FOOTBALL fans hilariously claimed Manchester United made their “greatest signing of the decade” after it was confirmed Howard Webb will replace Mike Riley as the Premier League’s refs’ chief.
Former top-flight whistler Webb, who officiated the 2010 World Cup final, is under contract until January with the MLS, where he is general manager of the Professional Referee Organization.
Earlier this month, SunSport revealed that Premier League officials expected Riley to be removed from his post by December and the 57-year-old officially announced his departure from the PGMOL yesterday.
Riley’s exit will pave the way for Webb, 50, to step into the new title of the league’s chief refereeing officer.
And fans joked the move will be a huge boost to United – after years of claims Webb favored the team.
One person said: “Congrats to Man Utd for making their greatest signing of the decade. Howard Webb, what a statement signing…”
Another added: “‘Howard Webb to become Premier League referees’ chief’. The first Man Utd signing of the season 😂 #manutd.”
A third said: “Those Man Utd fans getting the hump over a lack of transfer activity must be pretty happy to get that Howard Webb deal over the line.”
And a fourth simply responded: “Howard Webb back? Congrats Man Utd.”
Ex-Liverpool star Ryan Babel was fined £10,000 for posting a picture of Webb mocked up in a United shirt in 2011.
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Webb was forced to deny being a Red Devils fan in his book ‘The Man In The Middle’ after years of abuse from rival supporters.
Revealing he actually follows Rotherham, he wrote: “Let’s get something straight, once and for all.
“Contrary to what you might have seen on the internet, I never shared a bed with Sir Alex Ferguson.
“There is no statue of me outside Old Trafford. My kids are not called Rio, Wayne and Cristiano.
“There is no Red Devil tattoo inked on my left buttock. The only United I have ever supported – hand on heart – is of the Rotherham variety.
“And that’s the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”
Webb was present at the PGMOL’s annual conference at Heathrow’s Radisson hotel in London on Saturday morning where Riley broke the news to current officials just hours before a statement was issued.
A number of top-flight clubs complained about the standard of refereeing as well as the use of VAR under Riley’s watch.
But his departure and Webb’s arrival is part of a huge shake-up of refereeing in English football.
Riley had been in charge since 2010.
No fewer than four long-serving officials — Mike Dean, Jon Moss, Kevin Friend and Martin Atkinson — hung up their whistles at the end of last season.
And, although Moss and Atkinson in particular have been among the most criticized referees, there are concerns about the lack of experience left behind in the top flight.
Riley said in his statement: “I am proud of the contribution our match officials have made to the professional game and have enjoyed working with such a dedicated, professional and high-quality group at all of the levels that PGMOL manages.
“As the Elite Referee Development Plan begins to take shape, now is the right time to plan for the future and allow the new leadership team to build on the strong foundations that we have in place.
“I look forward to working with the new team over the next season and giving them my support before I step down.”
Webb’s wife, the former Bundesliga referee Bibiana Steinhaus-Webb, is already the PGMOL’s select group director for the women’s game.
Premier League chief executive Richard Masters said: “On behalf of the Premier League, I would like to thank Mike for his valuable contribution and significant commitment to PGMOL over the last 13 years as well as his considerable service to the game as an elite referee for 20 years.
“During his time at PGMOL, he has worked hard to deliver and develop high-quality match officials across the professional game and led on the implementation of VAR into the Premier League three seasons ago.”
Mark Bullingham, the FA’s chief executive, added that Riley had “played a crucial role in the development of refereeing over recent years”.
As well as the chief refereeing officer, the PGMOL plans to appoint a chief operating officer.