Comment - Sam Allardyce must go - the FA cannot employ a man who regards rules as optional
For all the changes wrought upon it, and the influence wrested away from it, after 152 years of existence, the Football Association remains the authority to which power answers in the English game: players, referees, club directors, club owners, agents and, of course, managers.
When the FA hierarchy attempt to establish the level of the damage done by Sam Allardyce’s disclosures to undercover Telegraph reporters it is that factor which will be uppermost in their minds, and it will be that which dictates that the new England manager has to go.
It is not good enough for an organisation that stands in judgement on the misdemeanours, and the rule-breaking of others to have a key employee who is just a little bit dodgy. As England manager you cannot be seven parts clean, and one-part an unofficial advisor to mysterious businessmen on the rules to circumnavigate third-party ownership.
In a sport that is intensely partisan and in which so many perceive bias or unfairness at every turn, it is not tenable for the organisation that is obliged to prosecute the rules to have at its heart a key figure who regards those rules as optional. In becoming England manager, what Allardyce fatally did not grasp was that in joining the FA, the world had changed around him.
“It’s not a problem” Allardyce told the Telegraph’s undercover reporters on third-party ownership, going on to name agents who he said “have been doing it for years.” He proceeded to set out in some detail the way in which money could be earned through an agent working on behalf of a company that owned part of a player’s economic rights.
The new FA chief executive Martin Glenn will recognise that Allardyce’s future is a call which will define his time in charge of the organisation – which is not simply defined by the performance of the England team, but all the constituent parts of which rules and governance are vital aspects.
He, and others, will ask themselves what leadership means in this situation. Does it mean standing by their embattled manager and trying to take strength from all the things he might have said, but did not? Or, however difficult that is, does it mean putting aside the concerns of the individual, and protecting the reputation of the FA?
The big question they will ask themselves is what lies ahead for the FA in the next five and ten years. The highest-profile disciplinary cases of its recent history have been around racism and the FA has taken a tough and difficult stance on issues that others in football might have tried to duck, especially in the cases of Luis Suarez and John Terry.
These were episodes that had repercussions far beyond football and helped maintain the organisation’s relevance in the 21st century as much as anything else it has done in recent years. The authority and the credibility to win those arguments and make those judgements was hard won. It is also very easily lost.
As the Telegraph’s investigation into corruption in football unfolds over the next few days, there may be other allegations that trigger investigations from the FA’s governance department. In a modern game where so much is at stake financially there is every likelihood that, in the years to come, the FA will habitually be forced to focus on financial corruption and rule-breaking.
Even this week, when the FA ruled on the Burnley striker Andre Gray’s homophobic tweets of 2012, it prompted a debate on the right to prosecute historical offences despite the unquestionably abhorrent nature of the views expressed. Wherever it goes, the FA governance department is forced to justify itself under intense scrutiny and it cannot do so towing the fallout from Allardyce’s comments.
Who knows what the next great controversy will be for an organisation that is dealing with a game awash with cash and changing rapidly? It may be racism, or homophobia, or sexism. It might be gambling, or match-fixing, or an asset-stripping owner from overseas. It might even be a high-profile manager advising persons unknown on how to evade some of the FA’s most complex rules on third-party ownership.
How could the FA stand in judgement on that case having permitted their own England manager to do so without any repercussions for his job? The answer, as they will all know at Wembley Stadium today, is that it would not have a leg to stand on.