By Simon Peach, PA Chief Football Writer
Howard Webb hopes to help improve standards and show officials in a different light when he returns to English football later this year as the PGMOL’s first-ever chief refereeing officer.
The 51-year-old has been working in the United States and Canada for the past six years, having initially joined the Professional Referee Organisation as video review operations manager.
Webb went onto become PRO’s general manager in January 2018 – a role he will leave after overseeing the conclusion of the Major League Soccer season.
The Yorkshireman has been confirmed in the newly-created role of chief referee officer at the Professional Game Match Officials Board, with his official start date to be confirmed in due course.
“I am looking forward to taking up the role of chief refereeing officer for the PGMOL once I’ve completed my contract here at the end of this season in Major League Soccer,” Webb told the PA news agency.
“Great to be going home to a place I obviously know well and worked on the field for many years and looking forward to being a part of it.
“I will be managing the refereeing in the Premier League and the Football League, all the leagues that the PGMOL serves, ultimately looking to improve the standard of officiating, working with the team that’s there.
“There’s a lot of investment going into refereeing in England through the Elite Referee Development Plan and my role is part of that, so exciting times.
“Of course the game doesn’t get any easier. The playing standards get higher and the referees are expected to be better and better year on year wherever you are in the world and for sure in England, where there’s so much scrutiny and attention.
“So to be working in that kind of pressure environment for us, for people like me, is great and I am looking forward to being part of that.”
Webb has “learned so much” during his time working in North America and PGMOL manager director Mike Riley believes his return is a “major coup”.
Riley has led the organisation for 13 years and is stepping down this season, handing the baton over to the 51-year-old and the new chief operating officer later in the campaign.
Webb is looking forward to the new challenge in this “bigger goldish bowl” and believes his experiences will help him aid officials, which includes humanising them to the public.
“I’ve not been in England for several years now so I need time to evaluate and see how things are working over there,” the 2010 World Cup final referee said.
“I know there’s an awful lot of good people over there doing a lot of good work to improve the officiating standards.
“There’s a lot of good officials over there as well working in the highest profile league in the world.
“I think that story needs to be told as well as it can be, draw the curtain back on the work that officials do and just how good they are the vast majority of (the) time.
“If we can do that, then I think ultimately they’ll be seen in a different light.
“I know speaking to people in the US, the way that English game and English officiating is viewed is pretty positive.
🤝 // #PRO promotes Howard Webb to General Manager.
Peter Walton will contribute as a consultant; Greg Barkey named Manager of Senior Assistant Referees and Video Review Operations.
Full story >> https://t.co/8mVm3jf7lu pic.twitter.com/fIGSS73hME
— PRO (@PROreferees) January 18, 2018
“Anything that I can do to help continue the improvement of standards, which is obviously important, but also then show that improvement, I think it’s going to be important part of my job.”
One of those areas is the use of video assistant referees, which Webb oversaw the rollout of in MLS.
PRO’s transparency resources launched during his tenure have been eye-catching, with weekly videos published explaining video review decisions, including showing the in-game communication between officials.
There are also biweekly calls with media to go through video review situations and Webb would like to give better insight into the processes going forwards in England.
“We’ve worked hard, I think, particularly with the advent of VAR, which is a whole new aspect to the game that people were not familiar with at first,” he said.
— PRO (@PROreferees) August 20, 2022
“Obviously it’s a new initiative and it’s not as new now but I think we’ve done pretty well here in terms of being able to give insights into the way that that works.
“Of course working in the US where video replays are a staple of all the major sports has made that task a little bit easier, I guess.
“But, still, I think there’s ways that we can give extra insight to the fans in England, the stakeholders in England, as to the way that the system is working.
— PRO (@PROreferees) August 20, 2022
“I’m a strong advocate for VAR. I think it’s been a positive introduction to the game to try to eliminate some clear, match-changing areas that I, as an active official, used to really hate when they happened in my games.
“It wasn’t intentional that you would make an error but sometimes you didn’t have all the information in the moment to make the best decision and now we’ve got a tool that helps us do that.
“I’m a big, big advocate of VAR and I think we just need to make sure that we ensure that people go with us on that VAR journey so that they can see the true value also.”