February 3, 2023

Howard Webb has said he wants more openness about decision-making after taking over as head of refereeing for the Premier League.

Webb, a former Premier League official who took charge of the 2010 World Cup final, left the same role at the Professional Referee Organization for Major League Soccer in the United States to return to England, where he took on the role of head referee for PGMOL took on as of December 1.

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“My biggest role is to take some of the learning from my time away from the English game, apply some of that in terms of guidance and coaching, and try to change the perception a bit and be more transparent and to be more open.” Webb said. “Not everything we’ve done in Major League Soccer will work here, it’s a different environment, but some things will.

“We want to engage with people, manage expectations better than I think has been done before, and be receptive to feedback.”

Webb added, “As it stands, there’s clearly a sense that the perception could be better, and the level of transparency could be better.”

The audio between the VAR and the referee is released every week by MLS, and while in the Premier League it won’t happen right away, it’s something Webb is working towards.

“I hope we get to the point where we can share some of the audio,” Webb said. “Even if people don’t necessarily agree with the final decision, people can understand the process and rationale and be much more accepting of the decision.

“We’re not going to please and satisfy everyone. Some decisions lead to division. You have clearly right decisions and clearly wrong decisions, and then this gray zone of subjectivity where people form opinions.”

Webb replaces Mike Riley as part of a revamp of PGMOL, the organization that monitors referees in England. It is part of a new leadership group that also includes Danielle Every (chief operating officer), Dr. Steve McNally (performance support director) and former Bristol City, Swindon Town and Tranmere Rovers striker Dr. Wayne Allison (coaching director) to sit. Elite Referee Development Plan to improve standards.

Former rugby league referee and video referee Phil Bentham has also been appointed VAR coach for the Premier League.

Webb hopes the changes he is making will give referees the confidence to stick to their decision on a VAR review if necessary. The Premier League has said that of its 48 VAR interventions this season, six were incorrect; these could have been avoided had the referee rejected the review at the monitor.

“I’ve seen the benefits of Phil coming in to really work on their communications,” Webb said. “We’ll probably be in a world at some point where that communication will be available, no problem, because we have nothing to hide. And the level of professionalism, and the way they communicate, is already very good.

“It’s my job to provide as much input as possible to make sure we get more consistency around the question VARs need to ask themselves: was it clearly wrong. They’ll get that opinion right more often than wrong, but occasionally they can misplacing it, and so the umpire should have the right to say on screen ‘thank you, I appreciate the opportunity, but in my opinion I have not made a clear and obvious mistake.’ So we have to do a lot of management there.”

Webb also said PGMOL would like to create a better path for former players to become umpires; two current Premier League officials started out as professional players before moving on to refereeing, Simon Hooper (Swindon) and Darren England (Barnsley.)

“It’s a great way to stay involved in the game and we need to look at how we’re going to entice people to start whistling,” Webb explained. “We’ve always struggled to get ex-players involved. I’m sure someone will want to be a pioneer there, someone who has played in the Football League.

“I don’t expect players who have played at the very highest level and who have other opportunities to come into the game. But someone who has had a decent career and a good understanding of the game. Maybe in their late twenties, suffering from injury or whatever it is may be I think there’s an opportunity for someone to really break through and we warmly welcome them, with the skills they’ve acquired from their playing careers provided they have the other skills they need to to become successful.

“You can’t get around the basic experience you need, but you can credit whatever experience they’ve already gained in the game, through playing or whatever their role is, and building on that as quickly as possible and making them as get to the top as quickly as possible, and that will draw people in.”

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