LONDON – The head of English football launched a rare public defence of a referee on Wednesday following criticism of Howard Webb’s conduct by the agent of Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli.
Webb missed Balotelli appearing to stamp on Tottenham midfielder Scott Parker during Sunday’s Premier League match, but the referee told The Football Association the following day that had he seen the incident the striker would have been sent off.
Balotelli accepted the charge of violent conduct and will serve a four-match ban, starting with Wednesday’s League Cup semifinal against Liverpool.
But the Italian’s agent, Mino Raiola, said Webb “should be disqualified for two lifetimes,” claiming that “he lied, he saw (the incident).”
FA chairman David Bernstein responded by defending the 2010 World Cup final referee.
“Howard Webb is a fantastic referee and a great ambassador for the sport. His ability and integrity are beyond question,” Bernstein said. “He has the utmost respect from within football in England and around the world.
“That could not have been demonstrated more clearly than in 2010, when he was chosen to referee the UEFA Champions League final and the FIFA World Cup final, and this summer he has been selected for UEFA Euro 2012.”
Bernstein said that everyone in football has “a duty to respect our referees.”
“To question their integrity or imply anything other than total impartiality is reckless and unfounded,” the former Manchester City chairman said. “It harms the perception and treatment of referees at every level of football, and we must not allow that climate to exist.”
City assistant manager David Platt pointed out that some incidents often look worse when they are replayed in slow motion.
“Referees have only one live opportunity to make a judgment call on those instances that they see in a fast-paced game,” Bernstein said. “They do not have the benefit of numerous camera angles and replays, they make these decisions with honesty and integrity.”
After avoiding being sent off on Sunday, Balotelli went on to earn and score a penalty kick to clinch a 3-2 victory for Premier League leader City over Tottenham.
City had until 1800 GMT Wednesday to respond to Balotelli’s charge of violent conduct.