Sorry Rio, but what the bungling FA really need is an Asian voice… where is English football’s Amir Khan?
Dario Gradi is 72 and white. Boo. It doesn’t matter that he has spent much of his professional life thinking about how to produce young players.
It doesn’t matter that his success rate in doing this, at Crewe Alexandra, is really quite extraordinary.
It doesn’t matter that, while others pontificate and swap theories, he is at football’s coalface putting his ideas into practice, seeing them fly or fail.
Gradi is 72, white, and on Greg Dyke’s commission to work out where it’s all gone wrong. So, boo Dario. Booo.
The appearance of a black face on Dyke’s panel should really have been an osmotic process.
If there are enough black people involved in football’s executive or coaching hierarchy then, naturally, at least one of the panel will be black, and maybe more.
Sadly, this did not happen by simple absorption and nobody had the wit to ensure the issue was then resolved in a more knowing, systematic way.
Now, following complaints by Football Association board member Heather Rabbatts and several black media commentators, the FA will be accused of tokenism having rushed out Rio Ferdinand’s name beside that of Roy Hodgson as the latest additions. And understandably so.
Yet if that was to be the FA’s fate, they should at least have accepted it and made the most of it. If there was going to be a perceived token black presence, at least it should have been the right token black presence.
A person who could have addressed a specific problem that is affecting football in England. A person capable of bringing something entirely new to the discussion. There should have been an Asian presence.
Nothing against Ferdinand. He has always had strong views on the game and may prove a useful addition to the panel. It is hard to see what he brings specifically, however, that others cannot. Jason Roberts wrote critically about the make-up of Dyke’s commission at the weekend, but from a one-dimensional perspective that offered nothing new.
‘You should not have a game with 30 per cent BME (black and minority ethnic) players without a similar representation within football’s governing bodies and club administrators,’ Roberts said. Yet this presumes all black people, all minority ethnic communities, are the same. They are not.
If the make-up of the panel accurately reflected the number of black Britons playing professional football, then yes, three in 10 would be about right. Using the same logic to determine how many British Asians should be on the panel, however, would produce quite a different result. The number would be zero.
The percentage of British Asians in the professional game is so small it would barely register a figure capable of equating to a whole person on the panel.
In 2007, seven per cent of the British population were classed as Asian and a year later a study found less than one in 100 players at academies throughout the English league were of that race.
A commission to study football development in England needs to be asking questions about this void, not revisiting standard complaints regarding diversity.
Roberts, Garth Crooks, Stan Collymore, even Ferdinand, represent the same voices that are always hauled out to discuss race issues in football. Where are their equivalents in the Asian community? Where is the youth coach or player with knowledge and experience in this area?
We need to know why the professional game does not engage with young Asian men as anything more than consumers. We need to ask where is English football’s Amir Khan, where is its Monty Panesar, Owais Shah or Samit Patel?
This is well within the remit of Dyke’s commission. Charged with finding out why England does not produce enough players capable of making it in the Premier League, the exclusion of seven per cent of the population, and rising, should be high on the agenda. Quotas less so.
The problem with Roberts’s idea is that suppose there were six black guys with brilliant development ideas? Suppose there were 60? Why are we looking to reflect precise racial demographics, rather than deal with specific issues?
Equally, being white or old does not make Gradi any less relevant.
Misplaced? Roberts (right) has been joined by Stan Collymore in his criticism of the commission
‘For 10 years I have carried a notebook around with me, jotting down ideas of how the game could be improved,’ wrote Collymore in a Sunday newspaper. ‘Yet there was no call for me to be included on Dyke’s team of appointments.’
No, and why should there be? There are plenty of people with notebooks. They’re called journalists.
The media get to have opinions, but others make the decisions. Those are the rules. If Collymore wants a say in football’s future he needs to test his plans in the real world because having a newspaper column or a Twitter profile is no qualification.
He presumes he should have a say based on what? Musings? One can’t help thinking that, despite Ferdinand’s inclusion, a figure such as Chris Ramsey, head of development at Tottenham Hotspur since 2004, may feel aggrieved not to be consulted by Dyke because this commission sounds right up his street.
‘Dario Gradi has never worked with elite players once they are at the top,’ sniffed Collymore. Neither has he, as a coach. He knows football through a player’s eyes.
A lot to give: Veteran coaches Glenn Hoddle (left) and Dario Gradi (right) are behind Dyke’s long-term goal
Now that may make him as qualified as Ferdinand or Danny Mills, but Gradi will have forgotten more than most modern players will know about the issues facing the national game.
He gave an interview at the weekend that was shot through with wisdom and common sense.
The need to receive the ball under pressure, the myth that three crunching tackles is evidence of commitment, the worth of taking players on with the ball rather than indulging in endless passes, what constitutes achievement in academy football.
‘If the FA ask, “How do you produce skilful players?”, I’ll know what to say,’ Gradi assured.
