When Chris Ramsey was appointed the interim manager of Queens Park Rangers in February 2015, he was the only black manager in the English Premier League. A year on, with Ramsey now Technical Director, and QPR relegated, there are only three minority managers across the 92 clubs in the English league.
This is clearly not good enough. Particularly as there are more and more black players in all of the four divisions. The NFL’s ‘Rooney Rule’, which requires league teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football jobs, has been touted as a solution but the rule hasn’t been shown to be working that well.
I asked Chris Ramsey about the challenges facing minorities in football management and why he wouldn’t mind managing the Black Stars.
What do you think about the NFL’s ‘Rooney rule’ and does it get more black people in football management?
The ‘Rooney rule’ in itself is an equal opportunities issue. It has not been a solution to addressing the under-representation of minorities in jobs. But what it has done is to help draw attention to the fact that there was an imbalance that needed to be addressed.
When companies are privately owned, their decisions are theirs to make
In practical terms, is this imbalance due to a small pool of minority candidates, or the unwillingness of club owners to appoint them?
I think it’s a bit of both. When companies are privately owned, their decisions are theirs to make. Having said that, the pool of black coaches and managers has been small. Although this is expanding, this is currently not at a rate that will make a significant impact on the numbers in the near future.
Is there any particular reason why this pool has remained small for such a long time?
There’s been an element of despondency by minority coaches. They have seen how things have been run in the past and this has dampened their willingness to dip their toes in the water for fear of rejection.
In terms of progress, we ought to have been where we are now a decade ago
How long do you think it will be until we see any meaningful change?
We are still a long way from this. First of all it is not an easy feat to land the top job in football regardless of your ethnic background. In terms of progress, we ought to have been where we are now a decade ago. However, football is a reflection of society and a lot of the boards currently lack the diversity needed to effect speedy change.
What can other clubs learn from QPR given the fact that the Director of Football, Manager and Technical Director are all from minority backgrounds?
The people in those roles have been chosen based on merit and their ability to do a job, as opposed to their culture, beliefs or persuasions. Even though we are located in a culturally diverse area, this has not informed the diverse nature of management. Other clubs located in culturally diverse areas have not achieved the level of diversity we have.
How much of a boost to the despondency would it be if Jimmy (Hasselbaink) and Chris Hughton at Brighton were to be managers in the EPL next season?
It would be massive. People can relate to people from their culture. If those two managers were to be in the EPL next year, then those aspiring to be managers would be able to visualise light at the end of the tunnel.
Has enough been done to foster the progression of minorities in football management?
It’s important that we do not get to a situation of tokenism because that is as patronising. I certainly do not agree with giving someone a job simply to fulfil a minority quota. But when there are candidates of equal proficiency, then an opportunity to address the imbalance should be taken.
More often than not these advisers will recommend safe bets for managerial appointments
Could the influx of foreign ownership of football clubs in the English league exacerbate the imbalance in minority representation?
The owners buying English clubs see the bright lights. In making decisions about their acquisitions, they will make decisions based on suggestions by their advisers. More often than not these advisers will recommend safe bets for managerial appointments.
What part do former players like Rio Ferdinand and Thierry Henry have to play in encouraging more black people into management?
These former guys are trying, many of them are in the process of completing their coaching badges, but we have also lost some to the despondency because of the lack of opportunities. It is important that minorities are judged for failure in the same way as everybody else, ie as individuals. Just because a black manager fails does not mean the rest are not up to standard.
What can the national football bodies in Africa do to encourage black managers to be head coaches?
There is a serious problem of reverse racism where it seems that we do not believe in the abilities of our own people. This has been going on a long time. Far too often when indigenous coaches have been given the opportunity, they have been given little support to enable them to achieve. Far less than a foreign coach might get in the same instance.
If you were to manage a team at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), which team would it be?
This one is something close to my heart. My uncle Ben traced our family tree back to Ghana, so for me this is a country I would want to manage in such an instance.
What can we look forward to from QPR’s new signing Idrissa Sylla?
Anyone who has been identified by the club is someone who possesses the positive attributes that will benefit QPR. The club has signed an array of players from different backgrounds this summer and before these players are signed, they are carefully evaluated. However, you do keep your fingers crossed that they succeed.
QPR is currently fifth in the English Championship. What is the target for the season?
We have to be realistic about where we are at the moment. It is a long season and people have to be patient. Some other teams have spent heavily on individual players and they will be under pressure to be at the top throughout the season.
Thanks for speaking to us Chris.
It is clear from speaking to Chris Ramsey that football has a long way to go before black coaches and managers get significant representation across the English league. The story is not any different in other European leagues and strangely enough, even the national teams in Africa still prefer to hire mediocre foreign managers rather than back ambitious homegrown coaches. This is not to say that some countries have not attempted this.
Nigeria experimented with Samson Siasia, the late Stephen Keshi and Sunday Oliseh. But more often than not, these great former players were not backed 100 per cent. They were hung out to dry at the first smell of failure. This attitude has to change. Several African teams have resorted to recycling average foreign managers. If these managers are given not one, not two but several chances, so should homegrown managers.