An alternative view to the Rooney Rule

The PFA have certainly opened up a whole can of worms in vocalising their support of the Rooney Rule this week- a rule that dictates that each Football League club has to mandatorily interview a black candidate for each managerial position. While trying not to get too bogged down in the whole affirmative action issue, the thing that troubles me about this issue is the rather tricky position that it places clubs boards and Chairman in the future.

The statistic of the week – 25% of players in the Football League black, yet just 2% of it’s managers are from a black or from an ethnic minority background (Chris Hughton and Chris Powell). It’s abundantly clear that this is an issue that needs addressing.

The Rooney Rule (named after Steelers owner Dan Rooney, who is white but was the driving force behind getting more black coaches into the NFL at coaching level) certainly offers that. It isn’t a form of a positive discrimination, as some spectators have decried, it merely offers a person from an ethnic or minority background the chance of an interview. It doesn’t stipulate anywhere the need to employ a manager due to the nature of his colour or race. Nor does it impose any obligation on the clubs to do so. It is merely a tool to grant a fairer and broader process to try and go some way to addressing the disparities that our game has when compared with the rest of society. If no candidate from an ethnic minority applies for a position, as I understand it, the club in question are free to choose from whoever applies.

Some fans are troubled by this latest development though. Not because they are racist, but because they feel that it grants an unfair advantage to candidates that are less qualified than others. While understandable to an extent, it is complete folly to suggest that underqualified managers will get the job due to the nature of the colour of their skin. It simply opens more doors to people that may have had problems advancing their careers in the past.

The problematic position it places Chairman in the future though in is the only aspect of the rule that troubles me. To put it in another context, if you work in an office and are forced to interview a candidate rather than choose to interview a candidate, does that then make you more or less likely to hire them in the future? It’s human nature to approach something that you are forced to do with both a hint of suspicion and trepidation; this process would prove no different.

Also, what happens if five years further down the line, after the implementation of this policy, that the figures stay relatively the same? Does this then imply that football clubs are institutionally racist? At what point is the new rule adjudged to have been a success? There are many potential political potholes that may require negotiating further down the road with a policy like this.

In relation to the aforementioned statistic – is there actually any quantifiable evidence to suggest that Chairman aren’t already interviewing black candidates for available jobs? Because if there isn’t, then this rule change could prove quite controversial with some clubs. When Sir Alex Ferguson eventually retires at Man Utd, does that mean Paul Ince is granted an obligatory interview due to his past connection with the club on the account of his race? When does progression give way to tokenism? And at what point does it become both patronising and insulting towards the candidate?

Without trying to labour the point too much, how is the above statistic even relevant to todays game? Surely the 2% in management now is indicative of a time where the Football League didn’t comprise of 25% black players. As time goes on and the next generation of players begin to approach retirement, surely we are bound to see an increase in the number of black players considering entering both coaching and management. It could well turn out that the Rooney Rule may be entirely redundant in five to ten years time due to the process simply occuring more naturally as time goes by. While the overall aim may be admirable, is it one that really requires legislating on?

The rule change may represent a foot in the door, an equal opportunity and a fairer system from the candidates point of view, but from the perspective of the employers, it does back them into more of a corner. It could have a negative effect on Chairman, or those in charge of hiring and firing in the future. Enforcing a change of proceedure on a group of people (Chairman) that may have been unwilling to embrace the solution in the first place could prove extremely problematic. Chairman very rarely accept the help of outside influences and the PFA may be venturing too far with this one.

Promoting change and instigating a rule are two very different things. The main problem is not the fans questioning the effect this rule may have. Nor is it the enforcement of a rule promoting a fairer system for black coaches, it is the reaction that may take place at board level at clubs all across the land and the repurcussions it could have on the game further down the line.

Increasing pressure and scrutiny on a Chairman’s selection policies with regards to hiring coaches and managers could have an adverse effect on the very problem that this rule is trying to address.

John Barnes didn’t get hired at Celtic because he was black. He didn’t get fired because he was black either. He was fired because it turns out that he’s not very good at this football management lark, great player though he was.

And that is the wider issue that needs addressing here; the opportunities afforded to players of prestige and the fact that their roles often far outweigh their expertise on the coaching front. Surely the issue that needs addressing is the amount of ex-pros that get jobs in management based entirely on their ability on the pitch and the subsequent lack of opportunity afforded to first-time coaches trying to break through intocoaching and management. Are Steve Bruce and Roy Keane (please forgive the Sunderland bias with this one) really better equipped to be successful football managers at Premier League level than John Coleman at Accrington Stanley or Dario Gradi at Crewe? A successful playing career does not always equate to a successful coaching career, but it does supply a helpful leg up in getting started out.

The two black managers currently operating in the Football League have both taken different routes to where they are now. Chris Powell gained his current position through recognition of his efforts as a player at Charlton. He acquired this position a lot sooner than what is normally deemed neccessary experience-wise due to his standing at the club.

Whereas Chris Hughton worked his way around various clubs coaching staffs, admittedly after a successful playing career, and took the longer route. His success at Newcastle was the culmination of years of hard graft at coaching level, which is what made his baffling dismissal last term all the more difficult to comprehend.

The Rooney Rule could prove a step in the right direction. After all, it simply affords candidates the opportunity of an interview, nothing more. However, with concerns to football management and race, please forgive the pun, but things are rarely as clear as black and white. The myriad of issues with implementing a policy such as this may have yet to fully avail themselves and while the aim may be laudable, in practice, it may be something that simply requires a little more time and patience.

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