The FA's Mr Fixit pleased with progress - but promises more
Sunday 21 August 2005
The 51-year-old Liverpud-lian cuts quite a cuddly figure, until crossed, but on his first day at the office last January, FA employees reported to have been demoralised by the bewildering comings and goings at Soho Square received nothing more physical than a handshake. For many of them that in itself was new ground; staff in the post-room, where a tour of all floors began, confessed that they had never seen the boss before. A shame - they might have had some valuable tips for Adam Crozier about his future job running the Royal Mail.
When Barwick addressed all employees later that afternoon, he admits there was "a considerable distance between us". Seven months on, he believes: "If we did the same speech now there'd be less distance. I like people, and fortunately most of the time they like me." But making the FA a much-loved organisation - again in the strictest professional sense - remains a formidable task.
Governing bodies, he acknowledges, are an easy target, football's having recently been derided by the independent pressure group Sports Nexus as "an organisation which has been failing for decades to do its job".
Barwick, keeping a profile almost as low as that of the FA chairman, Geoff Thompson, until last week's round of media interviews, made a good start in pushing through the extra week's preparation before next summer's World Cup finals that Sven Goran Eriksson had been demanding in a quietly persistent manner.
It was a useful exercise for the new man in balancing myriad conflicting interests at the FA amid outraged newspaper stories about playing the Cup final in midweek and so on.
"Looking at the job when I was going for it, I thought 2006 had two potentially highly significant moments for the FA - the World Cup and Wembley," he said. "The World Cup is in our climate, our time-zone, short travel, we have a very good set of players at the right age, who can win competitive games. So I thought we should give our national team the best chance to do as well as possible. And if that involved working hard to negotiate an extra week's preparation, then it was a fight worth taking on and a fight worth winning."
Fight won, job done, as long as the team do not now blow it. And Wembley? Job not done yet, for all Multiplex's promises that the new stadium - to coin a Danish advertising phrase, probably the best in the world - will be ready on time next spring. Hence what Barwick calls the "comfort blanket, not panic move" of putting the Millennium Stadium on stand-by for this season's FA Cup final.
The other building project, the national football centre at Burton on Trent proposed by Crozier and the former technical director Howard Wilkinson, has sat in the in-tray for long enough, swallowing pound coins by the minute to a cost of several million.
"I've been to Burton and there's 12 fantastic football pitches there but there isn't an infrastructure behind it," Barwick said. "At the moment, it's neither fish nor fowl. It's ridiculous to have a lump of land laid out like that without having some idea of what we do with it. If it sounds as if I haven't made my mind up, it's because I haven't made my mind up. But I'd be disappointed if we didn't know by Christmas what will happen."
All these, like the Burns Report ("a very significant piece of work"), are reactive issues. It is a proud claim of Barwick's that the FA have been pro-active too in a number of areas. "Sometimes we don't get the credit that we deserve. The fast-track disciplinary system, for instance, has come in and been well received." (Though not in its entirety by Fifa, who, even as he was speaking, were querying whether the FA had the right to downgrade Jermaine Jenas's red card at Highbury last Sunday to a yellow.)
"We're doing work on things like agents, but some of it has to stay under the radar. We've been proactive on on-field discipline, our campaign to do something about foul and abusive language was well received, and I think that's pretty damn good from January through to August."
Eight months on, his conclusion is: "It's a grown-up job, a fascinating personal challenge." Quite how grown-up he must have wondered, looking at yesterday's Sven and Faria headlines.
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