Palios the trouble-shooter steps into the FA minefield
Friday 16 May 2003
More than six months after Adam Crozier walked out of Soho Square with a pay-off, a confidentiality agreement and a sense of mission interrupted, the Football Association has finally appointed his successor, the former footballer Mark Palios.
The 50-year-old corporate trouble-shooter, currently head of Business Recovery Services at Pricewaterhouse Coopers, will take up the post on 1 July.
It is perhaps as well for the Birkenhead-born accountant that he goes into the post of chief executive with eyes open, having already had a taste of the politicking which forced Crozier out and which he can expect to encounter. Palios, who made more than 400 appearances for Tranmere Rovers and Crewe Alexandra as a stocky midfielder between 1972 and 1985, was not the FA's first choice. That was Peter Littlewood, a Mars executive based in New Jersey, who somehow became the preferred choice of the advisory sub-committee despite not having been included on the shortlist.
Littlewood, however, took fright when news of his impending appointment leaked out before he had informed his employers. The FA chairman Geoff Thompson, who to no one's surprise had overseen the whole sorry mess, was forced to return to Palios. He was back at Soho Square for talks on Monday and accepted yesterday. His salary is likely to be just under £400,000, less than Crozier earned but more than the FA had originally intended paying.
In a rare public comment, Thompson told the FA's probing website: "We are delighted that Mark has agreed to become the FA's new chief executive. First and foremost, Mark's business experience will be a huge asset to us at a time when the FA and the game as a whole must face up to a number of challenges. Our decision to rebuild Wembley means our business and our finances are more complex than at any time in our history. Secondly, Mark has played the game at professional and amateur level, and this can only be an asset in his new role."
The appointment is a relief to Thompson, who is facing a struggle to hang on to his £75,000 a year post after severe criticism over his lack of backing for Crozier, his invisibility in times of crisis and the impression that he is more interested in air miles and cocktail parties than showing leadership to a beleagured organisation. It still may not enable to him to resist the expected challenge, at next summer's election, from Roger Burden, managing director of the Cheltenham & Gloucester building society.
This management instability is just one of the problems Palios has to deal with. He greeted his appointment with the comment: "I am very excited at the prospect of leading the FA through a very important period in its history."
These days the FA always seems to be in the middle of "an important period in its history". Having mismanaged the creation of the Premier League, it has struggled to deal with the Frankenstein monster which subsequently developed. With the £757m Wembley Stadium project imperilling its finances, the FA has been ill-equipped to stand up to the clubs' growing power and, at a time when the game is riven with conflicts of interest, fiscal mismanagement and worse, unable to enforce its position fully as the game's governing body.
Palios begun preparing for a career beyond the dressing-room while still a player, bolstering the psychology degree he gained from Manchester University with accountancy training in Liverpool. By the time he completed a brief spell in non-League football with Bangor City in the Multipart (now UniBond) League, which included a run in the European Cup-Winners' Cup, he was en route to joining PwC in 1989 as a partner. He has since risen to head their business regeneration department, where he has assisted several clubs in crisis, including Nottingham Forest and Derby County.
As a player Palios never finished above 10th in the old Third Division, was relegated twice and knocked out of the FA Cup by non-League opposition three times. None of those experiences, nor being given a free transfer on three occasions, is likely to be as testing as his latest career move.
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