Football divided on the impact of Rooney Rule

TO Some, it is viewed as tokenism.

Noel Blake takes Blackpool FC's training session at Squires Gate.

For others, it is a major step forward in addressing the stark and damning statistic regarding the current lack of Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) managers in English football.

Opinion is split regarding the long-term impact of the English Football League’s decision to make it mandatory for every club to interview at least one BAME candidate for vacant managerial or first-team coaching jobs – following an 18-month pilot scheme.

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Under the new scheme, clubs who fail to do so in the future will be charged with misconduct by the governing body.

While some are optimistic that it will ameliorate the gross under-representation of BAME managers in the EFL – just three out of 72 clubs currently employ managers from that group when around a third of players are from ethnic minorities – others are more sceptical and see the exercise as nothing more than window dressing.

As it stands, Stevenage’s Dino Maamria, Macclesfield’s Sol Campbell and Northampton’s Keith Curle are the only BAME managers, augmented by the presence of Wolves’ Nuno Espirito Santo in the Premier League.

Among those who question the meaningful impact of the regulation, known as the Rooney Rule, are former England national coach and ex-Leeds United defender Noel Blake – who spent five years in charge of England Under-19s.

Blake, 57, who led the Under-19s to the European Championship semi-finals in both 2010 and 2012 and was also in charge of Three Lions at both U18 and U20 level for spells, told The Yorkshire Post: “When it has been mentioned over the years, I have always been against it.

“I understand the meaning behind the Rooney Rule and what it stands for.

“But the last thing I would want people to use it for – with the way the world is now, especially with social media – is to go out and say: ‘Joe Bloggs is only getting an interview because he is black and due to his colour.’

“I have always felt that you go out and get the job on merit.

“If they bring in a special thing just to give you an interview, for me it is racism in reverse and moral diversity in a different form. That is how I have felt for a long time and nothing has changed that.

“Wherever I have been, I’ve earned the right to get there. I would not want someone to turn around and say to me: ‘You have only got this because...’ That is the way I bring my children up. Whatever you get, you earn. No-one can then take it away from you.”

Blake’s sentiments are shared by former Bradford City winger Jamie Lawrence.

His view is that the situation regarding the lack of BAME managerial representation will only truly change when racism is tackled at an institutional level and more non-white representatives take their places in boardrooms and in the corridors of power in governing bodies.

Lawrence, 49, who had a coaching spell at non-league Ashford and now runs his own football academy and is a fitness coach for the Ghana national side, said: “I do not think it will make black people get more jobs anywhere. All it does is give you an interview. It does not change anything.

“Until boardroom levels have more people of colour, then it will not change. How many black people do you see at the top of the FA or in boardrooms up and down the country? Not many.

“Everybody needs to come together on this. It is a society problem. People from the grassroots and up to the top have got to be educated on race.

“Boardrooms can be closed shops and you look at the same managers getting the jobs here, there and everywhere.”

Some may echo the viewpoint of Blake and Lawrence, but other influential footballing figures with BAME backgrounds take a different stance and feel that the new rule is a welcome development and hope it will help to open doors for candidates.

Among those taking that position is ex-Leeds United and Sheffield United forward Brian Deane, even if he acknowledges that it has come too late in terms of his own coaching career.

Deane’s two-year spell at Norwegian side Sarpsborg – where he earned kudos for taking the minnows to the last four of the Norwegian Cup and exceeding expectations in the league – failed to secure him a pathway to a managerial position back home or even a formal interview.

It ultimately forced him to change career paths, but the Yorkshireman, 51, is hopeful that the Rooney Rule enforcement has arrived in time for others.

Posting on Twitter, Deane stated: “The best candidate should always get the job regardless of colour. People are entitled to employ who they want. That would be me as an owner. It’s relevant to get a chance to express your ideas. Interview.”

Time will tell whether Deane’s optimism is not misplaced. Only a sharp upturn in BAME managerial numbers over time will vindicate the EFL’s move.