The Impossible Client

For the Football Association, it’s not been a great few months.

First there were the revelations that the England Women’s manager, Mark Sampson, had been investigated and cleared – twice – of making racial comments to a couple of players. Then there’s the revelation that he had been investigated regarding “inappropriate relationships” with a player or players before being appointed back in 2013.

Like lots of people engaged in crisis and reputation management I like a challenge, but this would be one too far, even for me1.

Good crisis communications requires all the facts to be available, a plan of action agreed and – most importantly – for everyone to agree to the plan. No going off-piste. No thinking that you know better than the advice you’ve been given.

But the fragmented nature of the FA makes that impossible. The FA runs on a delicate balance of power that the Cold War powers – or, currently, the leading lights of the Conservative and Labour parties regarding Brexit – would be proud of. On the one hand there are the various leagues and cup competitions; on the other, the many County FAs. And on the other, the national teams which are obviously the most important of all… they say.

Everyone wants to have their say, everyone thinks that they know what is right, everyone is making a grab for power.

Sacking the manager in 2017 over a report compiled in 2013 looks bad enough. That it was done after two reports cleared him racism looks a bit convenient. When the Chief Executive says that the second enquiry head was chosen because she was black, contradicting his organisation’s own lawyers2, you start to realise what an unholy mess the FA is. And was. And probably always will be.

  1. Although I am still available. If anyone from the FA is reading this, call me. []
  2. See https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/sep/23/fa-dan-ashworth-mark-sampson []

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