The Rooney Rule And The Lack Of Black Managers In English Football

The Rooney Rule And The Lack Of Black Managers In English Football

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There has been an incredible amount of debate about whether the ‘Rooney Rule’ should be implemented in English football of late, ahead of calls from the PFA General Secretary Gordon Taylor for it to be put in place. The debate has come to the forefront ahead of recommendations from Cyrus Mehri, a civl rights lawyer who helped draft the rule in America, to the FA, Premier League, Football League and League Managers Association on why they should implement a similar version of the ‘Rooney Rule’ in the UK.

What is the ‘Rooney Rule’?

The Rooney Rule is named after Dan Rooney who is the owner of NFL side the Pittsburgh Steelers. In 2002 there were only 2 black coaches out of 32 teams in the NFL. Rooney felt that this was not enough and managed to persuade fellow owners of NFL sides to agree to a rule which meant that at least 1 black candidate would have to be interviewed per coaching job. It has been an unmitigated success, there are now 8 black coaches in the NFL.

The improvement is not about tokenism, clubs are under no obligation to hire a black coach, just to interview one, what the improvement from 2 to 8 shows is that clubs were clearly overlooking black coaches prior to this. Mehri said of the rule ‘“The Rooney Rule does not tell you who to hire. It just gets everybody to slow down… open their mind to a broad slate of candidates, including minority coaching candidates… This Rooney Rule has also helped white coaching candidates who would have been overlooked. Rather than interview one candidate, teams interviewed 10.’

 Lack of black managers in English football

Whatever the cause, be it racism or lack of motivation from black candidates  it is absolutely embarrassing that out of the 92 clubs in the football league only two of them have black managers, Charlton and Birmingham City, with Chris Powell and Chris Houghton respectively. In fact only four black managers have ever managed in the Premier League, Paul Ince with a brief spell at Blackburn, Houghton at Newcastle as well as  foreign managers Ruud Gullit with Chelsea and Newcastle, and Jean Tigana with Fulham.

Nobody can argue that this is not a serious problem. Football is on the whole an incredibly diverse sector in Britain and it would be foolish to argue that all boardrooms are inherently racist in their selection of managers, but in the context that there are hundreds of black players in the football league and only two managers it is something that certainly needs addressing. In fact 25% of players in the football league are black and only 2% of the managers are. (One could obviously note the fact that there are no Asian managers, but there are also virtually no Asian players in the football league, which is a separate issue in itself.) The low number of black managers is also highlighted by the fact that 25% of people enrolled on the UEFA pro-license coaching courses are black yet as noted above only 2% of managers in the football league are black.

This is a view held by Keith Alexander who whilst accepting that clubs weren’t inherently racist stated that a the boardrooms of most clubs are overwhelmingly white.  Former West Brom player Brendon Baston makes a good point ‘for their white counterparts, it seems almost as if it’s a rite of passage. It’s a natural progression from playing to management, if that’s what they wish.’ How many times have we heard players like John Terry talk about their desire to become a manager. Yet the same is not said for his black counterparts, rarely is Rio Ferdinand linked with a career in management.

Managers such as QPR’s Ian Warnock have come out and said it’s an issue of ability not race highlighting the fact that he has Keith Curle in management team. Whilst Warnock is by no means a racist he clearly fails to grasp the issues at hand and the fact that there are simply not enough opportunities for black managers.

Regardless of what anybody says about whether a glass ceiling exists the fact that people like Andy Cole feel like its not even worthwhile completing their coaching badges is something that needs to be addressed and highlights the fact that there is an intrinsic problem within the game. This is a player who won the treble which in its own right makes him more qualified than many other managers in the game. Consider another player from the treble winning side Roy Keane who got his first job at Premier League hopefuls Sunderland, whereas Cole didn’t even get a job at Huddersfield as they ‘couldn’t afford him’ without even discussing terms. Granted they are different characters but the point remains.

