Lack of Black Managers Shows British Soccer Still Has Room for Growth

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Lack of Black Managers Shows British Soccer Still Has Room for Growth
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Chris Hughton

As an African American, it's tempting to look across the Atlantic to Europe and see it as a more racially tolerant society than the United States. And on the surface, it may seem more accepting, but in many ways Europe is a decade or so behind the United States in race relations.

This issue has come up recently in the English Premier League (EPL), which is still wrestling with ways to integrate Afro-Caribbean players into all levels of the game. Great progress has been made from the bad old days of the 1970s and the 1980s, where black players were booed on the field and had bananas thrown at them, but there is still room for improvement at the management level. 

According to an article in The Daily Telegraph, about one quarter of the British soccer profession is black. But only three out of 92 league managers are black.  If soccer managers are being selected from the ranks of ex-pros, the number of black managers should be greater. Simply put, the numbers don't add up.

That is why it was recently suggested that the EPL institute its version of the NFL's Rooney Rule. The Rooney Rule states that whenever there is an opening at least one of the candidates has to be African American. In short, it's a way of using affirmative action to open up jobs to black coaches.

Soccer management is a brutally efficient industry—either you win and stay employed, or you lose and get fired. (Although, managers have been known to be fired for clashing with their boards.) But even then, there are plenty of managers who have been fired for failing to produce winning teams and who then get rehired in high-profile positions.

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Chris Powell

For example, Mick McCarthy was fired at Sunderland, resurfaced at Wolves, where he won them promotion, and then was fired again. However, McCarthy's name is still brought up when there are openings in the league. This is a point brought up by former Liverpool and England star John Barnes in The Daily Telegraph article. Barnes says, “I think white managers are given longer when you get a job. Longer to fail.”

The three black managers who are currently employed, Chris Hughton (Norwich), Chris Powell (Charlton) and Keith Curle (Notts County), have lengthy resumes in the game and have also had their ups and downs. Still, they are surviving.

But for every Chris Powell, there are hundreds like Viv Anderson, who was assistant to Bryan Robson at Middlesboro but never moved on from there. Anderson is an ex-England international who played for Man. Utd. and Arsenal, so you would think with all of his years of experience, he would at least find an assistant manager's position someplace.

Change is inevitably slow, but as more players progress through the coaching system and with programs like the Professional Football Association's Elite Player Performance Plan, a coach training program, there will be a groundswell of available talent.

I would suggest that the PFA creates files of black ex-pros and submits their resumes when jobs come open. They can also track them and see which clubs have been proactive when it comes to placing black managers.

Some version of the Rooney Rule would also be helpful, because unfortunately most people won't change until they are forced. Right now English soccer management is a clubby business where the people on the inside are happy to keep the status quo, even if that means freezing out black managers.

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