In a month where English football has finally got its act together by deciding to do something about the underrepresentation of black and ethnic minority (BME) coaches in the game, the recent appointment of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink as manager of League Two side Burton Albion is hopefully a sign that there are indeed better times ahead for a sport that for so long has almost been averse to the idea of modernity and positive change.
A recent study published by the Sports People’s Think Tank revealed that there are only 19 BME coaches in the top 552 positions at professional English clubs. The findings, coupled with the tireless work of the Kick It Out campaign, prompted all 20 Premier League clubs to vote to introduce a new measure designed to increase the number of top-flight coaches from minority backgrounds, including the addition of three BME positions to the Premier League’s Elite Coach Apprenticeship Scheme, as well as three places for female coaches.
While Hasselbaink may not be coaching in the top division of English football just yet, the Brewers’ decision to opt for him is still significant. The 42-year-old has insisted that his appointment has nothing to do with him being black, and there is no reason to debate this claim. The former Chelsea, Leeds United and Middlesbrough forward is highly qualified; he completed his UEFA ‘A’ coaching licence whilst working for Nottingham Forest at the start of the decade, and enjoyed a full season as a first-team manager of Royal Antwerp in the Belgian Second Division last year.
When we consider that there are some Premier League managers whose first jobs came in the top-flight, despite them having obtained little to no coaching qualifications prior to commencing their managerial careers, the League Two side’s appointment of a highly trained individual with extensive experience of playing at the highest level of the game seems like something of a coup.
However, while Burton Albion’s decision was first and foremost based on merit, and Hasselbaink has every right to stress this, his appointment nonetheless reflects a growing acceptance that more needs to be done to raise the profile of black and ethnic minority managers in the game. The Dutchman should be proud of the fact that he beat more than 60 other applicants to the job, yet the sad truth is that he was one of the very few black coaches with the requisite qualifications to apply in the first place. Preaching the importance of merit is all well and good, but this supposed virtue ultimately means nothing if black coaches are continually underrepresented in the coaching profession and consequently overlooked for the top jobs.
This vicious circle is clearly unhealthy for the game, which has led to widespread calls for the Premier League and the Football League to adopt their own version of the Rooney Rule – a rule introduced in American football in 2002 which mandates that teams interview at least one BME candidate when a head coach or general manager position becomes available. Although such a rule may not sit easily with those who believe that merit is the only thing that should come into consideration with regard to employment, the reality is that true meritocracy simply does not exist in football, and it is only by implementing such procedures that we can hope to provide equal and fair opportunity for all.
Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore has since stated that the adoption of a football version of the Rooney Rule is unnecessary due to the recent unanimous vote by the top flight clubs in favour of greater representation of BME coaches. For the sake of the game, let’s hope he is right, and let’s hope that Hasselbaink becomes just one several black coaches who is given the opportunity to succeed in English football.
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