Football Features

Raheem Sterling highlights racial inequality among English football’s top jobs: ‘Give black coaches the right opportunity’

By Oliver Young-Myles

Raheem Sterling BAME coaches

Published: 13:06, 10 June 2020

Raheem Sterling has called for black coaches and those from other minority ethnic backgrounds to be granted the same opportunities at the top level of English football as their white counterparts.

Of the 91 managers currently in the English Football League only six are from what are considered non-white backgrounds – Nuno Espirito Santo (Wolves), Sabri Lamouchi (Nottingham Forest), Darren Moore (Doncaster Rovers), Sol Campbell (Southend United), Keith Curle (Northampton Town) and Dino Maamria (Oldham Athletic).

Besides a one-game stint with Notts County in 2009, Sol Campbell spent the entirety of his 19-year playing career in the Premier League, earning 73 caps for England along the way. The former Arsenal and Tottenham defender’s managerial career has so far been spent in the far less glamorous surroundings of League’s One and Two, though, initially with Macclesfield Town whom he saved from dropping into the football league and more recently for Southend United.

While Campbell began his second career in English football’s fourth tier, his former England teammates Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard both started much higher up the pyramid; Lampard in the Championship with Derby County before moving to Chelsea the following year and Gerrard with Rangers in the Scottish Premiership. According to Sterling, this is indicative of the disparity that exists within the football pyramid.

“The coaching staff that you see around football clubs: there’s Steven Gerrard, your Frank Lampards, your Sol Campbells and your Ashley Coles. All had great careers, all played for England,” he told BBC’s Newsnight programme.

“At the same time, they’ve all respectfully done their coaching badges to coach at the highest level and the two that haven’t been given the right opportunities are the two black former players.”

English football has long toyed with the idea of replicating the ‘Rooney Rule’, which requires at least one BAME candidate be interviewed for a coaching job. The Rooney Rule – named after former NFL diversity committee chairman Dan Rooney – originated in the NFL in 2003 and had a positive impact on raising the number of BAME coaches in the league. According to Versus, following its introduction in the NFL, 22% of coaches were from BAME backgrounds within three years, representing a 16% rise.

The Football Association eventually introduced its own version of the Rooney Rule in early 2018 and ahead of the 2019-20 season, a series of BAME coaching appointments were made. Chris Powell, a former England international who has managed Charlton Athletic and Huddersfield Town, joined Gareth Southgate’s coaching team. Elsewhere, Michael Johnson, Jason Euell, Marcus Bignot, Omer Riza and Matthew Thorpe took on coaching roles at younger age groups.

Last June, the English Football League (EFL) followed suit. In a statement, the EFL said: “That commitment has now been formalised with the introduction of a new regulation ensuring that the principle of providing more opportunities to BAME candidates is mandatory when clubs consider multiple applicants for a role.”

However, there is still no such rule for the country’s most high-profile competition, the Premier League. And even where it has been implemented in English football, Troy Townsend, Kick it Out’s Head of Development officer, said this week that the Rooney Rule is ‘not fit for purpose’ in its current guise.

Speaking to Sky Sports News, he said: “[The Rooney Rule] or mandatory code, as it is called in this country, only applies to the Football League clubs, it doesn’t apply in the Premier League. So straight away that is not a level playing field. There is an element in the code that states that as long as there is an open recruitment process then there is an opportunity for a black or minority ethnic manager to be a part of that process. But how many clubs have open recruitment processes?”

He added: “We’ve always bounced around having zero, one, two, three, six black managers but yet they make up 30 to 40 per cent of players. Why is it that hardly any are being transferred into those important positions? Why is there a lack of trust? Why is it that important black players have to go through a route that may take them into non-league football, while others get the top jobs in the game without experience?

“We’ve been asking those questions for quite some time and we want answers. Something has to change in the game if we are really serious about representation.”

There’s something like 500 players in the Premier League and a third of them are black and we have no representation of us in the hierarchy, no representation of us in the coaching staffs.

Sterling has become a leading voice in speaking out about racism in this country after suffering racist abuse while playing for Manchester City against Chelsea in December 2018. Through a statement issued on social media the following day he started significant conversations about the media’s role in fuelling racism, an industry that had extensively portrayed Sterling in a negative light for years.

More recently, Sterling has backed anti-racism protests that took place around the country over the weekend following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the end of May after a white police officer who has since been charged with murder knelt on his neck for over eight minutes.

Now, Sterling wants to see English football deal with institutional discrimination preventing people from BAME backgrounds taking on important jobs in the sport, from coaching positions to boardrooms.

“The change is being able to speak to people in Parliament, people at the hierarchy at my football club, football clubs across the country, people at the national team of England, to implement change and give equal chances to not just black coaches but also different ethnicities,” he said.

“Give black coaches, not just coaches but people in their respective fields, the right opportunity. I feel like that’s what’s lacking here, it’s not just taking the knee, it is about giving people the chance they deserve.

“There’s something like 500 players in the Premier League and a third of them are black and we have no representation of us in the hierarchy, no representation of us in the coaching staffs. There’s not a lot of faces that we can relate to and have conversations with.”