Published on 21 Nov 2014 Sections ,

What does Wigan ‘racism’ row mean for black managers?

Its new manager is being investigated over racism claims and its owner faces similar allegations. But does Malky Mackay’s appointment at Wigan Athletic hint at a larger problem in football?

That Mackay, with all the baggage he currently brings, was seen as the best manager for the job quite neatly illustrates part of the reason that there are so few black and minority ethnic (BME) managers in English game, according to a leading pressure group.

Football Against Racism says that English football’s managerial “merry-go-round” tends to exclude candidates from ethnic minorities because many clubs stick with established names, the vast majority of whom are white.

“There is a merry-go-round and, statistically, you could not say it is composed of people who have been successful,” its chief executive Piara Powar told Channel 4 News

‘Merry-go-round’

“It is just made up of those managers who are in people’s minds. Sometimes, the media feeds that. It is certainly the case that the managerial merry-go-round exists.”

Mackay could certainly be considered an established name in the second tier of English football, in which Wigan currently play. He has previously achieved promotion from it to the Premier League with Cardiff City, although he had relatively limited success with Watford at that level.

And Powar stressed that Mackay’s appointment was not necessarily undeserved in pure footballing terms. “Malky Mackay might say that he played the game and that is where his networks were established. He is not a member of a secret group.”

But the risk aversion most clubs display when appointing a new manager, he agreed, was proving a major barrier to new managers breaking through.

Huddersfield Town manager Chris Powell (above) is one of only two black managers currently employed by the 92 English league clubs. And, according to a report by the Sports People’s Think Tank released this month, there were only 19 people of BME backgrounds in 552 top coaching jobs in the English leagues.

The group has proposed a “mentoring and networking plan” be developed to help more break into the professional game. Under the scheme, events would be organised where club executives could meet candidates in a bid to convince them to look beyond the relatively small pool of established names.

Powar was echoing sentiments previously aired when Channel 4 News investigated the lack of black managers in English football. (See video below)

He said that the stereotypes people held were also problematic. “One of those is that black men are not authority figures. There is also an issue regarding how many black players feel encouraged to join the coaching establishment and do their badges.

“And there is another issue with minorities in leadership. Other than the clubs that are owned by foreigners, it is rare to find BME people at board level, in the FA or the Football League. The whole structure lacks diversity, one of the big benefits of which is diversity of thought and of approach.”

Read more on Sports Correspondent Keme Nzerem's blog: Why does football have so few black managers?

Wigan Athletic came under scrutiny earlier this week when it announced the appointment of Mackay (above), who has been accused of sending racist text messages. That increased when the club’s owner Dave Whelan was quoted by the Guardian as making derogatory comments about Jewish and Chinese people.

The FA has opened an investigation into the latter’s comments and a sponsor ended its association with the club over Mackay’s appointment. Whelan later defended himself, saying he was misquoted, but apologised for causing offence.

But he was criticised by the Board of Deputies of British Jews. “Whelan’s bigoted and racist comments about Jews are outrageous and offensive, and bring the club and the game into disrepute,” its vice-president Jonathan Arkush said on Friday.

There is a merry-go-round and, statistically, you could not say it is composed of people who have been successful. Piara Powar, Football Against Racism chief executive

Nevertheless, on the broader issue of BME representation among football managers, it would be unfair to single out Wigan Athletic, which refused to comment when contacted by Channel 4 News.

It would also be unfair to claim that the club limited its search to just one candidate. Owner Dave Whelan said on 18 November that more than 20 people applied for the job. Among those reportedly under consideration were Paul Jewell, a former manager of the club, and former Newcastle United and Norwich City manager Chris Hughton, one of the few established black managers in the game.

But, according to Powar, it is fair to say that Wigan’s decision not to look beyond a man under investigation over allegations of racism are emblematic of a bigger issue that football needs to address.

“It says a lot about the way the football industry is run – the informality and lack of process in the recruitment of managers.”