Leroy could manage in the Premiership, says chairman

Rise of the black manager: Torquay back their man to alter attitudes and the trend of sadly ignored talent
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Bateson believes it is inevit-able that the Londoner will depart, too, in time; only upwards, to greater distinction. "It would be good to see Leroy going off to manage in the Premiership," he says. "I think he could do that. I'd like to see him go on one day. He's got the ambition. Sadly, I do believe that he will get a better job and lower-League football will lose out." There is an addendum, though. "First he's got to turn this round," the chairman says wryly. "Because it's not looking very good on his CV at the moment."

It was Rosenior who galvanised Bateson's club to secure promotion in 2004, the first time in 32 years that Torquay had emerged from the basement division. They returned this season, the victims of mathematical calculations so complex it would have required a Carol Vorderman to condemn them on the final day of last season, and after an ignominious start to this campaign - due to a desperate spate of injuries - are under threat of descent to the Conference. However, performances and results which have improved significantly of late, including in the FA Cup, which has rewarded them with the visit of Birmingham on Saturday, offer optimism for the new year.

Rosenior would be a pioneer if he achieved what his chairman believes is within his compass. Ruud Gullit, at Newcastle, and Jean Tigana, at Fulham, may have broken through any race barrier, real or perceived, in the Premier-ship; but no British black manager has achieved it. Rosenior is a rarity already in being one of only four black managers in the top four English divisions - that in an an industry which has 30 per cent black footballers.

The others are Chester's Keith Curle, Lincoln's Keith Alexander and the Swindon caretaker manager, Iffy Onoura. The last-named, it emerged last week, has agreed to work under the "consultancy" of Ron Atkinson for the benefit of a TV documentary. That's Big Ron, the viewers' popular pundit, who became "Racist Ron" in one unguarded moment last year which enforced his resignation from his ITV role.

Was Atkinson merely unwittingly articulating the subconscious views of many chairmen and other decision-makers in football? Les Ferdinand, MBE, one of the game's great ambassadors, opines that "there will never be a black British manager in charge of the England team - certainly not in my lifetime. Black managers face the same problems black players did 30 years ago. A lot of Caucasian coaches don't have the same qualifications as black coaches and they still get jobs."

Rosenior also believes that the colour of his skin could impede his progress. "It's not a racist thing," he has said. "It's how people perceive you. Some chairmen want to look at someone they can relate to rather than [thinking about] coaching ability."

Rosenior, the former Fulham forward who also represented QPR, West Ham, Charlton and Bristol City, where he moved on to become a coach, was fortunate that, in Bateson, he chanced upon a chairman with whom he could forge a relationship. "Leroy first applied for a job here way back," recalls Bateson. "Initially, he didn't have the experience. But I went through managers quite quickly at one stage, and each time he was on the phone, asking to be considered.

"Finally, I said, 'When can you be here?' He said, 'An hour and a quarter'. That was coming from Bristol! I got on well with him. He was young, fresh, with a good sense of humour, which you need. It can be the worst job in the world when you're in the position we're in."

Whenever a vacancy arises in English football management it is massively oversubscribed. Some chairmen prefer to opt for familiar names, even those who have failed elsewhere. It creates a kind of bed-blocking, which yields insufficient opportunities to younger men. Ferdinand and Rosenior are among those who contend that selection is even more rigorous for young black managers and coaches.

Not all concur, however. Keith Curle says: "I've never come across any prejudices in football and I'm not sure there are any. What's more important is to have the right credentials."

Bateson, a real manager's chairman - earlier in the season, when he believed Torquay's plight was getting to Rosenior, he told him to take three days off and "get your head clear" - endorses Curle's view. "I don't see any bar to black managers. I would have thought with the number of black British players, there's no reason why one of them couldn't progress to management of the England team," he says.

"Over the years, I've spoken to one or two of the older chairmen who are what you might call a bit colonial, but most now would not be influenced by colour. They want the best man."

One suspects, to a number of them, that still means Best White Man. But with chairmen like Bateson in charge, attitudes can surely only change for the better.