On the face of it, Gareth Southgate becoming England manager does not seem very remarkable or an awe-inspiring tale at all.
After a playing career spanning three teams, he graduated to the role of manager of Middleborough after his retirement. Relegation and the sack followed 18 months later. From there he kept a low profile while remaining heavily involved in the England set-up, first as the FA’s Head of Elite Performance (whatever that means), then U21 manager and most recently as England manager. But a deeper look into his career and professional development raise major question marks, as to how and why he was able to rise so quickly up the managerial ladder, and what could be done to change the status quo of managerial appointments.
Now yer da would probably see Southgate’s progression to his lofty position of England commander-in-chief as the natural progression of a player destined to be a manager. On the whole, he had a decent career and reached his peak around Euro 2000, finishing off his career with a move to Middleborough. Given an opportunity by his final team to step into the world of management he seemed to take it relatively well, leading them to a 12th place finish in his first season. However, from there it was a slippery slope which saw his team win 1 in their final 18 games, ultimately ending in relegation and the sack just over two months into the new season. But I mean, it happens right?
Considering his only venture into club management ended with Middlesbrough being relegated and him being unable to take them back up, his career path does come as somewhat of a surprise. Even though he did not become a manager again for another club side, the FA managed to keep him involved in the England set-up, where he became England’s Director of Elite performance, a role he remained in without anyone really knowing what he was meant to do or what he actually did, and then England U21 manager, where his team tanked at Euro 2015. While keeping an ex-player involved in the national set-up is understandable, the type of players kept on hardly ever changes; and that is where the real issue lies. Is he simply the lucky beneficiary of a major slip up by Big Sam and was ready to take on the role? Or considering his CV and accomplishments to date, is there another force which has pushed him to reach such lofty heights?
The proportion of BAME British footballers in the Premier League stood at 33% in the opening round of 2017-18, yet at that same point, there was not one representative at that same level in terms of managerial position. An ITV news research found that there is not one black director at Premier League boardroom level, and 15 clubs have an all-white boardroom. Clearly, at all levels, there is a suffocating block on the progression of ethnic minorities into positions of real influence. This is not me saying the FA is an inherently racist organisation (100% they are) but we are not going to ignore the pure numbers which show at a certain point black and ethnic minorities career progress reaches a glass ceiling. Sol Campbell, arguably one of the best English defenders of the last 20 years, has constantly spoken about the difficulty he faces in even getting his foot in the door, which does seem astonishing when you consider some of the players that have come out of retirement, and went almost straight into managerial or coaching positions. Gerrard was offered a position at MK Dons almost immediately after retiring, Garry Monk didn’t have to wait very long while Kevin Nolan didn’t even have to choose between being a player and manager at Leyton Orient; he was afforded the luxury of both. Racism in football has never simply been a fan throwing a banana at Dani Alves from the stands; it is also the systematic exclusion of BAME candidates starting from the very top with its values filtering down into the selection process for managers and players, preventing real change from occurring.
The Rooney Rule has been touted for across these shores, but quite frankly such regulation is simply a way to placate those who want to see change while still satisfying those who do not want to see a massive alteration to the status quo. As extreme as it sounds, the only way in which to affect real change can take place is putting in place mandatory inclusion of BAME directors at boardroom level. The fact that whenever a debate on race comes up there is always essentially the one spokesperson for the FA (you know how she looks, because they always use the same damn picture of her) is representative of the complete lack of diversity at the highest levels of football, and a big part of what needs to be changed in order to help effect change at all levels. The Rooney Rule could never be truly effective in an all-white boardroom, and only through mandatory changes, we may experience a change in values and beliefs which could trickle down and help implement visible and permanent change and managerial level.
When it boils down to it, this was never a personal attack on Gareth Southgate, who probably does have some ideas on how he could take this England side forward and help it to be successful. However, the manner in which he did manage to end up in his position is something that has to be questioned and seriously addressed if we ever want to experience the crazy idea of minorities getting a fair crack at getting a job in football that is not defined by their position on the pitch. BAME managers and directors simply are not represented at managerial and boardroom level, and the manner in which Southgate was able to graduate from fairly average player to failed Middleborough manager to manager of the English national team is symptomatic of white privilege that ensures that white managers are afforded the time and access which will eventually allow them to reach the top of their profession.