For that matter so would many more coaches, black and white, working unheralded in youth and development football. Part of the problem with Dyke’s commission is that we have heard of everyone on it.
Where are the guys from the grassroots, those unearthing the next generation on windswept playing fields or nurturing them at clubs? Where are the men who fought the battles to get pitch and goal sizes changed for 11-year-olds while Sir Trevor Brooking, the FA’s man, watched tumbleweed roll?
I don’t know the contents of Collymore’s notebook, but I know I was talking precisely those topics with a local youth coach called Ray Lee close to 10 years ago. Ray is black, if that matters, and would be of more worth on a commission than many of the voices most exercised by football’s quest for diversity.
The one point at which race and development converge is in the dearth of young Asian footballers, yet where will this be addressed with any level of expertise?
A commission discussing the progress of young English players through the professional game should surely look at why a sector of the community cannot yet make progress as athletes, let alone as managers, administrators or commission members.
The one way the FA could have hoped to avoid the accusation of tokenism is if it had made use of this opportunity to address the Asian question.
It is a problem that will not be solved by more jobs for the boys, whether white or black, and whatever the appropriate quota.
HOME NATIONS FINISH FAR AWAY
The case for ruining the 2016 European Championship was made most persuasively by the Home Nations. It was argued that only by diluting the quality of the final pool could the likes of Scotland and Wales qualify.
That with European entry to the World Cup limited to 13 teams, if UEFA’s own tournament admitted only 15 plus the hosts, some countries would never have the chance to reach a major tournament. It could be argued that the answer should be to raise standards — UEFA chose instead to lower the bar. In 2016, not only will every first- and second-placed team make it to France but five of nine third-placed teams, too.
So here’s the irony. If European Championship qualification plays out like the group stage to reach the 2014 World Cup, the Home Nations will not make it again, despite their manipulation of the process. Scotland finished fourth in Group A, with Wales fifth, while Northern Ireland were fifth in Group F.
Even the Republic of Ireland could only manage fourth in Group C.
Truth be told, the Home Nations were dismal. Scotland were three points off third-placed Serbia, Wales four points adrift and Northern Ireland were seven behind Israel. Ireland were three points behind Austria. Late rallies invariably came once the group was decided.
UEFA are yet to decide how qualification for the 2016 tournament will work, but to shoehorn in the usual play-off round, a best third-placed team would progress automatically, with the eight remaining competing to find four winners. Hungary would have gone through as the best third-placed finishers, with Serbia, Czech Republic, Austria, Slovenia, Israel, Slovakia, Montenegro and Finland going into a final knockout round. Thrilling.
(By the way, those who remain unconvinced by Roy Hodgson had better get used to him, because there is absolutely no way he can fail to get England out of the qualifying group for a 24-team European Championship. It will need an absolute disaster in Brazil or a half-time team talk straight out of the Bernard Manning joke book for him not to be managing England in 2016 — and then some.)
AND WHILE WE’RE AT IT…
BT SPORT boast of screening more than 800 hours of women’s tennis, exclusively. As a result, women have got behind this bold initiative and ratings have shot up, proving that women’s sport is a huge seller, if given the platform.
As they say on 30 Rock: opposite.
Women’s tennis has regularly attracted audiences of just 1,000 on BT Sport, and there have been occasions when the figures are too low to register at all. The sad fact is that the impact of women’s tennis as an attraction is greatly inflated by being paired with the men’s game at Grand Slam tournaments.
There is now an appetite in the media to give greater projection to female athletes, but it will quickly dwindle without active support.
Basically women, in particular, need to get behind women’s sports as a spectacle — or executives will do the maths and change the schedule.
GRANT MAKES POINT AT PUBLIC’S EXPENSE
The new sports minister, Helen Grant, has also entered the commission’s diversity debate.
‘I expect the FA to ensure that voices from all backgrounds are heard loud and clear,’ she said.
So, Minister, on the subject of questionable governance, why were the public paying the full £1,666.67 expenses each month for your flat in London, when you had a house in Reigate, a 45-minute rail journey away, with a station whose customers, most of them capital commuters, undertake 1,435,938 trips each year? Loud and clear now.
No sooner had England qualified for the World Cup when the cry came to manage expectations. Fair enough.
Nobody will be predicting triumph in South America but, as that is the case, there is no excuse for caution either.
If England are outsiders they should play as such, with freedom and a dash of flair. There is no point travelling, boring the pants off everybody and losing anyway. Have a go and see where it gets us.
Arsenal are once again playing the best football in the Premier League. Is it just me, or does it feel as if the natural order has been restored?
It does rather serve Sunderland right that, having allowed Kevin Ball to take the heat of matches with Liverpool and Manchester United, the game that had been identified as the perfect opener for new manager Gus Poyet, Swansea City away, proved an even greater baptism of fire.
Maybe had he started sooner rather than later, Poyet would have had more time to get to know his players, the international break would not have weakened his hopes of effecting change and he would not now be facing such a daunting encounter with Newcastle United next Sunday.