Al Arabiya reports that Howard Webb - one of the rare soccer referees to have established an international reputation - has resigned his position as Director of Refereeing with the Saudi Arabia Football Federation. The report cites a dispute between Webb and the SAFF over the number of non-Saudi referees hired by the federation. Webb is said to have favored a policy of promoting local candidates, the SAFF has reportedly decided to increase the number of foreign referees on its books.
Per Al Arabiya, Webb has agreed to take a job offered by "the US Association".
Back in November, The Sun reported Webb had been offered the position of "head of referees in America's MLS". Not quite, said the Professional Referees Organization - which is responsible for development and oversight of top-level professional referees in the USA and Canada. PRO's general manager (and therefore "head of referees in America's MLS") is Peter Walton, and he is expected to remain in his position. PRO did say it was seeking a manager for its Video Assistant Refereeing (VAR) project. It is assumed that is the position Webb might be taking in the US.
MLS has announced it hopes to see VAR implemented in the league after the 2017 All-Star Game, as part of its continuing involvement in the ongoing global experiment to evaluate how and whether to officially incorporate the technology in professional club and international soccer.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber alluded to having recently met Webb in a chat with media in Vancouver on February 6:
"The other day I was meeting with a top English referee, and he refereed a World Cup final, and he missed a key call in that final, and he said 'hey, I made the wrong call.'"
In the history of the World Cup final, there have been four Englishmen who have managed the game as center ref. Webb is the only one still alive. And his work at the 2010 World Cup is perhaps best remembered for his decision not to send off Nigel De Jong for kicking Xabi Alonso in the chest during the final.
Webb has long admitted it was a mistake to allow De Jong to stay in the game.
Retired from active refereeing since 2014, Webb remains one of the best known soccer refs in the world. Don Garber's recent comments in Vancouver revealed MLS is sensitive to criticism of its refereeing standards. The VAR initiative is one step toward seeking to advance both the perception and reality of those standards in the US top flight. Hiring a world-famous ref to oversee the VAR initiative will certainly add visibility to the efforts of MLS and the USSF to counter criticism of professional refereeing standards in the American (and Canadian) game.