16 Oct 2014

Why does football have so few black managers?

Ask a young black football player if they’d consider a coaching or management job when they’ve hung up their boots and the answer you often get is “what’s the point of going through all that training when I’m unlikely to get a job?”.

Ask a black NFL player the same question and the response is invariably “I see no reason why not”.

How do we know this? Because we’ve interviewed them about it.

It wasn’t a scientific poll mind, but it’s enough to get a sense that the culture in the NFL is very different.

But it wasn’t always like this – and it didn’t change by accident.

Of 92 professional football clubs in England, just two have black managers. How can this be when 25 per cent of players are black?

A decade ago the NFL had a similar problem. But in 2003 it was forced to change the way the clubs hire managers: whenever there is a vacancy, at least one minority candidate must be interviewed. Not hired – just interviewed.

It’s A kind of quota lite – but it has forced doors and eyes open – and has had a significant impact.

NFL club owners suddenly realised they were missing out on a wasted talent pool Рand they started hiring black coaches. In one relatively easy move, the glass ceiling was shattered.

‘Just pigeon steps’

At an unveiling of a statue to Arthur Wharton – the world’s first black professional footballer – at the FA’s national training centre, one of England’s most experiences black coaches said its high time clubs here did the same thing.

The challenge is this: even before football clubs have sacked their current manager, says Les Ferdinand, “chairmen already know who they want – rarely do they interview”.

Which is why potential black candidates are, he says, are “never going to get considered”.

“We need to do more, the strides are not big enough,” he adds. “They are pigeon steps”.

Now, a “Rooney rule” transferred to the UK may or may not work – there are legal and logistical challenges – but something, it is clear, should be done.

Football has changed beyond recognition since Arthur Wharton’s day. At least, it has on the pitch.

But in the manager’s office – it’s much the same as it always was.

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