A few days and sleepless nights on, since Pierre Webo was the victim in the race storm that shocked the football world, he is feeling ‘much better.’
‘You can hear in my voice I am much more calm now,’ Istanbul Basaksehir’s assistant coach said.
However, what he sees when he re-watches his reaction against Paris Saint-Germain, gives a truer indication of the impact of being racially abused.
Pierre Webo insists he is feeling much better after being the victim of alleged racist abuse
Romanian official Sebastian Coltescu allegedly referred to his skin colour to identify him
‘When I watch my face, watching the video, what I did, how I was aggressive … woah,’ said Webo.
‘Even me I wouldn’t want to be against me, against myself because I was very aggressive.
‘It is my first time I’ve seen my face like that. Even me I don’t remember the situation to be like that.’
Webo’s reaction was understandable after he heard Romanian fourth official Sebastian Coltescu refer to his skin colour to point him out to referee Ovidiu Hategan before he was sent off.
Coltescu was accused of using the word ‘negru’ – the Romanian word for black – to identify the Istanbul Basaksehir coach
Demba Ba confronted the fourth official and asked him why he had used such language
And he insists it would have been easy to identify him among Istanbul’s staff at the Parc de Princes without doing so.
‘Where I was it was very easy [to say] “eh, the third guy, [get him] out,” he said, re-enacting how the conversation could have gone between the officials.
‘Who?’ “That guy, him, get him out.” “Show me, come.” “You, you.” It is easy. But it was also easy for him to say what he said. Why that word?’
On footage of the flashpoint that spread rapidly around the world during Tuesday’s game, Webo can clearly be heard asking that very question repeatedly.
The referee then sent the Basaksehir coach off in the incident at the Parc des Princes
He never got an answer, either at the time on the touchline or later when the teams had retreated to the dressing room area.
‘It was very difficult to hear that from one referee. A shock. From one guy who is supposed to be in control of all these kind of situations,’ said Webo.
‘A fourth official in a Champions League game. It’s a high level and at a high level, we need high people.
‘We must take care of what we say in the field. As we are talking now I must take care of what I’m saying. Imagine if I am the referee.’
In the immediate aftermath, Webo described how Coltescu’s words and the incident left him feeling vulnerable and helpless, but support quickly arrived.
Webo insists it would have been easy to identify him among Basaksehir’s staff on the bench
Former Manchester United defender Rafael was the first Istanbul player to follow Webo into the away dressing room.
‘When I went in I didn’t know what was going on in the field,’ Webo, 38, said.
‘Rafael came in and said “we stop the game and don’t play anymore.” I said: “What, you’re not playing anymore?”
‘Thirty seconds after, all the team came. They ask, “how are you?” I didn’t know. I was really nervous. I didn’t want to say at that time.’
Istanbul’s president Goksel Gumusdag offered his support via FaceTime as, later, did Webo’s son, Marcos, 19, in an emotional video call.
Defender Rafael was the first Istanbul player to follow Webo into the away dressing room
‘He watched all the games my team is playing, he watched all my games when I was playing,’ Webo said, who was also contacted by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, one of many others he says he has to thank for their support during ‘a very difficult week’ when he required pills from the doctor to help him get to sleep since Tuesday.
‘He [Webo’s son] was very excited to see which kind of players we are playing and then what happened, happened. We always speak in the dressing room after games and he said “ah papa, I am very sorry.” It was very hard. I saw him and he was down. I said don’t be like that, be more strong. Now he is much better.’
The teams walked off in the 14th minute with the score at 0-0. UEFA initially proposed that the game continue with a new fourth official but Istanbul rejected that idea.
PSG supported their decision not to play again until the entire team of officials were changed, something not possible until the following day when the hosts eventually ran out 5-1 winners.
Istanbul’s president Goksel Gumusdag (left) offered his support via FaceTime to Webo (right)
And the French champions rallied around Webo too, their backing coming from their biggest players and right from the top of the club.
‘Neymar and Marquinhos and [sporting director] Leonardo they called me, they were in the corridor and said: “we apologise for what happened but you have our support,” Webo said of Tuesday night.
‘They said “don’t worry we are with you, we are not going to play. We are not accepting these kind of words in football”.
