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Football: Lack of diversity in coaching raises concern

Former Premier League player Troy Deeney speaks during an interview in London, Thursday, March 21, 2024.   -  
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Kin Cheung/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved


Racism has long permeated the world’s most popular sport, with players subjected to racist chants and taunts online. While governing bodies like FIFA and UEFA have taken steps to combat the abuse of players, the lack of diversity in the upper ranks at major football clubs remains an unsolved problem.

The issue needs to be considered “through a Black lens,” Delroy Corinaldi, co-founder of the U.K.-based advocacy group Black Footballers Partnership, told The AP.

A BFP report in 2022 found that while some 43% of players in England’s Premier League are Black, only 4% land coaching jobs in English professional soccer. There are currently only two Black managers in the Premier League.

Under-representation is not just an English problem. There are only two Black head coaches in France's Ligue 1, one in Italy's Serie A and none in the top divisions of Spain and Germany.

Wilfried Nancy, who is French, built his coaching career with Montreal in Canada and he now leads Ohio's Columbus Crew, which won the championship last season. He is the only Black head coach in MLS.

Nancy is puzzled by the lack of diversity in soccer coaching in Europe and the U.S.

"I have a simple question - why we have a lot of black players and we don't have black coaches?" asked Nancy. "There is something missing between all the black players that we have and the number of black coaches that we have."

A lack of diversity in boardrooms may be the root of the problem.

The English Football Association launched a leadership diversity code in 2020, setting hiring targets to address inequality. Yet its most recent report in November said workforce representation still does not reflect the diversity of players. Of last season’s hires, the report said, 9% of senior leaders, 11% of team operations, 16% of coaches and 9% of senior coaches were Black, Asian or of mixed heritage.

The Premier League's Coach Inclusion and Diversity Scheme aims to increase minority representation in coaching. The initiative provides coaches with a bursary and work placements.

Yet the BFP's latest report found that non-Black former players are 50% more likely than their Black counterparts to progress into management in England and that Black managers or assistants are 41% more likely to be fired.

Two of the biggest coaching jobs in soccer will become available at the end of the season, and while it is not yet clear who will fill the positions at Liverpool and Bayern Munich, it’s highly unlikely the successful candidates will be Black.

The standout favorite is Xabi Alonso, who is less than two years into his first job as head coach with Bayer Leverkusen. Alonso, who is white, had a distinguished playing career with Liverpool, Real Madrid and Bayern, and Bayer is on course to win the German title this season.

"I think it's sad that we actually have to have a black list,” former Premier League player Troy Deeney said.

"I think it's sad that we have to be in a situation where the representation in terms of mainstream, audiences aren't given a fair representation of what the world looks like currently."

Ruud Gullit, then one of the most celebrated players in the world, became the Premier League's first Black manager when he was appointed by Chelsea in 1996. Multiple Champions League-winner Clarence Seedorf was hired by Italian giant AC Milan in 2014. He lasted only four months.

High-profile Black players are more commonly hired to low-level teams.

Former England internationals Paul Ince and Sol Campbell began their managerial careers with then-fourth division team Macclesfield. Ince’s only top flight job was with Blackburn in 2008. He was fired after less than six months and has not been hired by a Premier League club since.

Meanwhile, Campbell’s ex-England teammate, Frank Lampard, who is white, has held three Premier League coaching positions on the back of his one year at second division Derby.

Deeney was hired as head coach of fourth tier Forest Green Rovers in December, but was fired less than a month later. He remains determined.

"We need to be given the opportunity to make a mistake," Deeney said. "Been sacked? No problem. But that can't now hang over your head for the next five, six, seven, ten years."