We live in an unfair world. For millennia our societies have developed and evolved to favour privileged majorities at the expense of marginalised minorities. A near century of neoliberal capitalism may have succeeded in dividing those privileged majorities into smaller sub-sections of haves and have-nots, but at the absolute bottom of the pile you are still guaranteed to find disaffected communities that the system would rather did not exist.
Piecemeal attempts to redress the balance of power have been made over the past 50 years. Such measures tend to merely pay lip service to genuine efforts to tackle the source of the problems, but they can occasionally have a positive impact and encourage society to take the first tentative steps towards a more balanced distribution of power, wealth, opportunity, respect and dignity.
One such approach is to introduce affirmative action policies which afford special opportunities to disadvantaged groups that have suffered generations of discrimination in fields such as employment and education. It is hoped that, over time, these positive discrimination measures will level the playing field for everyone regardless of factors such as ethnicity, race, sex, religion, social background or sexual orientation. We can argue long into the night over the rights and wrongs of particular laws and policies and how they have been implemented, but I think few will disagree with the overall sentiment of the purpose of the efforts being made in this field: no one should be judged on where they were born, the colour of their skin, the God they believe in or who they choose to love.
Having said that, there is one ongoing affirmative action campaign that I find difficult to stomach. It has to be one of the most bizarre cases of positive discrimination ever seen anywhere in any walk of life. It is one in which the disadvantaged group that apparently requires artificial stimulus to have a fair crack of the whip can be defined as: young, male, white, rich, healthy and born and bred in the country in which they wish to work. Welcome to the world of Premier League football management in England.
The poster boy of the campaign is currently Tottenham Hotspur’s Tim Sherwood – the London-born, 45 year old, Premier League winning millionaire. Three months ago, despite having neither the experience, qualifications nor skills to do the job, Spurs handed Sherwood an 18 month contract to manage their football club. This blog immediately criticised the decision.
Nineteen games later, Sherwood has won nine, drawn two and lost eight. To put that record in some perspective, over the same period even David Moyes at Manchester United has done better in winning ten, drawing two and losing seven of his matches. Nevertheless, the Tottenham boss continues to be treated with kid gloves by, and receive vocal or tacit support from, most in the mainstream media. Why? Because he is English and, as we all well know, English gaffers simply don’t get given a chance to manage in the Premier League. Right?
When the first ever Premier League season kicked off in August 1992 there were 16 English managers at the helm. Today there are five. While undoubtedly a striking statistic, using it to deduce some form of bias against English bosses is simply confusing cause and effect.
Here are a list of 28 names for you: Redknapp, Adkins, O’Connor, Holloway, Brown, Laws, Southgate, Shearer, Jewell, Coppell, Boothroyd, Pardew, Warnock, Ball, Robson, Bruce, Jones, Adams, Wilkinson, Megson, Roeder, Bassett, Gregory, Royle, Taylor, Shreeves, Kidd and Parkinson. These men all have three things in common. Firstly, they are all English. Secondly, they have all managed Premier League clubs in the last 15 years. Thirdly, and perhaps most tellingly, they have all presided over disastrous seasons in which their teams have been relegated. Twice in Harry Redknapp’s case.
The cause of the dearth in home-grown managers in the Premier League is down to their own failures contrasted with the successes of foreign imports. And keep in mind that foreign imports in this conversation includes Celtic invaders such as Ferguson, Moyes, O’Neill, Rogers and Dalglish. Of the last 45 teams to sink into the Championship, 30 were guided there by Englishmen. Frightening numbers when you consider how few English managers are in charge of top flight teams in any given season.
It suggests that the percentage of English managers plying their trade in the Premiership has decreased for the exact same reason the percentage of English players in the top flight has decreased: other nationalities have performed better. While it is 14 years since an English striker finished top scorer in the division, no English manager has ever won the league.
And Tim Sherwood is not about to break that losing trend. He is a man out of his depth. In any other walk of life he would not have even been considered for the position he is in. He lacks experience, knowledge, qualifications and ability and exacerbates his deficiencies with a misplaced sense of entitlement. He sets his team up in out-dated formations, plays players out of position in order to squeeze who he wants into his starting line-up, and appears incapable of making telling changes mid-game.
His approach to last weekend’s derby with Arsenal was to demand “blood and thunder”. Over a quarter of a century ago the Dutch national team sat in their dressing room giggling at the blood and thunder cries emanating from the neighbouring English dressing room. Then, as calm as Buddha in an Amsterdam café, they strode onto the field and used vastly superior technical and tactical skill to win 3-1. Sherwood’s own tactical awareness has moved on little since then and the statistics suggest that many of his brethren are still mired in the same up and at ‘em approach to football.
Before Sunday’s north London derby, Arsène Wenger actually managed to keep a straight face as he called on English football to support Tim Sherwood and other home-grown managers. The Frenchman’s motives are as clear as his views of Arsenal red card incidents are obscured. It is patently obvious to Wenger that the more Sherwoods there are in charge, the better his own team’s chances of finishing in the top four. Similar cries from other quarters are more difficult to fathom however. How can English football in general possibly benefit from fast-tracking the likes of Sherwood into high profile jobs and then affording him more time and leeway than an overseas manager would expect?
Discrimination may well exist in English football; but if so, it is certainly not directed towards English managers. Gaffers are hired on merit and judged on performance and any attempts to deviate from this system and make special allowances for individuals due to their Englishness is, quite simply, political correctness gone mad.