The 'Rooney Rule' Should Be Unwelcome In English Football
Why I hope Tranmere Rovers will always employ solely on ability
Posted: 13/12/17 | Updated: 06/03/19
Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2017. Information correct at the time of posting may no longer be so.
On 7th December 2017, the English Football League (EFL) announced that it was extending a pilot recruitment code to all 72 Championship, League One and League Two teams that will require all clubs to interview at least one Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME) candidate for any coaching position for which they operate a recruitment process between 1st January 2018 and the end of the 2018-19 season.
This represents an extension of a 10-club voluntary trial from the 2016-17 season and expands upon the already mandatory guidelines that enforce the same regulations upon youth academy systems.
The scheme is similar to the NFL's 'Rooney Rule', which was introduced in 2002 as a means of increasing BAME representation amongst American Football's elite coaches. The difference is that, at least for the time being, the American version of the rule is mandatory, whereas the EFL's current system remains voluntary — for now.
There have, however, been calls from various quarters to introduce an obligation to interview BAME candidates into all EFL and Premier League recruitment strategies but, as I will attempt to explain, this should be rejected in no uncertain terms as unnecessary and unwelcome.
In 2014, The Sports People's Think Tank published a report that highlighted a lack of BAME coaches within the professional ranks of English football, more specifically the top 4 divisions — The Premier League, EFL Championship, EFL League One and EFL League Two. Since then, they have produced an updated report on an annual basis, the most recent published in November 2017.
In the report, it is stated that, at the start of the 2017-18 campaign, BAME coaches held just 4.6% of senior positions in English professional football and just 3.3% of roles involving first team coaching. It continues by explaining that of the 22 BAME coaches in senior roles, 9 (41%) worked for just 4 clubs — Brighton and Hove Albion, Crystal Palace, Reading and Queens Park Rangers.
At club level, 17 of the 92 clubs (18.5%) were found to employ a BAME individual, a percentage that jumps considerably when focusing solely on the Premier League, with BAME coaching representation at 7 of 20 clubs (35%). In the EFL, the number is 10 of 72 clubs, which equates to 14%.
The report continues to lament the lack of representation (4.6%) in comparison to the number of BAME players (25%) and the UK population more broadly, which it claims has around 14% BAME communities.
The problem is, the data appears to be fundamentally flawed because it appears incomplete.
In the 2017 introduction, the report states:
only 11 of 20 EPL clubs employ foreign managers, 9 clubs (40% of the league) have UK-born managers.
— Sports People's Think Tank, SPTT Report 2017, page 4
These figures were based around the personnel in situ on 1st September 2017, so the actual numbers, that don't reflect the changes in Premier League management at clubs such as West Bromwich Albion and Everton, are understandable and are of a secondary significance given the fluid nature of a football management role.
My primary concern is the idea that only managers born outside the UK are 'foreign', because it ignores a somewhat sizeable elephant in the room. In footballing terms, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are separate nations, with individual governing bodies, national teams (except for the London 2012 Olympics) and league structures.
In that context, although British citizens, managers from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are 'foreign' and are therefore, in footballing terms, ethnic minorities as well. The table below highlights the birthplaces of the current (December '17) 92 EPL and EFL managers:
|Country Of Birth|
|2011 English Census Data||83.46%||1.34%||0.96%||0.39%||0.75%||3.73%||9.36%|
|2017 English Premier League||35%||5%||5%||0%||0%||40%||15%|
|2017 EFL Championship||67%||4%||4%||0%||0%||25%||0%|
|2017 EFL League One||54%||21%||8%||4%||0%||13%||0%|
|2017 EFL League Two||71%||8%||4%||0%||0%||4%||4%|
|2017 EPL and EFL Total||58%||10%||7%||1%||0%||20%||4%|
Table 1 highlights that 18% of the current (December '17) EPL and EFL managers were born in either Scotland (10%), Wales (7%) or Northern Ireland (1%) and I would argue that these managers, in a footballing context, significantly alter the findings of the report.
Indeed, in League One for example, the 33% of managers born in either Scotland (21%), Wales (8%) or Northern Ireland (4%) would be considered 'foreign' should the nations of the United Kingdom be treated as the separate FIFA nations that they are.
