Warren Haughton1 Comment


Warren Haughton1 Comment

This is all about Manchester United right?  Wrong.  Former professional footballer Warren Haughton looks at the potential offered by a trailblazing approach from the US.

When the name Rooney is mentioned, what comes to mind? You’d be forgiven for thinking about England and Manchester United’s talisman doing what he does best, terrorising defences and being the match winner we all know he can be.

Last week distinguished American lawyer Cyrus Mehri - whose parents emigrated to the US from Iran - was invited to address the Football Association, Premier League, Football League and League Managers Association in England about what is known as the Rooney Rule.

This Rooney is Dan Rooney, the owner of NFL franchise Pittsburgh Steelers who was responsible for lobbying other franchises back in 2003 to interview at least one black candidate when looking to hire a new head coach.

In England we’re not a million miles away from what happened in the states eight years ago and the fact that Gordon Taylor and the PFA invited Mehri to speak to the various football bodies in this country means there is a serious issue to be addressed.

Having spoken to the PFA, there is clearly an apathy among black coaches who aspire to be managers of the future. Black players often don’t see the point of taking their coaching badges for fear that they will not be given an opportunity to become a boss. Here’s the stark reality; Chris Powell at Charlton and Birmingham boss Chris Hughton are the only two black managers from 92 league clubs in England. There have been black players who have distinguished themselves in this country over the years who have, in no uncertain terms, claimed that their path to management was stopped at the earliest opportunity.

There was no such thing as the Rooney rule when Ron Atkinson was selecting Cyrille Regis, Brendan Batson and Laurie Cunningham in his starting lineup for West Bromwich Albion in the seventies. Big Ron was not rolling out British football’s early form of affirmative action or giving the Black players a chance, like any manager he was playing his best team. That’s why the NFL approach could struggle to make it across the water and have a real impact over here.

In order for black players to make the transition from player to manager, as many as possible have to attain their coaching badges. The more that do so will mean more black coaches are putting themselves in the frame for vacancies up and down the leagues. At some point in the near future, all managers, not just those in the Premier League, will have to have coaching qualifications; this in itself will help level the playing field. 

Adopting the Rooney rule in England now would be a positive step, but all the lobbying in the world may struggle to convince club chairman to interview someone who may not even be on a short list for a managerial vacancy. The NFL is made up of 32 franchises handed out by the NFL whereas the 92 league clubs in England are companies owned by private entities. That privacy surely entitles them to approach anyone they wish to fill any vacancy at the club from the kit man to the person who picks the team.  How can a black candidate be part of any interviewing process for a vacant managerial post when chairman and boards up and down the country will headhunt whoever they want to manage their team?

Firstly we have to hope that the current crop of high profile black players all over the world, not just in Britain, have ambitions to be managers. Just imagine the positive impact if Manchester United asked Rio Ferdinand to make the step into coaching at arguably the biggest club in the world.  Secondly, as many young black players as possible have to take their coaching badges at the earliest opportunity and eventually attain the UEFA Pro License. Young kids have to realize that not all of them will make it to the Premier League or even make a living out of the game, so they need something else. Work your way through the academy teams, reserves then first team if you can, but always consider coaching.

Thirdly this issue can be addressed from grassroots level.  A friend of mine, Gavin Rose, is the manager of Dulwich Hamlets. Having already moved players on to the Premier League and Championship, Gavin now has to start moving himself in that direction by getting his side promoted as far up the football pyramid as possible. If more black managers and coaches take this route then more will end up in the Football Conference, then we have more black managers in with a chance of promotion to League 2.

While these young bosses are moving up the football pyramid, football league players in the twilight of their careers should look to become player coaches. Darren Moore, Jason Roberts, Clarke Carlisle and Darren Byfield are names that spring to mind.  I hope they are all seriously considering a career in coaching.

Of course, the Rooney rule could prove counterproductive – black people are desperately underrepresented off the pitch but what we don't want is "He only got the job because he's black" or "He's only being interviewed because they had to speak to at least one black candidate". We could end up with a scenario where black candidates shy away for vacancies for those very reasons.

Ultimately the Rooney rule has made an impact in US sport, is it time for the same to happen in the UK?

Warren is a journalist for talkSPORT in the UK and a former professional footballer.  You can follow him on twitter @WarrenHaughton