So, is Brian Mawhinney, the chairman of the Football League, after a job working for the Premier League? I ask the question because it would appear to be the most obvious explanation for Mawhinney’s stinging attack on Trevor Brooking in an interview with The Times towards the end of last week. Brooking had previously gone on record (not for the first time) describing his exasperation over the set up of youth football in England – the constant battles over funding, the attitude of young English players and the lack of opportunities for young English players. Mawhinney, who also sits of the FA Board, doesn’t have “much time for people who go public and criticise their employers” and, although he stopped short of saying that Brooking should be sacked, he didn’t stop short of it by far.
Such internecine arguments are pretty common in football. Brooking hasn’t received the support that he was promised when he joined the FA five years ago as its Director of Football Development. The Lewis Review, a thorough review of the practice of using youth academies and centres of excellence, was published last year, but the majority of its recommendations have been ignored by the Premier League and the Football League. Significantly, the one one that wasn’t ignored was for a fifty per cent raise in the amount of money going to clubs in funding for their youth academies, but whether this money is being passed or or whether the FA is seeing any benefit from it is open to question. Facilities remain poor, and the focus at academy level is said to remain too focussed upon results and not upon building skills and technique. Brooking’s implied criticism is clear: the clubs are happy to take the extra money, but less happy to invest it. As it stands, £8m is being paid out to clubs, but the clubs don’t allow Brooking to audit how this money is being spent.
There is a case for saying that Brooking has had his chance. Five years is a comparatively long time for any job in football, and he has failed to make any significant impact upon the quality of youth coaching in England. However, there is a strong case for saying that he simply isn’t being given a chance in the first place. The FA is now in a state of thinly veiled civil war with the Premier League and the Football League, and these associations simply do not trust anything which they perceive as being an extension of the FA’s power. It is plausible to argue that the FA and the Premier League, say, are in direct competition. There is a finite amount of money available in television and sponsorship money, and a less successful England team tends to focus more attention on the Premier League and the Champions League. Importantly, the development of young English players suits the FA far more than it suits the Premier League, who can shop around on the international market for youg players. The FA, to put it another way, is dependent on a body which is, in effect, its rival, for bringing through young players for the England team.
Brooking does have support within the game. Harry Redknapp and David James have both come off the fence to back him up over the course of the weekend. However, the problem in this case is the set up of the FA, which has effectively allowed itself to become over-run with the likes of Mawhinney, who combine their comfortable positions in other organisations with sniping from within. Lord Triesman, the new man in charge at Soho Square, has promised a restucture of the FA, but whether this will benefit Brooking or the clubs of the Premier League and Football League is very much open to question. It seems to be a sign of Brooking’s continuing frustration (which appears to be reaching the point of desperation) that he is speaking out so publically, and these criticisms, it should be remembered, are hardly coming from an agent provocateur.
The war of words between Trevor Brooking and Brian Mawhinney is, ultimately, little more than a minor battle in a wider struggle for control of the modern game. All the while that Mawhinney is happy to snipe from within the Football Association, the Premier League will stand on the sidelines, sniggering at the fact that a casualty could come from within the FA itself without them being seen to be acting outside of the best interests of the English game. As as been said on here before, the battle for control of the future of the English game has already started, and the money men are currently comfortably in the lead. Whose side are you on?