Howard Webb pledged to show referees in a different light, improve officials and show the value of VAR after announcing his return to England as chief refereeing officer.
The Yorkshireman, 51, has been in MLS since 2017 and will work alongside general manager Mike Riley in the newly-created role after his current deal expires in November.
Webb will oversee the work of all 79 full-time professional referees across the Premier League and Football League and will lean on his achievements in MLS, which is viewed as the world-leader in VAR.
Speaking in Minneapolis earlier this month, Webb said: ‘The reason you bring somebody in is to ultimately secure improvement on what already happens – I guess that’s the case with anybody who goes into any role, maintaining and improving standards. That’s what my job will be.
‘There’s a lot of good officials over there, 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.
‘And I think if we can do that, then I think ultimately they’ll be seen in a different light.’
Howard Webb is hoping to revolutionise the use of VAR in England, just as he did in MLS
Rotherham fan Webb refereed both the Champions League and World Cup finals in 2010 and took charge of nearly 300 Premier League games during an 11-year spell.
After retiring in 2014, he worked for BT Sport as an analyst before moving to MLS five years ago. Initially he held the post of manager of VAR, becoming general manager of the Professional Referees Organisation a year later.
During Webb’s spell, MLS has increased diversity with nine full-time female officials joining in 2020 and last year the league was the first in the world to introduce concussion substitutes.
Such is the improvement in standards that sending two officials to the 2018 World Cup in Russia, PRO will send six to Qatar later this year.
Video technology continues to be a divisive subject among fans, with its use often confusing
Webb was general manager of the Professional Referees Organisation and thrived in MLS
Yet Webb’s strongest tie is with VAR. MLS was the first league to introduce it in 2017 and the decision-making process is a transparent one with a weekly video breakdown of decisions on the PRO website.
‘Working in the US where video replays are a staple of all the major sports has made that task a little bit easier,’ Webb said.
‘But, still, I think there’s ways that we can give extra insight to the fans in England, the stakeholders in England.
‘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.
He insists he is a ‘big, big advocate of VAR’ and says it is about giving fans an ‘extra insight’
‘I’m a big, big advocate of VAR. 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.’
Referees are seldom out of the spotlight but Webb’s appointment comes at a particularly fractious time.
Writing in Sportsmail, VAR Mike Dean said he made a mistake when he did not usher referee Anthony Taylor to his pitch-side monitor during Chelsea’s heated 2-2 draw with Tottenham.
Neither Taylor nor Dean saw Spurs defender Cristian Romero pulling the hair of Chelsea’s Marc Cucurella, with Harry Kane nodding a 96th minute equaliser moments later.
After the game, Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel said that Taylor should not referee his side again, his comments prompting an FA charge.
Webb will work alongside general manager Mike Riley until he steps down later this season
Bristol City manager Nigel Pearson threatened to quit football due to the poor standard of refereeing.
‘The standard of officiating, unfortunately as far as I’m concerned, is at an all-time low,’ he said following his side’s 2-0 win over Luton.
Ahead of the new season, former referee Mark Halsey aired his concerns about refereeing standards, calling them ‘the poorest set of officials in many a year’ on Twitter.
Webb highlighted the benefits of more frequent media engagement.
‘The more you can draw the curtain back and show people [behind the scenes], humanise officials, the better. I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad outcome of having a conversation with the media,’ Webb said.
‘One of the things I used to be keen to do when I was active was if I made an error, I wanted people to understand it was just an error, it wasn’t more than that. It was based on what I saw at the time.’
In the US, he let broadcasters to sit in on referee meetings to broaden their understanding
‘I find that in my role here, we’ve got a really good relationship with the media. We have meetings every two weeks where we get all of our broadcasters and our writers onto a call and we talk about the last two weeks, we talk about video reviewing situations.
‘So we’ll let the broadcasters hear the conversation between the officials in that meeting. They can see the workings behind and that’s really beneficial because when they go into next week’s game, they’re referencing what they’ve learned. And we can top and tail that by explaining stuff as well.
‘It’s just a really useful exercise in showing the professionalism of the group and the process that we go through.’
With experienced referees such as Mike Dean and Martin Atkinson retiring, Webb spoke about the need to attract more officials.
‘We need to look at how we can, working with the FA, entice more people into refereeing and how we can maintain them in the game, develop them as quickly as we can so that they are at the level that’s required at the very highest end of the game.
With long-serving officials like Mike Dean retiring, Webb will look to attract the next generation
‘It gets no easier. The demands and the rewards at the highest level of a game get graded the same as here in MLS. There’s expectation that standards on the field will get better all the time and the officiating needs to be commensurate with that.
‘It’s no different over there. It’s a bigger goldfish bowl, everybody watches the Premier League and that’s what makes the job exciting, I guess. The fact that your work is going to be on show for everyone to see. There’s expectations that you’ll have a positive impact on it. That’s what I intend to do.’
Webb’s appointment comes as the PGMOL continues to overhaul officials and increasing diversity through its elite referee development plan.
Webb will be joined by an as yet unnamed chief operating officer, who will manage the organisation.
Riley, who has been in situ since 2009, said: ‘I am looking forward to working with him and providing as much support as possible before handing on the baton to both Howard and the new chief operating officer later this season.’