The table also indicates a further issue in that the report asserts that the only BAME first team manager in the Premier League is Brighton and Hove Albion's Chris Hughton, which again raises concerns with the report's findings.
The definition of an 'ethnic minority' is:
A group within a community which has different national or cultural traditions from the main population
— Oxford Dictionaries, oxforddictionaries.com
By that definition, surely any manager born in a different footballing nation is a member of an ethnic minority? And, if you include those managers born outside of England alongside FIFA-separated Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, you could conclude that the following Premier League managers provide BAME representation:
- Arsène Wenger (Arsenal) and Claude Puel (Leicester City) — French Community
- Mark Hughes (Stoke City) — Welsh Community
- Mauricio Pochettino (Tottenham Hotspur) and Mauricio Pellegrino (Southampton) — Argentinian Community
- Jürgen Klopp (Liverpool) — German Community
- Rafael BenÍtez (Newcastle United) and Pep Guardiola (Manchester City) — Spanish Community
- José Mourinho (Manchester United) and Marco Silva (Watford) — Portuguese Community
- Antonio Conte (Chelsea) — Italian Community
- David Moyes (West Ham United) — Scottish Community
- David Wagner (Huddersfield Town) and Chris Hughton (Brighton and Hove Albion) were both born in one country (Germany and England respectively), but elected to play international football for another FIFA nation, giving representation to the American and Irish communities.
That is 14 of 20 Premier League managers (70%) representing a minority community in England, 12 by birth and 2 by ancestry; a substantial increase on the 5% (1 manager — Chris Hughton) recognised by the SPTT report.
Table 1 provides similar insight for the EFL Championship, League One and League Two.
When comparing the 2017 managerial nationality data to the 2011 census data for England (most recent available), we can see that far from being underrepresented, including minority nationalities in the BAME definition highlights several areas where minorities are actually overrepresented.
In the 2011 census, 1.94% of the population of England were born in Scotland, whilst 0.96% were born in Wales. In the 2017 Premier League managerial ranks, both groups each have a 5% representation, approximately 2.5-times and 5-times overrepresented respectively.
Likewise, those born in other EU countries (outside the UK or ROI) accounted for 3.73% of the population of England, yet in 2017 they have a 40% representation in the 'elite' EPL managerial cohort, overrepresented by a factor greater than 10. Even those born outside the EU altogether, who made up 9.36% of respondents, have 15% representation in the 2017 EPL.
Perhaps the most striking insight, however, comes when assessing those groups within the English population that appear to be underrepresented. By far the most underrepresented group amongst EPL and EFL managers are coaches born in England, with a 58% representation across the 92 managerial roles. That is in comparison to the English population, which at the last census was 83.46% — a 25.46% discrepancy.
The representation of English-born managers is diminished further when looking at the 'elite' of the Premier League, where just 35% of managers (December '17) were born in England. In the Championship, the number is slightly improved (67%), whilst League One (54%) and League Two (71%) also suffer from underrepresentation of English-born managers.
At the 'elite' level, the last English manager to win the top-tier First Division or Premier League title in English football was Howard Wilkinson, lifting the title in 1991-92 as manager of Leeds United. On the international stage, the last English manager to lead the national team to a World Cup quarter-final was Sir Bobby Robson in 1990, whilst only 3 English managers have ever taken the national team to the same stage of the European Championships since its inception in 1960 (Sir Alf Ramsey 1968, Terry Venables 1996 and Roy Hodgson 2012).
I'd argue the FA's focus should be on developing domestic coaches from all backgrounds, rather than elevating one or more minority group(s) into priority status.
Taking my concerns with the SPTT report into consideration, I can understand that some may feel that I have written this article as a specific response to its publication, but I would like to take this opportunity to dismiss that out of hand. I have chosen to start my argument by referring to the SPTT report because it has become a hugely-influential document that has helped to shape the debate surrounding BAME issues in English football.
Some of the largest and most powerful media organisations, such as the BBC and The Guardian, have recently published articles that directly report upon the findings of the SPTT and it is for that reason that I felt obligated to share my objections to the document, because I believe the debate is based on incomplete and inaccurate data.
