New Premier League referees’ boss Howard Webb wants former players to become referees

New Premier League referees chief Howard Webb wants to encourage former professional players to take up officiating.

Webb has returned to English football after five years in the United States, having being named the first chief refereeing officer of the Professional Game Match Officials Limited.

The 51-year-old, who refereed the 2010 World Cup final, has pledged to broaden the number of referees, including trying to attract more female officials and others from diverse backgrounds.

However, he also feels the professional ranks are an untapped source and believes some players could find refereeing attractive as an alternative career path.

Webb mentored 2022 World Cup final referee Szymon Marciniak during the early part of his career and much was made after Argentina’s victory over France about the Pole’s playing background.

“We need to look at how we can entice people in. We’ve always struggled to get ex-players involved,” said Webb, who will oversee all officials in the Premier League and English Football League.

“But I am sure somebody out there will want to be a trailblazer.

“Somebody who’s played in the Football League – I don’t expect players who have played at the very highest level who have got other opportunities to come into [refereeing] – but somebody that has played a decent career, that’s got good knowledge of the game, maybe late 20s, suffering with an injury or whatever it might be that means they can’t play as regularly.

“I think there’s an opportunity for someone to really blaze a trail and we would welcome them wholeheartedly with the skills they have got from that playing career provided they have got the other skills they need to be successful.”

Webb accepts the 13 and a half years it took him to reach the Premier League is likely to put off potential candidates from the professional game.

However, he said the process has now been streamlined to reduce the time needed to gain the appropriate experience.

He added: “You still need to do some of those difficult yards to get the experience you need to survive at the high levels and flourish there, but you can credit what experience you’ve already got in the game through playing or whatever it is and then build on that as quickly as you can and get them up there as quickly as possible, and that will entice people in.”

‘If you have the skills, you will get the opportunity’
Speaking to BBC Sport, Webb underlined his desire to recruit more referees from a diverse background, also noting the emergence of more female officials.

With Stephanie Frappart becoming the first woman to referee a men’s World Cup match in Qatar, Rebecca Welch on the EFL list and Sian Massey-Ellis having established herself as one of the Premier League’s best assistant referees, Webb feels it is only a matter of time before women are taking charge of the biggest games.

“It is fabulous we have these talented female officials coming through who have gone on a pathway the same way as other officials and shown they have quality,” he said.

“There is no limit these days. We are seeing that at the very highest level in the World Cup and domestically where more women are coming into the highest levels of the male and female game and doing really good work.

“Whatever your background is, if you have the skills you need and you have the quality, opportunities will be presented. I am excited to see female officials develop and take charge of some of the biggest games in our country and in the world in future.”

Respect the refs
During the 2021-22 season, bans were handed to 380 players and coaches for attacking or threatening referees and match officials in English grassroots football.

Webb admits “what is seen at the highest level of the game impacts on other levels”, with Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp having to apologise for the aggressive way he reacted to assistant referee Gary Beswick during his side’s victory 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 against the leniency of the punishment, Webb says officials at all levels of the game need to know they are being protected.

“The power of example is strong,” he said.

“We don’t want people dropping out because the experience they have is not a good one.

“We understand the emotions and pressure people are working under at that level but when lines are crossed we have a responsibility to be strong. That is what we will continue to aim for.”

Trying to make VAR work
In a week where it has been confirmed video assistant referees have turned six correct decisions into incorrect ones so far this season, Webb says he wants to demystify the refereeing process.

He wants to use his experiences in Major League Socc

er and the more open way they deal with VAR to improve the present system.

Webb says “everything is on the table” when asked whether this may involve supporters being able to hear exchanges between the referee and the VAR, even if this is not in real time.

“We are looking at whatever way we can to pull that curtain back, to show the world the processes that go into making decisions, the rationale for decisions being taken,” he said.

“People might not always agree with the final outcome but if they understand how we have got there, there is a much greater level of acceptance.”

He accepts getting 100% accuracy in the decision-making process is impossible and used the example of the penalty given in the World Cup semi-final for Argentina against Croatia which split opinions of the ITV commentary and punditry teams.

“You are dealing with human beings, who are making judgements that split opinion, in a game that throws up lots and lots of subjectivity,” he said.

“If we try to use VAR to rectify those kinds of decisions, someone is going to be left disappointed.”

Webb wants the use of VAR to centre around the “clear and obvious” errors, admitting that, apart from complicated cases involving numerous incidents, “if something is clear and obvious, it shouldn’t take minutes to work it out”.

“A lot of guidance and coaching I will be giving will be around not overthinking it,” said Webb.

“We don’t want the VARs to be looking too hard. We want them just to look for those errors that jump off the screen at you.”

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