitate descents to ground level” are threatening to blow the gaff on the very fabric of the club’s entire diving policy. This is something that should put all concerned on notice; the quality of diving needs to be addressed just as much as does the inexplicable form of the normally-reliable Webb.
Last, but by no means least, we have Man U’s main diver, usually benched until his particular gifts are needed – the one and only Ashley “Nautilus” Young:
If there is one man who should shoulder no blame whatsoever for today’s defeat, it’s that man Young. Always available to come on when required, his single-minded approach warms the hearts of every fan from Torquay to Milton Keynes and back again. Such dedication deserves some reward; on days like this, Ashley could be forgiven for thinking he might as well go back to playing football. But such a devoted practitioner of his art will not long be cast down. You can guarantee that Ashley will be back, arms and legs akimbo, nose ploughing a furrow inside the eighteen yard box and that lovely, fluid motion as the dive turns seamlessly into a loudly-squealed appeal to the normally willing ref. Looking at today’s match, Moyes was livid that one dive of utter quality didn’t result in a penalty. Unlucky, Ashley – don’t give up.
As for the rest of the match – Spurs even had the cheek to claim a penalty of their own. But goals either side of half-time, both inexplicably allowed, were enough in the end to see them take the three points. Sadly, it will have been an uncomfortable journey back south for the bulk of the Man U support, having to share trains with gloating Spurs fans. It’s at times like these that the mettle of such faithful and dedicated gloryhunters is truly put to the test.
These are worrying times though for Man U. Spurs have been nothing special this term, and the fact that they have been able to face Man U’s triple threat and not concede even ONE penalty is a matter of grave concern. Some MPs in Home Counties constituencies are being asked to table questions in the House. It’s that serious. The problem, clearly, is with Webb – and you’d almost wonder on today’s performance if someone’s got at him? The Premier League Referee’s Panel, perhaps – though they’re normally very good at keeping their nose out of Man U’s private affairs. Whatever has happened, something has to be sorted out, and soon – or it will be hard to see how personnel changes are to be avoided. Several younger refs have put in promising performances for Man U lately, one even pulling a muscle in his eagerness to point to the spot. It may even be time to think the unthinkable and act to replace Howard – even though there’s little doubt that he will go down as one of the true greats in the club’s history.
It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall when Webb is summoned to meet an irate David Moyes in the next few days. He’s likely to have to do some hard, fast talking to have any hope of retaining his squad number, and even then it’s likely that beady eyes will be watching him from the stand. Yes, even his old mentor S’ralex is rumoured to be bitterly disappointed with Webb’s lamentable display today. Things are getting serious – for sound marketing reasons, Man U simply must finish in the top four at the very, very least. So could we really be about to see the end of a glorious Man U career? The next few days way well decide that.