Furthermore, having explored both the importance of an accurate definition of BAME coaches and the impact said definition has upon the representation statistics, I believe the current discourse is too focused upon the colour of an individual's skin and the idea of a 'visible diversity'.
It is the idea of a 'visible diversity' that is perhaps the most unfair, possibly dangerous, aspect of the BAME debate. Recently, Liverpool CEO Peter Moore said:
I think it [The Rooney Rule] would be phenomenal. If we come back and sit here 15 years from now, and we can look at the Premier League and we can see half of the 20 clubs have a manager or head coach that is of colour, that come from diverse backgrounds — I think it would be superb.
— Peter Moore, skysports.com, 12th December 2017
Here, the CEO of one of the largest football clubs in the world is advocating the 'Rooney Rule' in English Football because, he asserts, it would be “superb” for the Premier League to have 50% black or diverse representation in 15 years. The problem with this is, as we have previously explored, the Premier League already has a 70% BAME representation in 2017, based on the conditions discussed above.
So, if the current debate around minorities is, at best, muddled when others attempt to speak on their behalf, is it not important to see how the population identify themselves?
|Ethnic Minority Group||Percentage English Population (2011 Census)|
|White: Other*||4.6%||Asian or Asian British: Indian||2.6%|
|Asian or Asian British: Pakistani||2.1%||Black or Black British: African||1.8%|
|Asian or Asian British: Asian Other||1.6%|
|Black or Black British: Caribbean||1.1%|
|Mixed: White and Caribbean||0.8%|
|Asian or Asian British: Bangladeshi||0.8%|
|Asian or Asian British: Chinese||0.7%|
|*White: Other refers to those who self-identify as white persons who are not English, Welsh, Scottish or Irish.|
Table 2 contains the 10 most common self-identified ethnic minorities in England from the most recent census data (2011).
As we can see, the most common response to the census was 'White: Other', with 4.6% of the population of England categorising themselves in this category — almost as many as the second-most and third-most popular responses combined (4.7%). Taking the seventh-largest category (White: Irish) into consideration, 5.6% the English population categorise themselves as an ethnic minority despite having white skin.
This is one reason why measuring BAME representation on 'visible diversity' is problematic, because someone from the main minority in England is unlikely to 'look' any different to the majority and could, as is often the case in the current discussion, be overlooked.
In addition, stating specific targets or quotas of managers that would represent 'progress' is not only unfair, as it places priority upon a physical or cultural characteristic as opposed to ability, but is also highly problematic in terms of achievability.
As stated in Table 2, 8 of the 10 most populated ethnic minorities from the 2011 census can be categorised into 3 main areas of heritage: Asia, Africa and The Caribbean. To reflect this, please find below the top 10 FIFA-ranked nations from those 3 areas (as of November 2017):
|November 2017 AFC Rank||Country||National Manager||National Manager Nationality|
|4||Korea Republic||Shin Tae-yong||South Korean|
|5||China PR||Marcello Lippi||Italian|
|6||Saudi Arabia||Juan Antonio Pizzi||Argentinian|
|7||United Arab Emirates||Alberto Zaccheroni||Italian|
|*Dec '17: Australian and Syrian managers' positions currently vacant.|
|November 2017 CAF Rank||Country||National Manager||National Manager Nationality|
|4||Congo DR||Florent Ibengé||Congolese|
|6||Burkina Faso||Paulo Duarte||Portuguese|
|9||Ghana||James Kwesi Appiah||Ghanaian|
|10||Côte d'Ivoire||Marc Wilmots||Belgian|
|November 2017 CONCACAF Rank||Country||National Manager||National Manager Nationality|
|1||Mexico||Juan Carlos Osorio||Colombian|
|2||USA||Dave Sarachan (Interim)||American|
|3||Costa Rica||Óscar Ramírez||Costa Rican|
|5||Panama||Hernán Darío Gómez||Colombian|
|7||Honduras*||Jorge Luis Pinto*||Colombian*|
|9||Trinidad and Tobago||Dennis Lawrence||Trinidadian|
|*Dec '17: Honduran manager's positions currently vacant.|
The current discourse is focused on BAME representation at the 'elite' level of English football, so I have decided to highlight only the top 10 FIFA-ranked nations from the federations that represent the three communities identified in the 2011 census, as these represent the current 'elite' nations within those federations.
