LONDON (AP) — Mark Clattenburg, who refereed the top games in world soccer in 2016, suddenly quit the English Premier League on Thursday for a job in Saudi Arabia.
Clattenburg will replace Howard Webb as head of referees for the Saudis after the 2010 World Cup final referee was hired by Major League Soccer to lead the development of video technology for on-field officials.
Clattenburg, who first revealed his plans to leave England in a recent interview with The Associated Press, is set to combine refereeing games with his new off-field responsibilities in the Middle East.
"We decided to bring the best referee in the world," Saudi Football Federation President Adel Ezzat said on Thursday. "His job is the evaluation of referees, but at the same time he will have some matches to referee, between three to four matches a month."
Ezzat said the 41-year-old Clattenburg will take charge of the Champions League game between Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain next month, but it is unclear if he will remain on the UEFA and FIFA lists. He was in contention for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
"At the moment FIFA is waiting for some more information about the future of Mark Clattenburg," the global governing body told The AP.
Clattenburg, whose departure date from the Premier League is yet to be announced, recently made the highly unusually step of publicly stating his desire for a job abroad.
"Money has never been a driver as a referee," Clattenburg told the AP in December. "It's about the drive of doing something different, maybe helping the recruitment ... a bit like Howard Webb has done (in Saudi Arabia) where you are helping another country develop refereeing."
Clattenburg refereed the finals of the European Championship, Champions League and FA Cup last year.
Professional Game Match Officials, the organization which provides and trains officials for the English leagues, said Clattenburg had been "setting standards for others to follow."
"Mark is a talented referee, he has been a great asset to the English game, and hopefully an inspiration to those who want to get into refereeing at the grass roots of the game," the PGMO said. "We understand this is an exciting opportunity for Mark as well as further underlining what high esteem English match officials are held throughout the world game."
Clattenburg has been a FIFA referee since 2006 and was in charge of the Olympic men's soccer final at the London Games in 2012.