Steve Tongue: Why the czars masterplan must wait in the wings

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Unlikely as it seems, we may yet come to thank Faria Alam, the nubile former secretary at Soho Square, for services to English football; as opposed, that is, to services to various employees. Bizarrely, it was the supposed scandal of her affairs last silly season with two unmarried men employed there, Mark Palios and Sven Goran Eriksson, which aroused such heights of indignation that the Government decided Something Must Be Done about the Football Association. The outcome was an independent review commissioned by the Minister for Sport into the structure and decision-making processes of the FA, offering Lord Terry Burns the opportunity to recommend significant updating of an organisation often accused of living in the past.

The hints Lord Burns offered in publishing an interim report last Friday were promising, if less radical than some would like. His final conclusions for "substantial reform", to be published by the end of next month, now seem certain to recommend two highly influential new appointments - a president of the FA Council and a director of compliance - as well as reducing conflicts of interest on the main FA Board by appointing independent directors. But critics of the 91-strong council, described by one of its freeloading members as "the best boys' club in the world", will be dismayed that more blazers need to be ordered. At the same time as offering places, at last, to representatives of supporters, players, managers and referees, Burns proposes only a gentle phasing-out of the more anachronistic positions.

As a senior economic adviser at the Treasury for seven years he gained sufficient experience of realpolitik to know that none of his proposals will be passed by a body he is planning to decimate. "There is widespread agreement that the council needs to be more representative," he said. "But there will be no big bang. There is the practical fact of getting them to vote for it." Only when individual councillors pass the age of retirement will institutions like Oxbridge and the Armed Forces cease to be represented.

Similarly, the current FA chairman, Geoff Thompson, will be allowed to hold on to his position and privileges until his term of office is up, at which point the job will be divided into two, with a president of the council whom Lord Burns describes as "a hugely important figure, a Mr Football". A position as the English Franz Beckenbauer or Michel Platini awaits. Come in Sir Bobby Charlton?

The chairman of the FA board will also find himself presiding over a revised structure, with a number of independent directors brought in to break the deadlock that often exists at present between the six representatives of the Professional Game and the six from the (non-League) National Game. "I think you can manage conflict of interest by using people who are independent in crucial positions," Lord Burns said. "And if you're going to bring in some independents, you'll probably have to reduce the number of people who are not independent. It's important that no one group can dominate or block things."

If a subsequent decline in influence there by the Premier League (whose submission to Burns was scathing about the FA) is to be welcomed, he admits that there is little he can do about the imbal-ance between a select few clubs and the rest. He had first-hand experience of the problem as a director between 1996-2000 of Queen's Park Rangers, when they fell from the promised land of the Premier League and struggled desperately on and off the pitch. Speaking just as news broke that Liverpool had been admitted to the qualifying rounds of the Champions' League, he said: "A similar imbalance is taking place in pretty well every major league in Europe; one of the causes is the Champions' League, which is distorting domestic competitions, because the teams at the top get yet more money and strengthen their position. In most leagues you've got this very striking difference between the number of points the teams in the top three have, and the fourth team."

Something he may be in a better position to influence is beefing up the FA's Compliance Unit, which ought to have been done some time ago before the previous incumbent, the former police officer Graham Bean, resigned in frustration. Confirming that he regards the new position of director of compliance as "a heavyweight appointment", Lord Burns said: "There are lots of different aspects of regulation and compliance which I think need bringing together in a more coherent body. When a charge has been made it works pretty well, but the bit I have a worry about is that the world doesn't see the process of charging somebody for a misdemeanour as being as independent from the board as it should be." In less polite language, club directors may be able to pull strings and influence the judicial process.

"So a number of things that need to be brought together whereby the regulatory role of the FA is given the prominence and independence it needs. This is a major part of asserting the integrity of the game and the governing body's role. At the moment there's a lack of understanding among people who watch football about which body should be dealing with those things. They're not sure who sets the rules. We need a bit of clarity around all that."

And many other areas, too, if the organisation is to be brought into the 21st century. Ms Alam could hardly have known what she was starting.

Comments