Table 3 shows the data for the AFC (Asian) communities, Table 4 the CAF (African) nations and Table 5 the CONCACAF countries, which includes the Caribbean.
When looking at the current managers of the national teams presented, just 4 of the top 10 FIFA-ranked Asian footballing nations currently have a national team manager from that nation (40%). The number jumps to 50% of top 10 FIFA-ranked CAF nations having a national team manager from that nation (5), whilst just 4 of the top 10 FIFA-ranked CONCACAF nations have a national team manager born in the country (40%).
Putting domestic football in these regions under the microscope highlights the lack of domestic representation at club level in some of these nations. For example, the number-one and number-two CONCACAF nations are currently Mexico and USA. Mexico has a Colombian national manager and just 9 of 18 MLX (Mexican 1st Division) managers are Mexican (50%).
Although the USA currently has an American national team coach, just 13 of 22 MLS managers are American (59%). If there is a struggle for 'elite' domestic representation in the two foremost nations within the CONCACAF, when those populations have overwhelming majorities, how can English football be criticised for not having significant representation when those communities are minorities and managers such as Bob Bradley and David Wagner have recently been employed in the Premier League?
And although nations such as Jamaica (Theodore Whitmore) and Trinidad and Tobago (Dennis Lawrence) have domestic managers, only Costa Rica will take to the 2018 FIFA World Cup — the 'elite' international level — under domestic leadership (Mexico and Panama have Colombian managers).
Please find below additional data for the AFC:
|Country||Domestic League Formed||Percentage Domestic Managers (Top Flight Only)|
|United Arab Emirates||1973||17%|
The AFC will be represented at the 2018 FIFA World Cup by Saudi Arabia, Iran, Australia, Korea Republic and Japan. Of those nations, as seen in Table 3, only Korea Republic currently have a domestic manager (Shin Tae-yong).
Looking at Table 6, we can also see that the domestic leagues of the top AFC nations vary greatly in domestic opportunities for domestic coaches. Nations such as Syria (100%), Korea Republic (92%) and Iraq (90%) have high levels of domestic management. Conversely, Saudi Arabia (7%) and United Arab Emirates (17%) have incredibly low domestic participation in their managerial ranks.
Perhaps most interesting, however, is China PR. Ranked fifth in the AFC, the Earth's most populous nation is managed in the international arena by veteran Italian coach Marcello Lippi. At a domestic level, just 25% of managers are Chinese, with notable foreign coaches such as Fabio Capello (Jiangsu Suning) and Manuel Pellegrini (Hebei China Fortune) tasked with guiding the country's biggest clubs.
Indeed, such is the dearth of elite domestic coaches in China, where 92% of the population at the 2010 census was of Han Chinese heritage (the world's largest ethnic group — 1.3 billion people), that Tranmere Rovers have recently signed a deal with the Chinese government to help improve the standards of both players and coaches in Chinese domestic football.
Now, if an ethnic group of 1.3 billion people, 1.24 billion of whom live within China itself, currently produces 25% of managers in a league where they represent a 92% majority, how is it realistic to expect 0.7% of the English population to provide significant representation of that group within the English football pyramid?
Tranmere Rovers — Where Do They Fit Into The Debate?
Ok, so I have hopefully conveyed the reasoning as to why I believe the 'Rooney Rule' is unneeded within English football. But what I hope to communicate next is how it is not only unneeded, but unwelcome.
By reassessing the definition of BAME, and looking at various data surrounding managerial appointments both in England and around the globe, I feel confident in theorising that it is not statistics alone that are driving the discussion surrounding BAME representation.
Instead, it is being underpinned by a narrative told through the media and by individuals of a minority colour or ethnicity, more often than not the former as opposed to the latter.
One such voice is that of former footballer and manager John Barnes, and it is here that Tranmere Rovers come into it.
John Barnes was appointed manager at Prenton Park in June 2009, his first managerial role in English football coming after a period as Jamaica international manager (2008-09) and, years prior, a short stint as Celtic manager (1999-2000).
