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 finals, left the same role at the Professional Referees Organization for Major League Soccer to return to England, taking up the position of chief referee for PGMOL from 1 December . .
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“My biggest role is to take some of the learnings from my time away from the English game on board, apply some of that in terms of guidance and coaching, and try to change the perception a bit and be more transparent, more open to be,” Webb said. “Not everything we did in Major League Soccer will work here, it’s a different environment, but some things will.
“We want to engage with people, and manage expectations a little better than I think may have been done before, and be receptive to feedback.”
Webb added: “As it stands at the moment, there is 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 it won’t happen immediately in the Premier League, it’s something Webb is working towards.
“I hope we get to the point where we can share some of the sound,” Webb said. “Even if people don’t necessarily agree with the final decision, people can understand the process and the rationale and are much more accepting of the decision.
“We’re not going to satisfy and satisfy everyone, some decisions divide opinion. You have clearly correct decisions, and clearly wrong decisions, and then this gray zone of subjectivity where people form an opinion.”
Webb replaces Mike Riley as part of an overhaul of PGMOL, the organization that governs 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 (Director of Coaching) outlines the Elite Referee Development Plan to improve standards.
Former rugby league referee and video referee Phil Bentham has also been appointed as the VAR coach for the Premier League.
Webb hopes the changes he is making will give referees the confidence to stand by their decision on a VAR review, when necessary. The Premier League said that of 48 VAR interventions this season, six were wrong; this could have been prevented if the referee rejected the review at the monitor.
“I saw the benefits of Phil coming in to really work on their communication,” Webb said. “We’re probably going to be in a world at some point where that communication will be made available, no problem, because we have nothing to hide. And the level of professionalism, and the way they communicate is already really good
“My job is to provide as much input as possible to ensure that we get greater consistency around the question that VARs are asked to ask themselves: was it clearly wrong. They will get that opinion right more often than wrong, but sometimes they can misplaced. and that’s why the referee should have the right when they come to the screen to say ‘thank you, I appreciate the opportunity, but in my opinion I didn’t make a clear and obvious mistake.’ So that’s where we have to do a lot of the driving.”
Webb also said that PGMOL is keen to create a better pathway for former players to become referees; two current Premier League officials started out as professional players before switching to refereeing, Simon Hooper (Swindon) and Darren England (Barnsley.)
“It’s a good way to stay involved in the game and we need to see how we’re going to attract people to referee,” explained Webb. “We’ve always struggled to get ex-players involved. I’m sure someone out there would want to lead the way, someone who played in the Football League.
“I don’t expect players who have played at the very highest level, and have other opportunities, to get into it. But someone who has had a decent career and has a good knowledge of the game. Maybe late 20s, suffering with injury or whatever it may be, I think there’s an opportunity for somebody to really make a mark and we’d welcome them wholeheartedly, with the skills they’ve got from their playing career, provided they have the other skills what they need to become successful.
“You can’t get around the basic experience you need, but you can give credit to what they’ve already gained experience in the game, playing or whatever their role is, and build on that as quickly as you can and get them there as quickly as possible, and that will draw people in.”