Last week the Chief Executive of the Football Association of Wales, Johnathan Ford, went public with comments on who would not become the next Manager of the Welsh national football team. He didn’t rule out an individual though, instead he decided to rule out everyone from England. Not just anyone from outside of Wales, he only ruled out the English, saying the “next Wales manager could be "foreign", but "definitely not English".
The reason this smarts is not just the blatant anti-English bigotry but also because it flies in the face of their policy on players. The most recent squad of 25 for the friendlies last month had 12 players born in England (James Chester - Warrington, Andrew Crofts - Chatham, Ashley Williams - Wolverhampton, Ethan Ampadu - Exeter, Dave Edwards - Shrewsbury, Lloyd Isgrove - Yeovil, Andy King - Devon, Tom Bradshaw - Shrewsbury, David Brooks - Warrington, Sam Vokes - Lymington, Marley Watkins - London, Ben Woodburn - Chester), the Captain was English born and every single one of that squad currently plays in England & for clubs in English towns & cities.
With so many English born and English trained players, taking Wales up to the 10th best team in the world in 2015, and given they're currently sat at a not-too-shabby 19th, you might think that the FAW would understand and appreciate the benefits that immigrant talent from Wales’ nearest neighbour has brought to their sport (this is not a uniquely Welsh phenomenon either, as this exploration of how World Cup teams would look without immigrants shows).
The CEO of the Football Association Wales can’t possibly think that Wales’ performance is poor because of their use of migrant labour, nor can he really think it’s the location of the manager’s birth (after all, the last two managers were Welsh born). So this is a matter of pure taste-based discrimination in which he has come out and said that he won’t accept applications from a group of people because where they were born. That it is English managers he wanted to ban is no more acceptable than if it were anywhere else, but it grates even more with the 20% of Welsh people who were born in England and the even greater number with familial links with the country next door.
In England we’ve had this conversation before, in a whole host of industries immigrants are a scapegoat. This is as true in football as it is anywhere else, migrants are seen as a useful mechanism to blame the failures of investing in training at home. There is a reason why non-national teams, private companies in a competitive environment, go after and source talent from across the world – and pay large salaries in the process – rather than relying solely on the locales where they are based. National teams piggyback off of this, and benefit when they do. The world cup in 2014 saw English Premier League players score 20% of the goals, with 80% of goals scored by players that are based at clubs outside of their homeland.
This upsets economic nationalists but true fans of clubs realize it is the winning that counts, not the birthplace of the people who help them secure the silverware.
News hit yesterday that the FAW has whittled the candidates to the top job to three Welsh men. Good for them (I have no opinions on their qualification for the job), but can we honestly say this process has been good for the team, and good for the game?