Tuesday 17 June 2014
Howard Webb says returning to referee in his second consecutive FIFA World Cup finals fills with him with more pride than ever because of the increasing standard of competition he had to beat to be England's representative.
The 42-year-old, who took charge of the World Cup final in South Africa in 2010, is only one of four referees to have been retained for this year's tournament in Brazil and Webb says it is getting more difficult to be chosen by FIFA from the Select Group of the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL).
"I feel very privileged to represent the guys, not just the 17 other Select Group referees but all our assistant colleagues, all the Football League referees and all the 27,000 referees in the country," Webb told premierleague.com. "It's an amazing honour to go out there and fly the flag for English refereeing and I really hope that I do everybody proud.
"Standards are rising all the time. There's never been as good a list of Select Group referees across so many measures. Of course it is competitive, we all want to get to the very top and because of that, standards are increasingly raised.
"It was more difficult for me to be appointed to this World Cup than it was to the last one because the standard of officials around me."
"It was more difficult for me to be appointed to this World Cup than it was to the last one because the standard of officials around me"
Webb takes charge of Colombia v Ivory Coast in Brasilia on Thursday, where he will be assisted by Mike Mullarkey and Darren Cann, the officials who worked with Webb in South Africa as they took charge of the group matches between Spain and Switzerland, Italy and Slovakia, the last 16 clash between Brazil and Chile as well as the final between Spain and the Netherlands.
The trio are the only three-man team to be retained by FIFA for this World Cup, a decision that is welcomed by the Rotherham-born official.
"Refereeing is definitely a team effort," Webb said. "You need a team to deliver the game effectively. Working with the same team is beneficial because you understand each other's role within the game, you understand how everyone thinks and you develop a team ethic.
"I have got some great guys with me, some great assistants, and it’s important that we have got experience of working at a tournament before. It's a real positive to have the same guys going and I am proud of the fact that we are the only team going back to the World Cup from the last one."
It is not just the skills of the assistants that help Webb, but the familiarity with each other and how decisions can affect them and the opportunity to encourage one another through their earpieces.
"It is not just about information flow; it is more about emotional support," Webb said in an interview with The Times. "In the really tough games, the lads will step in with the right words. At crucial moments, when you have made a difficult call, they will say things like, 'Well done. Don't doubt yourself. Dig in.' It can make all the difference in the world."
That ethos of support and knowledge sharing is encouraged for the whole team of World Cup referees, who despite representing 25 countries, spend a lot of time helping each other out during the tournament.
"We have several days designated where we will share our culture and we will talk about life in England," Webb said. "We will also share experiences that will benefit us on the field of play.
"If I am appointed to a match involving Japan, I will ask the Japanese referees about the specifics of that team. I will also get asked about the England team. We will also share experiences from previous games that the other guys have done during that tournament.
"We are very professional in what we do, we like to be prepared properly physically, mentally and technically and part of that is doing research about the game you are about to take charge of."
"We like to be prepared properly physically, mentally and technically"
Webb and his fellow referees will, for the first time at a FIFA World Cup, have goal-line technology to aid them during the competition. Webb has had experience of the technology, with the Premier League introducing the Goal Decision System last summer in time for the 2013/14 season.
"We all wanted it and we have all enjoyed using it," Webb said. "It has been a great introduction.
"The number of times it has been used has not been vast but then again it never was going to be. It's like an air bag in a car, you don't always need it every journey but when you do need it, it's good to know it is there for you.
"There have been situations this season where it has come into its own and proved its worth. I had one occasion where it confirmed that it was not a goal in the match between Fulham and Newcastle. Jonny Heitinga shot and it looked to have crossed the line but GDS told me it was not a goal.
"It was shown on the big screen and at first people reacted as if it was a goal but when they used the animation and it zoomed in people realised it hadn't crossed the line. It's a system that we trust; it's immediate; it makes our life easier for that really important decision of whether it has crossed the line or not and players don't spend so long trying to contest it with us."
Webb has been a Premier League referee since 2003 and is regarded as one of the best referees in world football. He has taken charge of 298 Barclays Premier League matches, 31 last season, and says the training as well as the football played in the top flight will stand him in good stead for Brazil this summer, in addition to the acclimatisation sessions at Sheffield Hallam University to prepare for the heat and humidity in Brazil.
"I am taking into the World Cup all the benefits of the training that we have done with PGMOL both in terms of technical training and physical training," Webb said. "We also benefit from having a full-time sports scientist provided by the PGMOL throughout the season which raises our fitness levels.
"The intensity in terms of the physical demands on referees are more than ever because the game gets quicker and the players get faster. This season has been a particularly competitive league as well. There are hardly any games with nothing riding on it. You need to be at your best throughout the entire 38 game season."