BORONOIA strikes again as Paul Ince has been given the backing of the League Managers’ Association to take over at Ewood Park despite not having the stipulated coaching badges.
That will be the same League Managers’ Association that was so vehemently opposed to Gareth Southgate taking over at Boro because, er, he didn’t have the stipulated coaching badges then?
Relax though. This is not about giving other sides a helping hand at Boro’s expense, although you could argue that may well turn out to be one of the consequences and Blackburn should really be bossed by someone with all the badges, like Howard Wilkinson for instance. No, this is about political expediency, ticking boxes and maybe fear at being branded ‘racist’.
First it must be said that since Southgate and Glenn Roeder were given their two year dispensations to do their coaching courses and get the UEFA Pro-licence by the Premier League – moves that the LMA insisted must by the last – there have been other loophole dodgers that have been endorsed by the dugout staff association.
Roy Keane was given dispensation last term because he won promotion with Sunderland, which seems fair enough as a concrete demonstration of ability, and Avram Grant was given the nod at Chelsea on the grounds that he had managed at international level and been involved in the technical side of the game for decades.
But even then the LMA stressed their opposition to unqualified managers working in the top flight as a principle. In general terms it is a principle I would agree with. In any sphere of employment it makes sense to have as much training as possible and if that can be structured in a coherent way and designed and delivered by people with experience and technical expertise in that area then all the better. All other things being equal you would want your organisation managed by someone who has shown they have reached at least the the minimum standard required in the industry rather than the the bloke who hasn’t.
Personally though, I don’t believe paperwork should be the only criteria for filling jobs. Apptitude, determination, potential all come into it too, as well as being in the right place at the right time when a vacancy comes up and catching the eye of an employer willing to take a chance on an individual they believe have the ability to short-circuit the exam structure and deliver results. If they get it right they are masters of the game blessed with insight and vision that the pen pushers and badge counters don’t possess. If they get it wrong, well, that’s their own look out.
The LMA in contrast don’t see those as acceptable methods of entry into their industry. Like any self-important professional body of clipboard wielders they defend their qualification criteria jealously, seeing it as a tool to control the supply of labour and ultimately the job prospects of their members at the expense of chancers and interlopers. Which is fair enough.
But having set out their stall with exacting standards it seems opportunistic to then rush to endorse Ince as Rovers boss. Yes he is a member of the LMA and has managed in the lower leagues and has an impressive early record as they have said – but you either NEED the licence to work in the top flight or you don’t. Which is it to be?
If they are now to judge every case on its merits and accept there can be exceptional circumstances will they be forwarding an apology to Steve Gibson and Middlesbrough Football Club for their intense public opposition to the appointment of Southgate?
Or is there another dimension? Are the LMA making a politically motivated stepover to get past their own red tape and tick some boxes with positive discrimination?
Brendon Batson, the FAÃ¢ÂÂs equality and diversity consultant, said: “We need someone to carry the flag. Paul is providing great encouragement to other black players looking to pursue a career in coaching or management.” Which is true and laudable and at least honest.
Incey has long been a pioneer and for that deserves massive respect. As a top player at a time when the bigots were still making monkey noises and throwing banana the self appointed ‘Guvnor’ was in the vanguard of changing perceptions of the role and potential of black players and as the first black captain of a senior England side (Ugo Ehoigu had already skippered the Under 21s) he helped crack the glass ceiling of racism.
And there is no doubt that there are other barriers yet to be broken. Only last month the Daily Telegraph and anti-racism outfit Kick It Out published a report into why so few of the huge number of black professionals stay in the game and progress to become managers, coaches or even physios and scouts. In that context Ince has become a cause celebre, and indeed his progress and potential has also become he focus of black political organisations beyond the game.
I can’t imagine he is comfortable with that. In general sportsmen are non-political and see their own pursuit of excellence as an individual one rather than part of a wider social context. Having spoken to Ince when he was at Boro my impression was that he was determined, zealous in his quest to win every game and every tackle and intensely focussed but not that he was a radical crusader and certainly not that he encapsulated the hopes of a generation.
He would want to succeed on his own merits and because he was good at the job. Blackburn would want the same. For people to want him to succeed simply because he was black is patronising and insulting. And for him to be given special treatment to that end is open to similar accusations. Are the LMA following the Bateson line and relaxing their own fiercely defended principles for the sake of political expediency and affirmative action? I think we should be told.
MEANWHILE, the appointment of Incey means double trouble for Gareth Southgate – now there are TWO other former inspirational Boro skippers for him to be measured against.
It is inevitable that Ince and Tony Mowbray will become the new proxy benchmarks against which the critics will judge Southgate’s progress this year. Every big signing for Rovers will be used as evidence that our man hasn’t got pulling power in the transfer market, every shrewdly engineered Baggies win over the big boys proof that Mogga is every inch the master tactician that the Gate is not. Collectively they will fulfill the role that Martin O’Neill in recent years did when he was The One Who Got Away.
If either Rovers or Albion get off to good starts and Boro do not, then not only will the the only barely submerged dissent begin to become vocal again but that now it will have renewed focus. Maybe we have got the wrong former Boro skipper in the dug-out people will start to say.
Of course, that has long been the case anyway in Mogga’s case but for Southgate that problem will now be doubled and shifted from the realm of the abstract and made concrete by the league table.
If Boro do not start brightly then the matches against both Rovers (at home on September 27 and away on January 17th) and the Baggies (here on October 29th and there on February 7th) will be potential minefields and bad results may swiftly become sticks to beat the boss with.
The challenge for Southgate this term is to neutralise those putative claims to his throne by delivering the goods. There were glimpses last season that suggest he is not far short of a team that can play exciting, attacking football with pace and movement. If that can be sustained, and if shrewd summer signings can strengthen the squad and help the team push on into the top ten and beyond then the presence of the pretenders will not even be an issue.
He has broad support among the crowd but a sizeable faction remain sceptical or are still smarting over the Cardiff catastrophe and it will not take much for them to become vocal. A good start for Boro can win those waverers back over and put the project back on track.
It will also make what could be tricky Riverside returns for Mogga and Incey little more than a nostalgic case of Friends Reunited.
More musing on this potential political problem in today’s Gazette…
KEITH LAMB has said progress is being made on a string of signings and that Boro are confident of having three new faces in place when pre-season training starts on July 7th. You can read the full interview here.