David Bernstein: Man who made Wembley work has track record of saving failing firms
New chairman turned the national stadium's finances around but his next role may prove rather more testing
Thursday 23 December 2010
David Dein was once considered so powerful at the Football Association that the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho were moved to complain in public that the former Arsenal vice-chairman was using his influence to protect his club from the censure of the governing body.
But if Dein still harboured hopes of a return to those days when Ferguson would rail against his perceived influence among disciplinary committees then he was firmly disabused of that notion once and for all yesterday. The FA main board's unanimous decision to nominate David Bernstein as the new chairman of the FA was the strongest evidence yet that Dein is not as popular in English football as his supporters believe.
The FA was happy for the consensus over the last few weeks to be that Dein was the only runner in a field of one for the chairman's job. Yet for all those allies who have championed Dein's cause in the media, today he wakes up to the reality that, at 67 years old, his career in football is over.
Dein developed a reputation as the English game's best-connected man in Uefa and most critically Fifa, which earned him an emergency appointment in February to England's bid team to host the 2018 World Cup. Unfortunately for Dein, the bid's failure to earn more than one foreign vote seems to have debunked the myth about his influence within Fifa.
At the luggage carousel at Heathrow after the flight home from Zurich earlier this month Dein was still buttonholing BBC employees and telling them that it was the Panorama programme's fault that the bid had failed. In reality, that excuse was wearing thin.
In the last seven years, Dein's judgement could not be described as unerring. He opposed Arsenal's move from Highbury to the Emirates, he was part of the FA's botched attempt to appoint Luiz Felipe Scolari as England manager in 2006 and he sold his Arsenal shares to Alisher Usmanov in 2007 at great personal profit.
While Dein claims to hold Arsenal's interests closest to his heart it is hard to find another supporter of the club who feels the same way as he does about Usmanov. Even Dein's friend Arsène Wenger, whose appointment 14 years ago Dein still presents as his calling card, does not want Usmanov, or any other billionaire benefactor in charge of the club.
Dein has made more than a few enemies at the FA over the years and his rejection will no doubt be presented in some quarters as a defeat for a freethinking individual by the faceless, grudge-bearing board members of the FA. But Dein was never an obvious choice for the difficult balancing act that is the chairmanship of the FA.
While he demonstrated great prescience in spotting the potential for value in football clubs when he bought many of Peter Hill-Wood's shares at a knockdown price in the 1980s just before the advent of the Premier League and BSkyB's huge investment in television rights in 1992, Dein's track record in business outside of football does not stand up to that of Bernstein.
Although Bernstein will be presented as the grey insider FA candidate, his success in turning Wembley towards profitability has gained him great kudos at an organisation where the debts of the £757m stadium have long been a major concern.
Like Dein, who was forced off the Arsenal board in 2007, Bernstein also fell victim to a boardroom coup at Manchester City. He resigned in March 2003 after one high-profile resignation and a major disagreement over transfer policy left him isolated.
Bernstein stepped down as City chairman minutes before a board meeting, having lost the confidence of the club's then most significant shareholders John Wardle and David Makin. The fallout had begun two months earlier when Bernstein was blamed for causing the transfer of Robbie Fowler from Leeds United to collapse by arguing that the deal should be weighted according to the games Fowler played.
Although Fowler's signing was eventually resurrected on the insistence of Kevin Keegan, the player's lack of impact over three years at City suggested that Bernstein's prudence was not misplaced.
In his role as the chairman of Blacks Leisure, Bernstein came head to head with the Newcastle United, owner Mike Ashley, who, as a significant shareholder of the company, tried to get the entire Blacks board sacked. On that occasion Bernstein pulled no punches, describing Ashley's tactics as "heavyweight, disruptive, bullying and upsetting to employees".
There is little doubt that Bernstein can stand up for himself and he has a considerable track record in turning around failing businesses. He also knows the workings of the FA, whose headquarters is now at Wembley, and will not alienate other key bodies like the Premier League in the same way as his predecessor Lord Triesman.
But Bernstein's insider experience will also prove his weakness if he is perceived as a patsy for Premier League representatives on the FA main board. He will have to show that he is prepared to stand up to the professional game, especially when it comes to protecting the sanctity of the England team and the FA Cup.
As president of the National Association of Disabled Supporters, Bernstein has his "football grass-roots" credentials neatly ticked off. The future of Wembley and the new St George's Park national football centre at Burton upon Trent are key FA issues that are now much closer to resolution than they were five years ago.
As ever, the success of the England team and the appointment of Fabio Capello's successor will be a major part of how Bernstein's chairmanship is judged and there is no reason for saying, when their two track records are compared, that Dein is better qualified than him to do the job.
Five problems to tackle
1. The England manager
Fabio Capello has only 18 months at most left in the job.
2. Player development
Sir Trevor Brooking and FA general secretary Alex Horne have carried out a review of youth development after the World Cup, and have made recommendations for change.
3. The National Football Centre at Burton
The FA has given the go-ahead to a £100m home, renamed St George's Park for football and centre of coaching excellence.
The FA was hurt financially by Setanta's collapse, leaving a £60m black hole, and made a £3m loss in 2009. Needs to get finances back in order.
5. The Governance
A committee of MPs is carrying out an inquiry into game's governance, and the Government is keeping an eye on the situation to ensure the FA is 'fit for purpose'.
Bernstein's life and times
Born 22 May 1943, St Helens
1954 Began to support Manchester City "with a passion". Watched the club win the 1956 FA Cup, despite it being the day of his bar mitzvah.
1988 Named director of brand management company Pentland Group.
1994 Appointed director at Man City.
1996 Appointed as chairman of Blacks Leisure. Is also on board at French Connection, Ted Baker and Carluccio's.
1998 Replaced Francis Lee as City chairman. Oversaw club's return to the Premier League and the securing of the lease for the City of Manchester Stadium.
2003 Resigned from City after row with manager Kevin Keegan over the potential signing of Robbie Fowler.
2003 Appointed as a director on the board at Wembley Stadium Limited.
2008 Chairman of Wembley Stadium Ltd.
2010 FA chairman.
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