Referee Tom Henning Ovrebo will forever be associated with Chelsea’s clash with Barcelona in the semi-finals of the Champions League in the 2008/09 season.
At the time, the Blues had earned a respectable 0-0 draw at Camp Nou in the first leg, putting them in a decent position to qualify provided they were able to make their home advantage.
Michael Essien’s brilliant strike within the first ten minutes set them on the way to achieving that and setting up another final date with Manchester United, only for Andres Iniesta to level it up for Barca right at the death to send Pep Guardiola’s side through on away goals.
However, the result only tells part of the story. Throughout the match, Chelsea saw a number of strong penalty appeals turned away by Ovrebo, and despite the sending off of Eric Abidal for the visitors, Guus Hiddink’s side felt that the decisions simply were not going their way throughout.
Speaking to Marca ahead of Chelsea’s meeting with Barcelona this week, Ovrebo accepts that he did not have the strongest performance at Stamford Bridge that night – but feels that the entirety of his career shouldn’t be judged solely on that match:
“No [I’m not proud of my performance], not at all. It was not my best day, really. But those mistakes can be committed by a referee … and sometimes a player or a coach. Some days you’re not at the level you should be. But no, I can’t be proud of that performance.
“There were several errors and everyone will have their opinion of those plays. But, I insist, the players and the coaches also fail, and nothing happens. I am proud of having had a long career and having been in the European elite for a while, and among the best in my country at least. That’s why you can’t remember me or my career just for that game, although some people, like you, do so… unfortunately.”
Michael Ballack was particularly furious at the refereeing decisions, at one point chasing Ovrebo and borderline manhandling him. Although he could well have sent Ballack off for this, the ref explained why he allowed the German midfielder to stay on the pitch:
“After the game it is easy to say: ‘Why was this done and not the other?’ For me the important thing was to learn from my mistakes. I made that decision not to send him off and that’s it. And it’s difficult to explain why some decisions are made on the pitch and not others. It may be due to pressure… or in that event it could be because Ballack protested from behind and I didn’t see it. There can be many reasons in each decision.
“We have seconds to decide. Then you see it on TV and you say: ‘Oh my God, I was wrong with that penalty or red card!’. These are normal things.
“I was responsible for the decisions that were made and we can argue that, if I had made others, maybe Chelsea would have reached the final. We’ll never know.”
Chelsea players continued to swarm Ovrebo after the game, Ovrebo subsequently had to be escorted out of the ground as Chelsea fans became hostile.
Indeed, it became so bad that Ovrebo and his assistants felt the need to switch hotels that night:
“After the match I did not talk to any footballer. I left the field with dignity, I went to dressing rooms and that was it. Of course, I remember that we had to change until the hotel and there were many hostile people against us. We had to take care of ourselves that day and the next.
“At the time (I received death threats from Chelsea fans). Now everything is in the past. Until 2012, the topic was hot. Then it went out.
At one point after the game Didier Drogba shouted, “it’s a f**king disgrace” straight down the television camera, for which he was banned for three matches. Jose Bosingwa was suspended for two, while the club were fined £85,000 for their behaviour towards the official.
Ovrebo retired from the game in 2013, in part due to a persistent knee injury.