Another fine mess – what latest FA mishaps tell us about its workings

The Ferguson and Ancelotti charges raise more questions. Sam Wallace answers them
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The Independent Football

Q. Why have the Football Association gone to all that trouble of charging Sir Alex Ferguson and Carlo Ancelotti over their pre-match remarks praising referee Howard Webb this month and then just let them off with a warning?

A. It is a classic FA muddle. The rule that managers are forbidden from talking about referees before matches – in praise or criticism – is basically unenforceable because the FA does not police press conferences and relies on the media to do so. That works in the case of Ferguson whose every word is reported and scrutinised but, with respect, the likes of Steve Kean or Roberto Martinez barely merit more than a few paragraphs in the newspapers most days.



Q. When was the rule brought in?

A. The rule banning managers from talking about referees pre-match only came in at the start of last season and these two cases are the first two occasions it has been invoked. Managers were written to on 21 October to remind them not to discuss the referee before games. However, it is proving impossible to implement.



Q. Who was the man responsible for the Ferguson ruling?

A. The FA does not always disclose the identities of those on its disciplinary commission – and you can see why in this case. In the words of the commission chairman, Ferguson's remarks were described as a "clear breach" and, later on, a "minor breach". The commission chairman decided to use it as "a warning to all managers in the future". Technically known in the trade as a "cop-out".



Q. How did they only find out about Ancelotti's comments much later?

A. They only read them in that week's Ealing Gazette. Seriously.



Q. Did the FA change its mind about punishing Ferguson because it had already hit him with that five-game touchline ban for accusing Martin Atkinson of bias?

A. There is no doubt that Ferguson's criticism of Atkinson after the Chelsea game on 1 March – and his accusation that Alan Wiley was unfit in October 2009 – were regarded as far more serious by the FA. But it does invite the question as to why it even bothers with this rule.



Q. Another high-profile resignation at the FA yesterday – is the organisation heading for another crisis?

A. This was Julian Eccles, the director of communications and marketing. Eccles had a high- profile position because he is the individual who, along with the rest of his department, has to deal with the media.



Q. What does his job involve?

A. When Eccles took the job about a year ago he was put in charge of the media department and the marketing and public affairs teams, comprising a staff of 50-plus people. Really the FA media department is too important not to stand alone. The FA gets a huge amount of coverage, disproportionate to its size in comparison to, say, bigger multi-national companies. All the same, Eccles leaving is not a crisis.



Q. But didn't the FA lose two chairmen and a chief executive in the space of nine months from March last year to December?

A. That would be Lord Triesman, his short-lived successor Roger Burden and the former chief executive Ian Watmore. They all had their own reasons for resigning – and in Triesman's case he did not have much of a choice. Eccles was brought in to the organisation by Triesman and Watmore, who had both resigned by the time Eccles had served his notice at his former employer – the media regulator Ofcom – and started in the job. Not an ideal start.



Q. Not quite what he signed up for?

A. Indeed. Watmore was pursuing a radical reformist agenda which involved tackling the vested interests on the FA board and running the organisation according to modern corporate principles. It is fair to say that things have slowed down considerably since then with the current chairman, David Bernstein, a much more cautious customer altogether.



Q. Is working in the FA press department as stressful as it sounds?

A. Sometimes, yes. But it is also a lot more interesting, and much higher profile, than most press departments. Most similar-sized companies have to beg for coverage. That is certainly not the case with the FA. There are two strong internal candidates for Eccles' job: Mark Whittle and Scott Field.



Q. Is it really a case of calamity after calamity at the FA?

A. No, there are lots of committed, bright people who really care about the 148-year-old institution for which they work. And as far as I know, no one at the FA has ever made the same mistake as the fictional FA press officer in the film Mike Bassett: England manager, who mistakenly includes "Benson" and "Hedges" on an England squad list after Bassett writes his players' names out on a cigarette packet.



Q. What's next on the horizon for the FA?

A. No doubt about the next big one: sometime in the next seven days the FA's full written reasons on the Queen's Park Rangers third-party ownership case over Alejandro Faurlin will be published. If the likes of Swansea City, Cardiff City, Reading or Nottingham Forest are going to challenge that ruling – which did not dock QPR points – it will be based on the legal detail in that document.



Q. So a quiet few weeks coming up for the FA, then?

A. Well, it has just staged an FA Cup final and in 10 days' time Wembley and the FA will host one of the most eagerly awaited Champions League finals of all time. They have been planning this one for more than a year and you can bet your life it will be a great success. The problem for the FA is that it only tends to get noticed for the things it does wrong.

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