Howard Webb: It feels like a privilege to work in New York City - it's been a good move for me

Bob Williams

On Sunday it was Atlanta, tonight it is Pittsburgh and this weekend the Long Island Half-Marathon. Howard Webb has been on the run ever since he arrived in the United States two months ago - and he has savoured every moment of it.

The Englishman has begun a new role overseeing the introduction of video assistant referees in Major League Soccer, a key testing ground for Fifa ahead of its use at next year's World Cup in Russia.

The 45-year-old's arrival in the States was described as a "coup" by former Premier League referee Peter Walton, who runs the Professional Referee Organization in the States. Yet for Webb his new position at PRO is both a "privilege" and an "honour".

The former World Cup final referee has travelled the length and breadth of the country since his arrival on March 1, travelling to MLS games in Colorado, Atlanta (twice), Kansas City and Dallas, as well as visiting both teams in New York, where he is based.

He has also been to Richmond, Swope Park and Seattle for VAR testing in the second tier United Soccer League. Tonight he will be in Pittsburgh for the Riverhounds' match with Toronto FC II, one of 25 live in-game VAR experiments in the USL this year.

Webb says the appeal of the job was two-fold: playing  a key role in the "VAR conversation" and having the chance to live and work in New York City.

"It still feels like a privilege to be here, a real honour to have secured a position in one of the world's greatest cities." Webb told The Telegraph in a telephone interview.

"I've managed to get around quite a bit, which is great, to meet the football people here, like the owners, coaches, fans and to get to know the officials. 

"The MLS office is really vibrant place to work and I'm enjoying the life. It's been a good move for me."

An added bonus has been the chance to train in the iconic Central Park in his spare time. "It's quite a cool thing to do and I'm doing the Long Island Half-Marathon with a couple of colleagues this weekend."

But it is the chance to play a key role in introducing video assistant referees to the game that really excites him.

"It is a huge change in terms of the tools available to the officiating team to avoid clear and obvious errors and it appealed to me to be part of the implementation of that here and also the training of the guys as well," Webb says.

"I formed an opinion some years ago that it was worth exploring. Every time there was a mistake in a key match, the conversation always turned to why did we not have some form of assistance, like technology whereby we can avoid these mistakes. 

"I cast my mind back to the Thierry Henry handball in 2009 [for France against the Republic of Ireland in a World Cup qualification play-off]. Without experimenting and exploring we were never going to take the conversation forward. 

"At least by putting this trial in place we can make a genuine assessment in terms of how this affects the game.

"We're not the only ones doing but I'm hopeful that here in MLS we'll be as well prepared as anyone else when it goes live."

Last week it was announced that video assistants will be used at next year's World Cup finals in Russia, something Webb welcomes.

"The amount of work and time and effort that we've put in the project here in MLS is quite extensive - so clearly we believe in it - and therefore to hear that Fifa hold the same view is reassuring for us and a positive step," he says.

Having been one of the world's top referees, Webb is extremely well known in football circles - but how much is recognised is he in the States?

"I went to Atlanta on Sunday and was walking outside from the back of one stand to another and through the crowds and not many people turned their heads when I went past," he admits. "Occasionally I'll be walking along [in New York City] and a taxi driver will wind his window down and shout 'Hey ref' or something like that. 

"It's definitely on the radar here but compared to back of the UK the reaction would be different... and perhaps not as positive!"

In a recent interview with Sports Illustrated, it was revealed that Webb - who has just moved into an apartment in the Big Apple after initially living in a hotel -  has started to use the Americanisms like 'PK' for penalty kick.

He explains: "It's all about communication and you need to clarify what you are talking about. You just adapt to the audience really - the language of football is the same but some words are different and you need to adjust sometimes."

Another English referee who has taken a high-profile job abroad is Mark Clattenburg, who will be replacing Webb as the Saudi Arabian Football Federation's director of referees this summer.

Webb hopes his former colleague - who took charge of last summer's FA Cup, Champions League and European Championship finals - will still get to referee in Russia next year.

"When it became apparent that I was coming to the US, Mark got in touch with me and told me he was interested in challenging himself and broadening his horizons," Webb says.

"He asked me about the football scene in Saudi and I was able to assist in helping make contact with people over there and left it to them.

"He has made a measured judgment about his long-term future. It seems unlikely that he will be at the World Cup but you never know."

 

 

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