It was clear from the start that FA Chairman, Greg Dyke, was going to play a very straight bat at the opening session of Leaders in Football at Stamford Bridge. Greg has been around in football a long time.
He began by recalling his own early experiences of “standing in the old Shed End, pretending to support Chelsea” (despite being already a committed Man Utd supporter), but it wasn’t long before he came to grips with some of the anomalies of working for the body which rules football.
With reference to the recent ‘scratch on the face’ incident involving Torres (and missed on the day by the referee), the FA Chairman was surprised to discover that, as a consequence of current regulations, no retribution from the FA would follow. “That can’t be right”, he said.
When it came to the always controversial issue of the FA’s relations with the Premier League, particularly around the fact that 70% of players starting for PL teams are not English, Greg described the current position at the top of the club game as being “a finishing school for the rest of the world at the expense of our own players”.
The speech soon became more reflective. He took the phrase, ‘Leaders in Football’ as an apt description of those present at the Leaders conference, and he defined their (and his own) role as essentially “temporary guardians” of the game, bearing, consequently, heavy burdens of responsibility. It was a very ‘statesmanlike’ presentation by the new Chairman of the FA.
Greg singled out the “pace of change” as the single greatest challenge to the game going forward, and he elaborated four principles he would seek to follow.
First: Maintain the universality of the game and its simplicity; the game played in a park by a Sunday league team is essentially the same as an FA Cup Final – just with better players. But he insisted that he wasn’t worried about the use of technology at the highest levels to assist referees.
Second: The power of ‘global’ football must not overwhelm the national and the local.
Third: English football should be proud of its ‘redistributive system’ which allows money to flow down the levels of the game to grass roots.
Fourth: Invest in – and value – the people in the game, from kids’ coaching upwards. Greg saw the need to build coaching into a profession to be proud of.
Greg finished the opening speech at Leaders with the admonition: “All of us are collectively accountable for our leadership of football”.
In the following one-on-one interview with Christian Purslow, Greg revealed his core aim in his new role: “To leave the game happier than I found it”. And what about his epitaph? ‘He helped to produce more and better English players at the highest level.’
Asked about the ‘Commission’ he has set up at the FA to help in producing more England international players of higher quality (and winning World Cup 2022) as a target, Greg wouldn’t be drawn on relations with the Premier League. He did say that the PL had been offered representation on the Commission but had declined it; clearly a disappointment.
The members appointed so far include former England defender Danny Mills, and one of the best player developers in England, Crewe manager, Dario Gradi. They join FA Chairman Greg Dyke, ex-England manager Glenn Hoddle, Football League chairman Greg Clarke, FA vice-chairman Roger Burden, League Managers’ Association chairman Howard Wilkinson and new Professional Footballers’ Association Chairman Ritchie Humphreys.
There are (as Purslow pointed out) some ironies about Greg’s current position: 25yrs ago, as head of ITV Sport, Greg was the guy who helped midwife the ‘breakaway’ Premier League. Now he finds himself leading an attempt to sort out some of the consequences.
Greg wasn’t over-enthusiastic about the involvement of Govt: “I’m not sure they can do very much to help”. The shortage of funding at local authority level is an issue, he insisted, but the current state of the economy doesn’t lead one to think that will change any time soon.
Regarding Qatar, again Greg played that straight bat. He wasn’t interested in ‘insisting’ that Fifa reconsider their decision to go to Qatar: “It wouldn’t make any difference….Fifa wouldn’t take any notice. Qatar’s bid for 2022 was a proper process on their part….and they won.”
Dr Rogan Taylor is the Director of the Football Industry Group at the University of Liverpool. He is also a writer and broadcaster, with five football books and numerous radio and TV contributions. He has acted as a special adviser to The FA, The Premier League and Premier League Clubs.