No sympathy here for ‘minority’ Brits

Date published: Monday 4th January 2016 10:45

Because he looks like a sculpture of a cartoon bulldog carved out of corned beef, it’s often hard to take Sam Allardyce seriously. It’s easier to see him as a 1950s butcher than as a top-notch modern football manager. The fact his self-regard is so large that it has its own gravitational pull also tends to make him somewhat unlovable, especially when he starts blowing off, as he did last week, about British managers being denied jobs in favour of foreigners.

“The problem for me is we are denying British coaches positions in all divisions now, particularly in the top division and the Championship, and we need to do something about that.”

He’s also concerned that British managers don’t get a chance at the top jobs, citing Alan Pardew’s impressive last 12 months as proof that he should be given a chance at Chelsea or Manchester United, but fearing he simply would never be considered for that opportunity merely because of his nationality. We hear similar sentiments for the never-knowingly-not-anti-foreign Harry Redknapp.

He seems paranoid that British managers are not rated by club owners, or perhaps more pertinently, that he isn’t, even though he has more than his fair share of press allies who are dedicated to saying how good he is.

You will always get a healthy dose of support from the many British people who feel like foreigners are taking ‘our’ jobs.

But is it true?

Some facts would help here. 18 of the 92 league clubs are currently managed by someone not British or Irish; there are 12 foreign managers in the top flight. There are just six foreign managers in the Championship and none in the other two tiers. “Denying British coaches…in all divisions”? No.

In recent years, British managers have been employed by Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham, so you can’t say – especially as there has been no change at Arsenal for nearly 20 years – that British managers have had zero chance at top clubs. Tim Sherwood has been handed two high-profile jobs despite having little or no managerial experience – something very unlikely to happen to a parallel non-Englishman.

Newcastle United, one of the biggest clubs in European football in terms of support and income, usually has a British manager. One of the best younger managers in the league is Eddie Howe at Bournemouth. England has an English manager. Given these and many other similar facts, it is far from unfair to dismiss Allardyce’s words as those of someone who relies on soft impressions rather than hard facts. I’m not sure how he even knows who the board of a club have considered interviewing, or what their view of any candidate might be, in order to say that a Brit never had a chance. Surely he’s just guessing.

Allardyce crassly calls for a kind of Rooney Rule to ensure a British coach is always interviewed for each job,

“…there are so many coaches out there who are highly-qualified, have spent a huge amount of money qualifying and have a great amount of experience and are not even getting the opportunity to do the job in their own country as they should be.”

Let’s not forget that only 18 British managers are currently “not even getting the opportunity” and 74 are very much getting the opportunity, but it is the entitlement behind the last four words of his sentence that are especially concerning: “…as they should be.”

Should? Why? You can work in football anywhere on earth.

Is he equally concerned about the 130 British coaches working abroad listed on who are depriving those countries’ managers work?

No he isn’t. Did he think David Moyes was wrongly given an opportunity in Spain? Or Gary Neville? Ex-Blackburn manager Steve Kean is currently managing in the Singaporean Premier League, ex-Portsmouth manager Terry Fenwick is employed the Belgian third division. All of them are depriving indigenous coaches of work. I don’t hear Sam talking about that. That feels like hypocritical, paranoid, narrow-minded protectionism.

You can’t argue that British coaches are better than non-British; some are, some aren’t. Clubs just employ who they think will do a good job, wherever they come from, just as he does with players. It’s no more complicated than that.

A lot of great non-British coaches are probably being kept out of work by the merry-go-round of mediocre British managers who rotate around the lower leagues. Allardyce doesn’t care about that though. He just wants a Brit in those 18 jobs. His is a blinkered form of nationalism, not an interest in fairness or democracy.

There are people who think foreign always beats British, just as much as vice versa. The British have always had a streak of self-loathing running through them. And in football that does sometimes manifest itself as British = lumpen and unsophisticated, whereas foreign (grouped together, as though they’re all the same) = clever and stylish. That definitely exists as an attitude and like a lot of clever politicians, Allardyce is trying to mine that elitism to promote a sense of unfairness.

A lot of Premier League clubs are owned by foreigners and the playing staff is largely foreign too. So given this fact, those charged with finding a new manager are inevitably going to shop on the world market. In total contradiction to Allardyce’s perception, it’s perhaps remarkable that only 18 non-Brits are employed here. Given the huge worldwide labour force of football managers, that 74 Brits and Irish have got jobs here seems more like the market is weighted in the Brits’ favour than against it.

Times have changed. He feels no obligation to only sign British players, so why should clubs feel likewise about British managers? The answer is that they shouldn’t. Football culture, just like the rest of society, has become globalised. No-one owes you a living based on where you’re born.

As regards Pardew, if he takes Crystal Palace into the Europa League next year and wins it, he will get offered a top job somewhere. To make your name and get a big opportunity, usually (though ironically not in Sherwood’s case) you have to overachieve something in football and not just make par. Pardew is doing that, but one calendar year isn’t long enough to get a top job; he needs to overachieve for at least two or three seasons. He didn’t do that at Newcastle or at West Ham or at Southampton. At all these jobs he was decent but far from stellar and if you’re not stellar, you don’t enter the elite. Decent doesn’t get you the big gig. Maybe British managers of this standard and with this attitude have a sense of entitlement out of proportion to their achievements and talent.

No-one is seeking not to give proven, successful managers jobs because they’re British. Allardyce has found discrimination where it doesn’t exist and is either wilfully or stupidly misunderstanding the nature of the industry he works in and, ironically by extension, is making British coaches look narrow and paranoid. With that in mind, maybe going foreign isn’t such a bad idea.

John Nicholson

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