One huge problem facing black managers is not racism, but the fact that the Premier League in particular is very much an ‘old boys club’ whenever a manager is sacked (barring the top 4 sides) the same faces are touted with possibly taking over. Look how many times somebody like Gary Megson and Iain Dowie’s  names come up whenever a relegation threatneed Premier League side sacks their manager, despite none of these managers ever achieving anything of note. Its time for the League to breakaway from this, not just with regard to black managers but also other young English managers.

For an earlier generation of black managers such as Viv Anderson, John Barnes or Luther Blissett there careers were certainly limited by a lack of opportunities which was quite possibly down to their race. Luther Blissett himself described the lack of black managers in English football as ‘outrageous.’ Blissett has the UEFA A pro-licence but despite this his highest managerial job came with Chesham United. In contrast to, for example Gareth Southgate who did not have any of the relevant qualifications to manage when he was given the Middlesbrough job.

With regards to Paul Ince, despite the fact that he wasn’t particularly impressive in the Blackburn job it should be noted that his counterparts from England and Manchester United all were given their first jobs at higher levels, Southgate as stated with Middlesbrough (then in the Premier League) Mark Hughes, with Wales and Blackburn, and Stuart Pearce with Manchester City to name but a few, whereas Ince started off by taking a chance at bottom of League Two side Macclesfield.

Will the Rooney Rule work?

For black managers to make bigger inroads into football management black players need to be encouraged to take coaching badges and also be offered incentives so they don’t give up as Cole considered doing. The Rooney Rule would certainly act as an incentive as it would mean the best black managers would be guaranteed a chance at any job that comes up. Thats the key, ‘a chance’ not guaranteed the job as some critics of the plan will have you believe. Rather than being a quota or an active form of positive discrimination the Rooney Rule merely means that at least one black candidate will have to be interviewed. Clubs are under no obligation to hire a manager based on their race. What the rule would do is increase the exposure for black managers and give other aspiring managers further incentive to gain their qualifications.

This wouldn’t just benefit black managers, a lot of Premier League clubs do secretive behind closed doors interview processes, often having one name in mind before they even sack their current manager, e.g. Mancini with Manchester City. This would increase the transparency of the process as well as increasing the chance of other managers and meaning that clubs would be less likely to make rash mistakes such as how Chelsea did with the appointment of Scolari in 2008. In casting the net wider it would certainly benefit young English managers.

That is another fundamental problem the top Premier League jobs are dominated by foreign managers. Perhaps it would also be wise for the PFA and LMA to focus on getting more English managers top flight experience. It seems that whenever a club like Chelsea or City look at a manager he is invariably foreign. If clubs were forced to perhaps look at one English, or British candidate as well as one black candidate it would also help the development of all the countries English coaches. It is staggering that at present only three English managers possess the required qualifications to coach England and in the Champions League, Harry Redknapp, Sam Alladyce and the much maligned Steve McClaren.

The Rooney Rule would be most effective in the lower leagues encouraging black players to get their badges and giving them the opportunities to get good football league jobs. In the Premier League  in the short term it wont be effective, if Sir Alex Ferguson resigned tomorrow it would be farcical to suggest that Paul Ince deserves to be interviewed for that job, even Chris Houghton, who whilst being talented clearly is not experienced enough for the job, yet. Through bedding in young black managers in the lower leagues it will in theory increase their opportunities in the Premier League in the long run.

Thus the Rooney Rule could certainly work, by creating incentives for young black managers, as well as English managers from all diaspora’s to get jobs in football management. With the increasingly foreign make-up of the Premier League the Rooney Rule would require charimen to look extensively at black managers as well as other candidates such as English managers of all races in order to create a more transparent process that would inevitably benefit white candidates as well as black ones. It is not perfect and it will ruffle some feathers but a solution is desperately needed and the Rooney Rule, at least for now could be just that if it is implemented. Considering the success of the rule in the NFL it should not be overlooked.