Living Colour: Ince as a Cult of Personality
In what appears to be incredibly bad timing, on the same week Professional Footballers Association Chief Executive Gordon Taylor called for the hiring of more minority managers in English football, League One club Notts County sacked one of the two with a job. Earlier in the week, Taylor marked Paul Ince as one to be fast-tracked for future Premiership managerial vacancies, and along with Chris Powell of Charlton, one who might benefit from institutionally-imposed pressure on clubs to interview and hire more black British managers. Then, the Ince-led Notts County continued a five match beaten streak in which no goals have been scored to begin its month of April. County now sit perilously close to relegation back to League Two.
Regardless of skin colour, form like that threatens any gaffer with the sack.
Having only previously managed at the League Two level with Macclesfield Town and the Franchise, Ince was thrust into the spotlight perhaps a touch too early when special dispensation was granted to allow him the managerial leap three divisions up to the Premiership in 2008. That experience in the top flight was rather short-lived, however, as after Blackburn endured a six match beaten streak by December, Rovers chair John Williams sacked Ince six months into the job. Ince climbed back down the ladder, this time settling in League One with the club he had led to promotion–the club formerly known as Wimbledon FC.
One has to wonder if the fast-tracking of Ince–which led him to become the first black British Premiership manager–has done more harm than good for the individual and/or prospective minority British candidates in general. When Premiership heads Richard Scudamore and Sir David Richards were faced with the choice whether to allow Ince’s hiring or deny it to Blackburn based on his lack of Pro license qualification, the pair were in that unenviable area between a rock and a hard place. If they were to invalidate Ince, they could have been labeled as discriminatory, racist, and preservationist after Gareth Southgate and Avram Grant had been given similarly unique accommodations. With Taylor and the PFA lurking to “make a scene about it” if the first manager to break the Premiership’s colour barrier was barred from entry, the two man board of Scudamore and Richards would likely have encountered a public relations nightmare had they done so.
In hindsight, it might have been beneficial for both Ince and a PFA initiative to promote more minority candidates had he been denied the special dispensation. Rather than vaulting that far up the managerial ranks into an environment saturated with the ills brought about by the money at stake, where knee-jerk reactions are often the only kind club executives make, and where your every fault is fodder for a national debate, Ince might have benefited from the more modest move to either a League One club in need of new direction to make the promotion playoffs or a Championship club mired in mid to near relegation gloom. Success for a few years at either of these divisions might have garnered Ince the necessary time and experience to flourish at the next level–as well as get the required licenses. Staying the hand in 2008 in lieu of a stronger managerial profile for Ince today might have also lent Taylor’s invocation that English football needs a “Rooney Rule” much greater weight.
As it stands now, Paul Ince could be viewed as an even longer long shot for a Premiership post than back in 2008. Having not gotten the results with Blackburn, he now has been terminated after not leading Meadow Lane to the promotion playoffs. Which Premiership or Championship club would take the risk on hiring a manager who’s been sacked for poor performances in League One with little else on his resume? One hopes Gordon Taylor does not now turn his gaze too intently on Chris Powell and instead allows him to bed in at Charlton Athletic.
Turning the Cynicism Knob up to eleven, why would someone like Ince or Powell even agree to sit an interview fully aware he might be doing so only to satisfy a league mandate and assist a club avoid being penalized if there was a Rooney Rule? With managers such as Sam Allardyce still floating in the ether, one could easily see clubs soliciting minority candidates only to turn them down in favor of one of the old warhorses of English football. The predictable press release would likely include phrases, such as, “We went with his experience to guide us through this transition,” or “After a thorough interview process including several minority candidates, we opted for a track record of success and have appointed… instead.” In the instance when a club failed to even speak with a minority manager, it could pay its fine and move on with someone like a Joe Kinnear – as the Detroit Lions of the National Football League did back in 2003.
When it comes to the formulation of a Rooney Rule in English football, who would fit within the parameters? With football being a more global sport, drawing managerial talent the world over in opposition to the rather solitary and specialized pool the gridiron variety dips into, who would be classified as a minority to satisfy said requirement? Must the candidate be British too? Clearly, the intent of Mr. Taylor’s comments was to encourage the retention of black British managers, but these types of questions would likely be raised – along with others – if and when such a regulation was designed.
Rather than looking to the experience of the NFL to lend weight to his argument, though, Mr. Taylor should look to Major League Baseball instead. In a league where there are fewer African-Americans playing today but more minorities in the game due to its Latin American draw, MLB has received plaudits for diversity programs that were demanded by its commissioner two years prior to the Rooney Rule in the NFL. Whilst often derided in American sports media during his tenure, Commissioner Selig’s reign has seen not only greater managerial diversity at the lower levels but more importantly, into the directors’ boxes too. That diversity not only entails more managers and executives of colour but also more women in the upper echelons of MLB’s organization.
Where did Mr. Selig begin his revolution? Why, in his very own house, filling the offices of the Commissioner with qualified candidates of colour as well as female. For the PFA Bobby Barnes sups at the executive table with Mr. Taylor and there are players from ethnic minorities on the Management Committee – Clark Carlisle being the chair - so it appears attempts at inclusion here are being made. As for the Football League itself, there are no board members from ethnic minorities as these positions are filled by upper management of the clubs themselves. The Premiership “Board of Directors” comprises Scudamore, Richards, and their staff.
Here, Mr. Taylor, is where your initiative might be impactful. Make a scene about the lack of diversity in the corridors of power before styling those on the pitch to be your English Jackie Robinsons. If applicable, publicly applaud the work of Carlisle and Jason Roberts on the PFA Management Committee and bring pressure on the Football League for inclusivity prior to pushing a promising managerial talent like Paul Ince into the deep waters of the Premiership without a life preserver. In that way, change both from below and within might bring about the modicum of success desired, rather than sending another manager to the gallows.
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