JOHANNESBURG SOUTH AFRICA - JULY 11: Referee Howard Webb gestures during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Final match between Netherlands and Spain at Soccer City Stadium on July 11 2010 in Johannesburg South Africa. Webb 39 has been December 31 2010 awarded an MBE in the New Year's Honours List for refeeeing the Champions League final and the World Cup final. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
According to the Guardian, Howard Webb is expected to be named as the referee for the key fixture between Chelsea and Manchester United at Old Trafford this Sunday - one which could see the Blues stage a remarkable comeback to go top of the table after trailing by fifteen points in early March. Webb has been widely accused of being biased in favour of Sir Alex Ferguson's team, and so this is being painted as bad news for Chelsea.
I don't think it's really as simple for that, and people who rely on refereeing biases to explain away results are out of their minds. Has Webb made dubious decisions that have benefited United? Yes, almost indisputably. But those were mistakes, not the result of some sort of dark conspiracy (thanks, Mourinho), and are not guaranteed to continue. We may well lose on Sunday, but I simply cannot imagine it being because a professional referee is biased for our opponents.
It's a little disturbing to me to see more than a few Chelsea fans up in arms about the appointment - I even saw 'I hope Howard Webb dies in his sleep' flash by as I scanned Twitter for his name. Frankly, it's a lazy way of doing things. Webb is a good referee, I imagine he'd be mortified by accusations of bias, and the statistics 'proving' he's in Manchester United's pocket prove nothing at all.
Some day, refereeing oversight will get to the point where they hire decent statisticians to detect bias in decisions, but that day isn't today. Claiming that Webb is biased because he's awarded penalties in three out of his last four matches at Old Trafford is silliness incarnate. What happened to the possibility that he awarded those penalties because the other team actually conceded them?
Focusing on the referee is making excuses in advance and complaints of bias should be beneath us. If we win, we win, if we lose, we lose, and that depends on the performance of the team far more than who's in charge of officiating the match. Let's hope for a good game at Old Trafford.