The Last Word: Greg Dyke should start with the much-abused work permit
FA chairman's crusade can begin by lobbying Government to deny mediocre players entry
Sunday 08 September 2013
The instinct is to take the short-cut, make the grand, empty gesture. It is easier to live a lie, excuse the distortion of rules designed to curb the game's excesses. Greg Dyke purports to possess an outsider's candour and courage, but is he any different to other football men in a position of power?
Is the new FA chairman yet another insubstantial time server? Does he have the moral authority to challenge the culture of collusion? Can he operate proactively and trigger change? Will he choose to be decisive rather than diplomatic? The welfare of English football depends on the authenticity of the answers he provides.
Goodwill exists, despite an uncertain start. Dyke was given a remarkably easy ride in midweek for a supposedly radical speech which merely restated the obvious. The conventions of Bureaucrat Bingo were observed. Fine words were delivered in a mandarin's monotone. A working party was proposed and a ludicrous target, for England to win the World Cup in 2022, imposed.
Dyke insists he has a big stick, but is coy about what it is, and how he will use it. Most observers, conditioned by understandable perceptions of the FA's impotence, believe he is going into battle with a tooth pick. In a supreme irony, football's fondness for the line of least resistance works in his favour.
If Dyke wishes to make an immediate impact, he should publicly lobby the Government to tighten the work-permit system, which operates through the UK Border Agency. He has already noted that approximately 30 per cent of players granted access to the Premier League this summer failed to meet standard criteria.
Taking unilateral action is likely to alienate the Premier League and other national governing bodies, but it would energise those within the system. One former manager, who sits as an independent presence on the six-man permit panels, confided: "This is Dyke's big chance. Too many average players are getting through. Most managers stand there in front of us, and lie through their teeth."
To illustrate the point, he referred to an individual who insisted, under sustained questioning, that he envisaged a potential recruit from Asia playing 25 Premier League games a season for him. That player, who has been in England for three seasons, has yet to make a competitive first-team appearance.
Players from outside the European Union are judged on a points system. FA endorsement provides 50 of the 70 immigration points required, and is granted if the player has been selected for 75 per cent of his national team's competitive fixtures over the previous two seasons, providing his country has been in the top 70 of Fifa's world rankings during the same timeframe.
Ten more points are given for the standard of an applicant's English. The final 10 are awarded on the player's ability to support himself, a formality given this is judged by his having had at least £800 in his bank account for 90 consecutive days prior to his application.
There are other loopholes – many clubs are presenting borderline cases as "high net-worth individuals", who are allowed into the UK for three years if they have £1 million to "invest" in the country – but there is nothing to stop Dyke pushing for a draconian revision of the rules. Allowing players only from the world's top-30 nations would guard against the recruitment of mediocrities from Mali, Algeria, Japan, Cameroon, South Korea, Egypt and South Africa, who all fulfil current criteria.
Demanding that players have appeared in 90 per cent of internationals is more in keeping with the spirit of a law which dictates that visas only be issued to international footballers of "the highest calibre" who can enrich the domestic game.
Dyke will doubtlessly be decried as a Little Englander, but insults come with the territory. We are about to discover whether he is big enough for the job.
Intriguing characters, such as flat jockey Ryan Moore are denied wider recognition
Greed of Good Friday racing
The rush to sanction Good Friday meetings by the British Horseracing Authority is greed masquerading as social progress.
Unsurprisingly, bookmakers are the prime movers in the initiative. Betting shops are already open on the bank holiday, currently one of only four blank days on the racing calendar.
Horse racing is a means to an end, and has long since sold its independence. It is run on the proceeds of betting, through the levy, and is beholden to its paymasters.
The little people – grooms and stable lads, who relish a brief respite from 361 days on the road - do not matter. The charitable benefits of alternative Easter traditions, open days at Lambourn and Middleham, are overridden.
The concept of less being more is ignored. The quality of fields has been diluted as prize money has declined. Bookmakers do not care if races have the legitimacy of watching two flies meander across a windowpane.
Meanwhile, the sport becomes increasingly marginalised. Intriguing characters, such as flat jockey Ryan Moore, are denied wider recognition. Racing refuses to look after its own.
In a crowded field, the BHA is staking a claim to be the worst-run organisation in British sport.
John Terry's flaws are obvious, and his problems are recurrent. Yet instead of easing off during the international break, he is playing in Stiliyan Petrov's charity match at Parkhead today. The pair are not close, but Terry's gesture of respect to a fellow professional, in remission from acute leukaemia, does him great credit.
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