Barnes' tenure as Tranmere manager was a disaster and he was sacked on the 9th October 2009, just months after taking over.
In 2013, Barnes gave an interview in which he stated:
But I can lose fewer matches than a white manager, a Scottish manager, a Spanish manager and be sacked.
What I say to the Tranmere fans is I know for a fact that a white manager would have been given longer to lose and fail. I was third from bottom and it was 9th October when I was sacked. The season was two months old. A white manager would have been sacked in December, but he would have been sacked after me.
— John Barnes, The Independent, 31st May 2013
So, is he right?
|Ray Mathias (2003-04)||John Barnes (2009-10)||Rob Edwards (2014-15)|
|League Position||20th L1||22nd L1||24th L2|
|League Scored||10 (20th in L1)||9 (24th in L1)||11 (22nd in L2)|
|League Conceded||13 (11th in L1)||26 (24th in L1)||16 (19th in L2)|
|Goal Difference||-3 (17th in L1)||-17 (24th in L1)||-5 (20th in L2)|
Table 7 shows the records of 3 Tranmere managers who were sacked early into a season. In the 2003-04 season, Ray Mathias was sacked as Tranmere manager on 28th September 2003, after just 12 games. It is worth pointing out that Mathias is a former Tranmere player, making a Club-record 637 appearances. He had also, just months earlier, led the side to a then Club-record 80 points (still the Club's best points tally in the Football League).
Yet, despite everything he did for the Club, he was dispatched after 2 wins and 5 defeats in the opening 12 games saw Rovers lying fifth-bottom of League One.
In 2014-15, first-time manager Rob Edwards was relieved of his job after 14 games, on the 13th October 2014. His side was bottom of the entire Football League and he had ruled over a record of 2 wins and 8 defeats.
So how does Barnes' 2009 departure compare? Well, he went after a similar number of matches to his white counterparts (14) and, although managing one more victory (3) than the other two, the crucial statistic is that he lost 10 matches — and often lost handsomely. So much so, that, in comparison to the departures of Mathias (-3) and Edwards (-5), Barnes' side had a goal difference of -17 upon his termination.
The statistics are there in Table 7. John Barnes was not sacked as manager of Tranmere Rovers because of the colour of his skin, but because of his record and ability to do the job. Contrary to his assertions, he was not treated any differently because he is black and a white manager with a similar record has been sacked within an almost identical timeframe not once, but twice in recent memory.
In fact, as recently as September 2016, Gary Brabin left whilst the reigning National League Manager of the Month for August 2016.
Furthermore, the League Managers Association found in 2015 that the average tenure of a Football League manager was 1.23 years, whilst the average tenure of a BAME manager was 1.31 years, a direct contradiction of Barnes' claims.
It is this revisionist history, and distorted narratives like that of Barnes, that play a disproportionally negative role in influencing people from minority communities, predominantly black communities. It's hard not to think that some of these barriers are being artificially created by people with the power and influence to make positive change, should they choose to.
Throughout this article, I have aimed to identify problems with the current BAME discourse and, more specifically, the 'Rooney Rule' from which most of the current debate is derived. Before making my closing arguments, I'd like to reference one last statement made during the EFL's 7th December announcement:
Meanwhile, the mandatory regulations introduced into academy football from the start of 2016-17 as part of the same initiative, delivered opportunities to BAME applicants (with the relevant coaching qualifications) which resulted in them having a 52% chance of being offered an interview compared to 18% for all applicants.
— EFL, efl.com, 7th December 2017
It is this statement that I was specifically referring to when I said that the current BAME debate had the potential to be dangerous. Is this where we are in 2017? Are we really suggesting giving someone an advantage in the jobs market based on the colour of their skin, or their or their relatives' ethnicity, is not only acceptable, but to be celebrated? That the 25% of players identified as BAME individuals can only learn from, and aspire to replicate, successes and failures of coaches and managers who share their skin tone or ethnicity?
The 'Rooney Rule' represents positive discrimination, it's as simple as that. And, discrimination of any kind should never be acceptable and certainly not celebrated. As I have hopefully demonstrated, the current BAME debate is based upon flawed ideas and concepts and making a mandatory quota for interviews based on skin colour and ethnicity is wrong.
