An email interview with Howard Webb: 'You never know what Wayne Rooney is going to do next'

Why it is time to introduce goal-line technololgy; The way to unwind after a tough day in the middle; How the best player is the toughest to referee; Why there should never be 'decision of the season'
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The Independent Online

With the new Premiership season starting at the weekend, have you been advised to deal with any elements of the game differently from last season? There are no major changes from last season, but we have been working hard on better communication with managers, players and each other. This season, for the first time, we'll be wired up to our assistants and fourth officials which will, hopefully, ease decision making as we will be able to operate more effectively as a team. The message to managers and players pre-season has been "help us to help you". If they cut out things like diving and dissent, it makes for a better game for everyone."

Should diving or simulating be punished retrospectively if the referee misses it? That's a difficult one because even afterwards, with the benefit of replays and slow motion, it's not always obvious if it was a dive or not; if a player is going full pelt even the slightest of touches can send them flying. Also a lot of referees rely on a mixture of gut instinct and experience when judging these types of incidents and the temptation to think, 'Oh well that will get sorted later' could prevent critical decisions being made in a match when, let's face it, it could really make a difference for the team that has been sinned against.

If it were up to you, what rule would you change and why? I'd like to see the reintroduction of the 10-yard rule, where if a defensive wall hadn't retreated sufficiently you had the option of moving it back. It was useful in managing those situations and worked well. The only problem was that to move it back we had to book someone, which seemed to hinder it being used to its full extent. Fifa abandoned it after a couple of seasons, claiming that non-rugby playing nations couldn't get their heads round it. I didn't see the problem myself.

Do you think technology - "a third referee" - should be used to assist the man in the middle? I think the place most referees would like to get some help from technology is on goal-line incidents. The Spurs goal against Manchester United the other season [when Pedro Mendes' long-range volley clearly crossed the goal-line but play continued] was a case in point. Most of the ground, and certainly everyone watching on television, could see it was clearly a goal but because of the position of the match officials it was impossible for them to give a goal with any certainty. Some help there, either with video replays or some form of chip in the ball, in my view would certainly improve the game.

Should players be encouraged to help referees more during a game? If the game is played in the right spirit, that always helps. Also building a rapport with players helps too - that way they know you are doing your best and making genuine decisions. Some players like to build that relationship, others don't. It's just the way it is.

Do you call assistant referees, assistant referees or linesmen? Assistant referees - we are a team on and off the pitch and their contribution extends to much more than off-sides and throw-ins. I thought what Fifa did this World Cup in picking referees and their assistants together from the same country showed the importance of that relationship.

Do you think Wayne Rooney deserved that red card in the World Cup? The referee could only call it as he saw it. If he felt Rooney had deliberately stamped on Carvalho, that's violent conduct and a red card.

What did you think of the standard of the refereeing in the World Cup? I imagine it's difficult to referee at that level under that much scrutiny and intensity, but if you look at most of the big decisions they got them right. I only hope I get the opportunity one day to experience what must be the pinnacle of any referee's career.

Who was/is the best player you have been lucky enough to watch from the middle? At the moment it has to be Wayne Rooney - his pace, power and uninhibited style of play make him an extremely exciting player to watch. He must be a nightmare to play against because you're never sure what he's going to do next. For that reason he's not always the easiest of players to referee!

Who was/is the most difficult player to referee? See above!

What is the highest number of cards you have shown in a match? I honestly can't remember off the top of my head, but the important thing to me about refereeing is getting it right. I don't show cards for the sake of it or to impose myself on the game. I only show them when they are deserved. Ultimately, I want to manage the players and the match so that the best football can be played and to try and keep all 22 players on the pitch.

How have you spent the summer? Watching the World Cup, trying to relax and keeping fit. The demands on professional referees today mean that we have individual fitness programmes that we have to stick to throughout the year, so I had plenty of work to do to maintain the standards required during the close season. Though, like most fans, I'm beginning to think there's no such thing as a close season.

Have you ever sworn at a player? Not so that he can hear me.

How do you wind down on a Saturday night after a game? It's difficult because you're really hyped up after the game and you tend to replay certain incidents in your mind, plus there's the admin of getting your referee's report done and submitted. But I've got a great wife and kids and there's nothing better than spending time with them to put things in perspective.

What do you have on your iPod? An eclectic mix which is too embarrassing to go into any detail about.

Do you read the match reports of the games you have officiated in in the following day's papers? I do - not because I'm looking for praise or reassurance, or that I'm worried about criticism. I just find it interesting to see how people view the matches and decisions from different perspectives. The reports that really matter are from the match delegates and referee's assessors that are fed back into our fortnightly coaching and review sessions.

Is there a particular ground that you enjoy refereeing at? I don't think there's particularly any ground that stands out, but referees are as competitive as players and we all want to take part in the biggest and most high-profile games. Inevitably, that means you want to referee at certain grounds because that's where those games get played.

Should there be a "decision of the season" award like there is a "goal of the season" award? It's always nice when somebody singles out a particular decision for praise, but more often than not you can tell you've had a good game because you're not being talked about, so in that sense an award probably draws too much attention to a role which is more about allowing players to play. The ethos with refereeing at the top level in this country now is that the best ones get the biggest games, which is reward in itself.

What is the most sporting act you have witnessed on a football pitch? The one that sticks in everybody's mind from recent history is Paolo Di Canio stopping a West Ham attack when Everton's keeper was lying injured in the penalty area - I think some players would have taken the goalscoring opportunity. Having said that, there are examples of sporting behaviour all the time and in every match, a lot of which gets overlooked.

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