‘I didn’t realise until I go out of the dressing room but the corridor was unbelievable. Neymar, [Kylian] Mbappe, [Abdou] Diallo, all the players were there. The president, UEFA, I say “wow.”
‘I went out because Leonardo called me to speak with me in the corridor and when I came in it was silence, like the guy who started everything is here. All the people was focused on me.’
Neymar (right) was one of the PSG players to apologise for the incident and offered his support
PSG’s players followed their powerful show of solidarity the night before by joining Istanbul’s in wearing ‘No To Racism’ t-shirts and taking the knee ahead of Wednesday’s conclusion while a banner in support of Webo was also displayed in the stadium.
‘I want to say thank you to all the Paris Saint-Germain players, the club, all the people that was there, for their solidarity with us. I am very proud of them and want to thank for them for all the things they did in that moment because I was out of control for that five, 10 seconds.
‘It was very, very important because it was a Champions League game.
‘With all the things that they have around, to do this, for this kind of reaction, to the two clubs, thank you, Bravo.’
What happened to Webo this week is the latest in a long line of incidents that highlights how much work still needs to be done in football’s fight against racism.
Currently on the UEFA Executive Master for International Players educational programme, along with the likes of former Premier League stars Didier Drogba, Emile Heskey, Kolo Toure and John O’Shea, Webo knows that respect is one of UEFA’s key principles.
Webo also thanked all the PSG players and staff for showing solidarity with the Turkish side
It was not lost on Webo that what he would have expected but did not get from Coltescu – respect – is a word displayed on badges on the shirts worn by UEFA’s officials.
‘When I heard that from him, I thought maybe they need to make special things [training] for the referees.
‘My colleagues in my class, my mentors and my teachers in my masters, they say “wow. It is not acceptable, this kind of thing in UEFA”,’ he said.
Pointing to his sleeve, he added: ‘The respect they write here and all the things in UEFA, this [incident] is one of the things we don’t accept in our course or in UEFA.’
With the benefit of his insight, Webo said: ‘First of all they [the football authorities] are making a very big effort [to fight racism]. They reduced the gap of before. Fifteen years ago it was more.
Respect is a word displayed on badges on the shirts worn by UEFA’s officials on matchdays
‘But there must be something, stop the campaigns of awareness and take a big solution. Very big solution to stop this kind of thing because football is very big. It unites people, unites nations.
‘UEFA know what they are going to do and I think they are going to take the right kind of decisions about these things.’
UEFA, heavily criticised in the past for their failure to get tough on racism, also have a big decision to make on what they do with Coltescu after opening an investigation.
‘I can’t say nothing about that,’ Webo said.
But, for the former Cameroon international, this week’s events and high-profile walk off have highlighted to players the power that they have.
Webo believes the high-profile walk off has highlighted to players the power that they have
The former Osasuna and Mallorca frontman said: ‘I received this kind of thing in Spain when I was playing and I didn’t stop. That one thing I was thinking of in Spain 13 years ago, is now happening.
‘In that time I say “yes, something is happening now.” I feel like “yes, finally players are united. They are serious. They are going altogether.” I was proud of that. Not only because of me, but generally.
‘That moment give a very big importance to players because football without players is not football.
The former Osasuna and Mallorca frontman said he received similar treatment in Spain
‘FIFPro [the world players’ union], they must listen more to their players. I think one of the least listened to people in football sometimes are the players, unfortunately.
‘That moment is a very important moment also for FIFPro to know yes we have power, we must listen.
‘UEFA, FIFA also must listen more to players to take decisions all together not only the board of UEFA or FIFA. Especially listen to players because they are the most important people in this business.’
Webo added: ‘Football is a big platform in the world. It’s everything. And we saw now in the pandemic time that without football it was very difficult. Football without fans was also very difficult.
Webo urged UEFA and FIFA to also listen more to players to take decisions all together
‘So for UEFA and also for people we need this activity. If we stop that because of this kind of situation, for them there is no sense.
‘I’m sure not everybody is racist. They must know that the competition must continue but how?
‘In a good way, with all respect, to all races, to all religions … respect everybody. That’s what I want to say.’