If the FA was to introduce a 'Rooney Rule', what is to stop LGBT groups asking for a similar rule to ensure their representation? How about females? Religious minorities? More importantly, what would be wrong with a 'neutral' recruitment process that required candidates to submit no more personal information than their qualifications and experience? Why, in 2017, are we even asking people for their skin colour or ethnicity in an application process?
Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger, himself a member of the minority French community within England, was recruited from Japanese side Nagoya Grampus Eight in 1996 — 6 years before the 'Rooney Rule' came into effect in the NFL. In 2012, he revealed his position regarding the rule:
You have to favour access for everybody to manage in football. Just to put a quota out, for me is exactly against what sport has to be — sport is about competition and competence.
It [The Rooney Rule] is again a kind of racism and what we have all to fight for is just competence, to put people who are good — are they white, black, red, no matter what colour — just put guys who have a competence in charge, and we to fight for that.
— Arsène Wenger, Mail Online, 25th October 2012
If a manager such as Wenger, the first to name an entire squad of non-English players in a 5-1 win against Crystal Palace on 15th February 2005, makes such a plea, the footballing world would do well to listen. After all, why can't an aspiring coach from any background take inspiration from an Arsenal side whose 49-game 'invincible' run was spearheaded by black icons such as Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole?
Inspiration from the immense achievement of coaching a team to a 49-match unbeaten run, but also that the arguably two most notable icons from that side, Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira, have gone on to become coaches at an 'elite' level. Henry is the current assistant head coach of the Belgian national team (currently ranked third in UEFA and fifth in the World, FIFA rankings November '17) whilst Vieira is the manager of New York City FC, owned by the same group as Manchester City (Premier League champions 2011-12 and 2013-14), where Vieira was also the reserve team manager between 2013 and 2015.
Yet, whilst Vieira was managing the reserve side at the Etihad Stadium, his former 'Invincibles' teammate Sol Campbell was making the following comments:
I want to start abroad There are no opportunities for me here, not until attitudes change anyway. Everyone has to ask themselves why there are not more black managers in this country [England] I've spoken to other black players who want to coach and they feel the same, that attitudes here are archaic. I hope and pray the environment changes.
— Sol Campbell, quoted in The Guardian, 27th September 2013
And it is here, just like John Barnes' comments, that the BAME environment is shaped by a person from within the community repeating the idea that their perceived lack of opportunity is due to their skin colour. If it was the case, why would Manchester City give Patrick Vieira the reserve team manager's job? What type of opportunity is Campbell expecting with no previous experience?
Former Premier League players such as Steven Gerrard (Liverpool Academy), Harry Kewell (Crawley Town) and Kevin Nolan (Leyton Orient and Notts County) have recently taken up management roles in youth or lower-league football, reflecting their lack of experience, so why can't Campbell find a role? And no, it's not because of his skin colour, as Edgar Davids (Barnet) and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (Burton Albion, Queens Park Rangers and Northampton Town) are both black, yet found opportunities.
I would much rather we approach recruitment from the perspective of Arsène Wenger than that of those such as Barnes and Campbell, who continue to present a false narrative (in Campbell's case, whilst coaching Arsenal's youth sides — what's that if not an opportunity?).
Indeed, in the League Managers Association November 2015 BAME Managers Report (the most recent), it reveals that 28 BAME individuals have held more than one role and some, such as Paul Ince (6) and Keith Curle (5) have held multiple, suggesting if you have the ability, you can receive more than one opportunity.
Ultimately, the 'Rooney Rule' is unwelcome in English football because it solves a problem that doesn't necessarily exist, will create further issues in due course due to its implementation, cannot influence the diversity of elite coaching outside of England and does nothing to stop the spread of distorted, and sometimes false, narratives by those in positions of influence. It could also be argued, as Arsène Wenger did, that the rule itself is a form of racism.
I appreciate that the EFL announcement declared that this recruitment extension would run until the end of the 2018-19 season, meaning that should Tranmere Rovers achieve promotion, they would be subject to the extension next campaign.
However, given the 'voluntary' nature of the scheme, I would hope the Club would decide to recruit solely on the basis of the one characteristic that matters — ability.