Howard Webb will return to English football later this year as the Professional Game Match Officials Board’s first chief refereeing officer.
The former referee was confirmed in the newly created role on Wednesday, with an official start date to be confirmed in due course. “PGMOL is pleased to confirm that Howard Webb will take up the role of Chief Refereeing Officer in the coming months,” PGMOL tweeted.
The 51-year-old has been working in the United States and Canada for the past six years, having initially joined North America’s Professional Referee Organization as video review operations manager. Webb went on to become PRO’s general manager in January 2018 – a role he will leave after overseeing the rest of the Major League Soccer season.
“I am looking forward to taking up the role of chief refereeing officer for PGMOL once I’ve completed my contract here at the end of this season in MLS,” Webb said. “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 [and] working with the team that’s there,” Webb added.
“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.
“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. 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.
The PGMOL managing director, Mike Riley, has described Webb’s return to English football as a “major coup”. Riley has led the organisation for 13 years and is stepping down this season, handing the baton over to Webb and a new chief operating officer.
Webb added that he had “learned so much” during his time working in North America and is looking forward to the new challenge in this “bigger goldfish bowl”.
“I’ve not been in England for several years now so I need time to evaluate and see how things are working over there. 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.
Webb will also contribute to an “improvement of standards” in the use of video assistant referees, having overseen their rollout in MLS. During his tenure with PRO, he has held regular calls with media to discuss VAR incidents, while weekly videos have been published explaining video review decisions and showing the in-game communication between officials.
“I’m a strong advocate for VAR,” Webb added. “I think it’s been a positive introduction to try to eliminate some areas that as an active official, I used to really hate when they happened in my games. 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.”
Webb worked as a police officer before becoming a full-time referee, and took charge of his first Premier League game in October 2003. He was appointed to Fifa’s international list of officials in 2005 and went on to referee the 2010 Champions League and World Cup finals. After retiring in 2014, he worked as PGMOL’s technical director before taking up a role in Saudi Arabia.