Howard Webb, the Premier League’s new chief referee, wants to encourage former professional players to act as referees.
Webb has returned to English football after five years in the United States, having been appointed the first Chief Referee of the Professional Game Match Officials Limited.
The 51-year-old, who refereed the 2010 World Cup final, has pledged to increase the number of referees, including to attract more female officials and others from different backgrounds.
However, he also believes that the professional ranks are an untapped resource and believes some players might find umpires attractive as an alternative career path.
Webb guided 2022 World Cup final referee Szymon Marciniak through the early part of his career and much was made following Argentina’s win over France about the Pole’s playing background.
“We need to look at how we can lure people in. We’ve always struggled to get ex-players involved,” said Webb, who will oversee all officials in the Premier League and the English Football League.
“But I’m sure someone out there will want to be a pioneer.
“Someone who has played in the Football League – I don’t expect players who have played at the very highest level and have had other opportunities to come in. [refereeing] – but someone who has played quite a career, who has a good knowledge of the game, maybe in their late twenties, suffering from an injury or whatever it may be means they can’t play as regularly.
“I think there’s an opportunity for someone to really break ground and we’d welcome them with the skills they’ve picked up from that playing career, provided they have the other skills they need to be successful .”
Webb accepts that the 13-and-a-half years it took him to reach the Premier League is likely to scare potential candidates away from the professional game.
However, he said the process has now been streamlined to reduce the time it takes to get the right experience.
He added: “You still have to do some of those tough yards to get the experience you need to survive and thrive at the high levels, but you can use the experience you already have in the game upgrade through play or whatever it is. and then build on that as quickly as possible and get them there as quickly as possible, and that will entice people.”
‘If you have the skills, you get the chance’
Speaking to BBC Sport, Webb underlined his desire to recruit more referees from diverse backgrounds, also noting the emergence of more female officials.
With Stephanie Frappart playing the first woman to referee a men’s World Cup match in Qatar, EFL-listed Rebecca Welch and Sian Massey-Ellis who has established herself as one of the Premier League’s top assistant referees, Webb thinks it’s only a matter of time before women take the lead in the biggest matches.
“It’s fantastic that we have these talented female officials who have gone down the same path as other officials and have shown that they have quality,” he said.
“There’s no limit these days. We’re seeing that at the very highest level in the World Cup and domestically where more women are coming up to the top levels of the male and female game and doing a really good job.
“Whatever your background, if you have the skills you need and you have the quality, opportunities will be presented. I am excited to see women officials develop and take charge of some of the biggest games in our country and in the world in the future.” .”
Respect the referee
During the 2021-22 season, bans were handed to 380 players and coaches for attacking or threatening referees and match officials in English amateur football.
Webb admits “what is seen at the highest level of the game affects other levels”, with Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp having to apologize for the aggressive way he reacted to assistant referee Gary Beswick during his win team against Manchester City in October.
Klopp initially escaped a touchline ban and while the German eventually served a one match suspension after the Football Association appealed the leniency of the sentence, Webb says officials at all levels of the game need to know they are protected.
“The power of example is strong,” he said.
“We don’t want people to drop out because they don’t have a good experience.
“We understand the emotions and the pressures people work under at that level, but when boundaries are crossed, we have a responsibility to be strong. That’s what we continue to strive for.”
Trying to make VAR work
In a week where video assistant referees have been confirmed to be on six right decisions in wrong ones so far this season, Webb says he wants to demystify the refereeing process.
He wants to use his experience in Major League Soccer and the more open way they deal with VAR to improve the current system.
Webb says “everything is on the table” when asked if this could mean supporters can hear exchanges between the referee and VAR, even if it’s not in real time.
“We’re looking at all possible ways to pull back that curtain, to show the world the processes that go into making decisions, the rationale for making decisions,” he said.
“People may not always agree with the final result, but when they understand how we got there, there’s a much greater degree of acceptance.”
He accepts that it is impossible to get 100% accuracy in the decision-making process and used the example of the penalty given in Argentina’s World Cup semi-final against Croatia which divided the opinions of the ITV commentary and expert teams.
“You’re dealing with people making judgments that divide opinions, in a game that generates a lot of subjectivity,” he said.
“If we try to use VAR to rectify those kinds of decisions, someone will be left disappointed.”
Webb wants the use of VAR to focus on the “obvious and obvious” errors, admitting that apart from complicated cases with numerous incidents, “when something is obvious and obvious, it shouldn’t take minutes take to work it out”.
“A lot of the guidance and coaching I’ll provide will be to not overthink it,” Webb said.
“We don’t want the VARs to look too hard. We want them to just look for those mistakes that jump off the screen.”