As English football reels from one race crisis to another, an unprecedented level of focus has been centred on discrimination within the game. With the spectre looming of a breakaway black players union the PFA’s chief executive, Gordon Taylor, yesterday set out the organisation’s six point plan to combat racism. Clearly the PFA has been put on the back foot by the John Terry and Luis Suarez scandals, along with the recent protests from leading black players against the lack of influence enjoyed by the “Kick it Out” campaign.
Given the speed with which the FA has had to respond it’s not surprising that some of their proposals are ill thought out. While racism in football has been an issue for numerous years it is really the threat of a rival union for black players which has forced their hand. Yet surely it is better to respond with something that actually improves the status quo than rashly come up with a set of proposals as a sop to public sentiment?
The most headline grabbing of their proposals is for the introduction of an English “Rooney rule” to increase the number of black managers within the game. In 2003 the NFL introduced such a rule (named after Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney) to mandate that black or ethnic minority candidates were interviewed for the position of head coach and senior football operations opportunities if they became available. The result was that the proportion of black head coaches at NFL teams increased from 6% to 22% within just three years.
In England, the argument goes, black players make up 20-25% of those in the football leagues, and yet only four managers (Chris Hughton, Chris Powell, Keith Curle and Edgar Davids) are drawn from ethnic minorities. As such the suggestion is that black managers are effectively underrepresented and the PFA wants to encourage more black players to have the opportunity to coach at the highest level.
Unquestionably under the current method of recruitment almost solely from the pool of ex-professional players, ethnic minorities are grossly underrepresented. Yet this highlights the bizarre nature of management appointments in this country. As Arrigo Sacchi pointed out in relation to his questions over his own managerial credentials. "I never realised that to become a jockey you needed to be a horse first."
The requirements of a football manager and a footballer are starkly different. One is focused on physical and athletic gifts, the other places demands on motivational, tactical and analytical attributes. There is naturally an overlap between them, but one only needs to look at the number of exceptional players who made mediocre (at best) managers to see that ability in one field is far from a guarantee of success in the other.
Despite the seemingly far removed skillsets only Lennie Lawrence (the newly appointed caretaker manager of Crystal Palace), Russell Slade (of Leyton Orient), and Andre Villas-Boas did not play professionally among football league managers. Of these, Villas –Boas got his first opportunity in Portugal (a league in which a lack of playing experience is no barrier to progression), while Slade and Lawrence have both scrapped their way around the lower leagues with little hope of elevation. At the highest level this predilection with playing experience is even more pronounced. Of the nine managers appointed at Premier League clubs in the last 12 months, seven had themselves played the game in the top flight (though not all in England).
Even among those who did play professional football, relatively few did it at the highest level. David Moyes and Arsene Wenger both had playing careers which were modest in comparison with their exploits as managers. Alex Ferguson’s disappointment at his Rangers career has often been seen as providing him with an additional point to prove when he moved to coaching. Brendan Rodgers (like Brian Clough before him) saw his career cut short, an unwelcome event that ultimately gave him greater time to study the game.
Meanwhile English football continues to ignore the vast numbers of people who lack playing experience, but who could make a major contribution. In addition to Sacchi and Villas-Boas, the likes of Jose Mourinho, Carlos Alberto Parreira and Zdenek Zeman were able to forge exceptionally successful managerial careers despite not playing the game. Given the dearth of promising English managers it’s clear to see that football is shooting itself in the foot by overlooking a whole section of society.
The reason for this obsession with playing experience is obvious. When a club appoints Bryan Robson or Graeme Souness it is almost impossible for fans to disassociate the middling manager from the aura that his decorated playing career carries. Given the tendency for fans to be won over by short term and populist appointments it takes a brave chairman to give an opportunity to an untried manager who is not a big name. British chairmen are happy to appoint the likes of Mourinho and Villas-Boas once they have proven themselves at a giant like Porto, indeed they are willing to pay large release clauses to do so, but o far at least they have been decidedly less brave in seeking to unearth their own “special one”.
To expect the PFA, a trade union representing the interests of the players alone, to suggest ending the arcane practice of hiring solely from their members is also silly. They have a duty to act in a way that benefits their members, regardless of whether that also improves the fortunes of football as a whole. But that self-serving raison d’etre also makes some of their claims rather hollow.
The idea of introducing a “Rooney rule” might seem a panacea to cure football of its current ills. Yet in reality it would simply paper over the fundamental flaws which beset the entire process of appointing managers. England does not just lack a reasonable number of black managers within the football league, it lacks a sensible method of unearthing managers of talent, regardless of their ethnicity.
Rather than a requirement to interview members of ethnic minorities, a far more inclusive amendment would be to interview prospective managers of any race who had not previously held a professional position. That would not only open up the field to members of all ethnicities, it would end the “old boys’ network” that sees failing managers bounce around from club to club based on a long past playing career. Sadly in their attempt to take control of the media agenda, the PFA have instead latched on to another half-baked idea that will benefit nobody.