“I look at guys like Paul Ince and John Barnes and think these guys are a loss to football because they believe they won’t get another opportunity because of their colour and that can’t be right”
The lack of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) managers in professional football, embarrassingly, is a discussion that seems to perennially do the rounds. Thanks to the odd documentary, with input and insight from some of the game’s prominent black faces, the issue is highlighted leaving most people from all backgrounds feeling frustrated by the lack of progress.
Les Ferdinand MBE is one of the said prominent figures often called upon to speak on the matter. The former Premier League striker, to his credit, always gives open and honest opinions on the dearth of BAME coaches and managers in the game.
“When I first started doing these documentaries I did them at the training ground, in the canteens,” he remembers. “Then we went to nice plush hotels. Then I ended up in Parliament. All that’s happened is the venues have got better, but the problem still exists because 20/30 years down the line from me first talking about it, we’re still talking about the same issues. Nothing is being done, we’re just talking in more glamorous places.”
Ferdinand is currently Director of Football at Queens Park Rangers, the same club that signed him from non-league in 1987. One of an exclusive club of two black men in such positions in English football – Chelsea’s Technical Director Michael Emenalo being the other – Ferdinand has held the post since February 2015 and is doing a good job after impressing in his previous role at the club as Head of Football Operations.
Part of Ferdinand’s remit at Loftus Road is to oversee the entire footballing department, including involvement in the player recruitment process and managerial appointments. In December 2015 QPR appointed Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink as manager. Did Ferdinand feel obliged to give the former Chelsea striker the job because he was a fellow black man?
He smiles: “I feel obligated to interview the best people for the job. When we gave Jimmy the job – it wasn’t a singular decision – people failed to realise that in all the 92 clubs in this country he had the best win ratio. We didn’t hire him because he was a black manager. We hired him because we felt he was the right manager to take the club forward.”
Hasselbaink was not the first black manager to be given an opportunity by QPR. Chris Ramsey, who’s now Academy Technical Director at the club, was in charge for eight months in 2015. Ferdinand speaks highly of his colleague and friend.
“Chris Ramsey, for me, is second to none. There may be one or two – Warren Joyce at Manchester United [now manager at Wigan] and Dario Gradi at Crewe have both produced a lot of players – but Chris Ramsey would be up there with the likes of those coaches in producing young talent,” says Ferdinand. “So when we spoke about having to try and restructure what QPR were doing in their youth development set-up, Chris was the obvious choice.”
Ferdinand, now 50, has been there and done it as a player, donning the shirts of QPR, Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham to name a few. He’s someone a lot of fellow former pros, both black and white, can learn a lot from taking note of his impressive achievements in the game post-retirement.
Sol Campbell recently revealed his ambitions to get into football management. Is this something Campbell has discussed with Ferdinand, his former Spurs team-mate? “I’ve spoken to him and he’s asked if he could come in and work with the 23s and just do the odd day here and there and I said ‘Yeah, no problem,’ just to keep his eye in.
“I think for someone like Sol, he won’t be afforded the opportunity of going straight into management. People will say ‘Well, where have you done your coaching?’ and although he’s done his coaching badges, he hasn’t been prevalent at a club doing any coaching. So for Sol, I think he would need to do that before he was given an opportunity. I’m not saying that’s the right thing, I’m just saying that’s what I think he would have to do.”
Campbell, like so many other former black professionals, has been on the outskirts of the game for a long time. “I look at guys like Paul Ince and John Barnes and think these guys are a loss to football because they believe they won’t get another opportunity because of their colour and that can’t be right,” exclaims Ferdinand. Sure, that can’t be right, but can you blame the likes of Ince and Barnes for sharing those sentiments?
Currently, in the top five European leagues – La Liga (Spain), Bundesliga (Germany), Premier League (England), Serie A (Italy) and Ligue 1 (France) – there are only two BAME managers; Antoine Kombouare at Guingamp in Ligue 1 and Valerien Ismael in the Bundesliga with Wolfsburg. That’s a spread of 98 top-flight teams and only two are managed by BAME coaches. Ince and Barnes’ views seem pretty valid when looking at those figures.
For the 2016/17 season, the English Football League (EFL) introduced an equivalent to America’s Rooney Rule, with the aim of addressing the underrepresentation of coaches and managers from BAME backgrounds in the English game. Ferdinand’s thoughts: “The problem you’ve got with the Premier League is that most football clubs know who their next manager is before they’ve sacked the one they’ve got, so there is no interviewing process.
“They’re now starting to say that in the EFL you have to interview people and if you do that, then you have to interview someone from a BAME background. Now, if that comes into play why would that not be afforded in the Premier League as well? That’s the question you need to ask.”
Ferdinand has been QPR Director of Football for nearly two years now, but are we likely to see him in the dugout in the future? “I’ve done the coaching side of it,” he says. “I worked as coach at Tottenham – worked with the 21s with Chris and Tim [Sherwood]. Tim then took over as manager of the first-team and I was assistant manager. So I’ve done that side of it.
“This is one side that I wanted to have a go at and then we’ll see how I feel after because I do believe I’ve still got some stuff to do in terms of coaching and management and I may get a taste for it another year or two down the line.”
In June 2017 Ferdinand will join Preston North End manager Simon Grayson and ex-England internationals Terry Butcher and Viv Anderson in the fifth annual Prostate Cancer UK Football to Amsterdam ride in conjunction with the EFL. Find out more here.