Howard Webb has retired from professional refereeing to become technical director of Professional Game Match Officials Limited, as reported by the Premier League's official website:
As Technical Director, Webb will be responsible for overseeing the technical direction and standards that govern the on-field performance of PGMOL’s match officials. He will manage the PGMOL training programme and coaching system and will work extensively on the successful development programme that provides a pathway for referees from Level 3 through to the Select Group.
Webb now reports to former referee Mike Riley, who acts as the PGMOL's general manager, and will take on a "public-facing" role in which he will aim to inform others of refereeing matters.
The 43-year-old retires after spending 11 years in the Premier League, having also taken charge in the 2010 Champions League and World Cup finals.
His impressive career also includes the 2009 FA Cup final, stints at the European Championships in 2008 and 2012, as well as appearing in this year's World Cup tournament. In total, the former police officer refereed in nine competitions governed by UEFA, an immensely impressive tenure considering the pressure of modern-day officiating in football.
"Refereeing has given me so much and it’s important that match officials who have had the rewards remain in the game to pass on their knowledge," said Webb, per the Premier League's official report. "I also have much more to learn about the business of refereeing and the best place for me to do that is with PGMOL."
Webb's forthright nature aided his ascension to the top of the game, where he enjoyed a remarkably assured career, as noted by Martyn Ziegler of the Press Association:
Howard Webb retires as ref after a terrific World Cup and career generally.— Martyn Ziegler (@martynziegler) August 6, 2014
His most memorable performance came during the aforementioned World Cup final, where he produced a record-breaking 14 yellow cards and sent off Netherlands defender Johnny Heitinga during the Oranje's extra-time loss to Spain.
While he dished out a number of suitable cards, Webb failed to send off Nigel De Jong for his infamous kung-fu kick on Xabi Alonso. The players made it extremely difficult for Webb on that day, but this didn't stop many of the Dutch camp criticising him for the performance.
Understandably, the Rotherham-born official had the tendency to irk supporters from across England when making key decisions. A running joke that he favoured Manchester United continued throughout his career, and understandably, has been reignited on social medial with the announcement of his retirement.
ESPN were among the first to offer a tongue-in-cheek nod toward Webb:
Which squad number will Manchester United retire in Howard Webb's honour, then? Answers on a postcard, please.— ESPN.co.uk (@ESPNUK) August 6, 2014
As tweeted by Bleacher Report UK, Manchester City's potential dig may have been more subtle:
Cheeky picture choice from Manchester City as they wish Howard Webb the best on his retirement… pic.twitter.com/yc5QRnVRWz— Bleacher Report UK (@br_uk) August 6, 2014
OptaJoe indicated the legend of Webb's preferential treatment is fuelled by an interesting fact:
9 - Howard Webb awarded nine penalties to Man Utd in the Premier League, more than any other club (Liverpool 6, Bolton 5). Retired.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 6, 2014
Even so, there's no doubt Webb served his duty with impeccable professionalism. Riley indicated he is excited to utilise Webb's "knowledge and skills" in the PGMOL, per the Premier League.
Whether you applaud Webb for his career or not, it will be extremely valuable for England's developing referees to receive the full extent of the individual's experience within the game. He has achieved everything he could possibly expect on the pitch and undoubtedly could have carried on at the top level.
Lee Clayton of the Daily Mail expects Michael Oliver will be among the Premier League officials who will step into a leading role now Webb has moved on:
Howard Webb's refereeing career comes to an end. He's been a good referee, despite one or two errors. More on @MailSport to follow— Lee Clayton (@LeeClayton_) August 6, 2014
Webb standing down as a ref creates a big opportunity for Michael Oliver.— Lee Clayton (@LeeClayton_) August 6, 2014
Officiating within football continues to develop rapidly, as highlighted with the recent introductions of goal-line technology and the so-called "magic" vanishing spray. Human error will never be eradicated from the game, but as the refereeing profession continues to advance, more and more tools are being produced to aid those trying to keep matches fair.
Webb's career progressed largely without these aids, but once the jokes are shifted through, he will deservedly be remembered as one of the generation's finest refs. He can now look forward to a bright, perhaps less abusive, future.