Howard Webb returns to England on mission to boost referee's confidence
When you think about refereeing it’s very much about confidence,” says Howard Webb. “It’s a mental discipline, you need resilience to be successful at it. My job is to make sure that referees are going into their job feeling confident and supported.”
After eight years away, the most successful referee of the Premier League era has come back to the English game. His contract overseeing officials in the US had come to an end and he had been in discussions about coming home in some form for a while, but Webb’s appointment as the first chief refereeing officer in the elite game has the feel of a necessity, as – by common consent – the men in black need all the help they can get.
Webb says that in the US, where football is an insurgent sport looking to challenge established favourites, the message when talking about refereeing and VAR was “don’t kill the project”. Allow for criticism, yes, but get behind what the game was trying to achieve. A different kind of attitude will be necessary in England if the rehabilitation of refereeing is to be achieved.
“I think there’s probably less forgiveness here, generally speaking,” Webb says. “The relationship with football here is engrained, that leads to some resistance to change. The scrutiny any information comes under over here is different to anything you get over there.”
Aspirations of transparency and openness can often get waylaid when a desire for change meets the reality of English football. But Webb has succeeded before and done the hard yards of learning before taking on the impossible job, refereeing edition. In an age of ubiquitous media he also has the charisma and self-confidence required of a leading figure in the game. If the aim is to convince the nation that a dubious handball penalty decision is the result of simple human frailty and not the result of a sophisticated conspiracy, he has as good a chance as most.