It could be described as the hardest job in football, but the government is pressing ahead with plans to recruit a civil servant to sort out the problems of the national game.
For a top whack of £58,207 per year, ministers hope they will land a candidate who can read the cross-cutting currents and competing interests of the country’s top sport.
The job is titled, Head of Football Governance Review, and the post-holder will gather the views of billionaire owners, supporters’ trusts, leagues, FA, players, clubs and fans on how to run the game.
Manchester United’s Paul Pogba will earn in one working day what a civil servant recruited to sort out the problems with English football will earn in a year
The government committed has itself to holding a ‘fan-led review’ of football governance
Then comes the tricky bit.
They will advise ministers on a solution that will mean football in all its forms, from the top of the Premier League all the way down to the grassroots, is managed more fairly, efficiently and sustainably.
For all of that, the maximum salary is still only one working day of Paul Pogba’s annual £15.1 million salary at Manchester United.
He or she will not the first to try to solve the football conundrum. Many reviews, reports and Hansard accounts of endless debates into how football should be run are already gathering Parliamentary dust.
Fan groups have raised concern about how football is run and a growing financial gap
‘There have been quite a few,’ said Dr Borja Garcia, an expert in sport management at Loughborough University.
”Quite a number for not that much action.’
The latest attempt is described by Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden as a ‘fan-led review’ into football governance. It was a Conservative manifesto pledge at the 2019 election.
So, what is the review trying to solve?
The truth is we don’t exactly know.
It is expected the review will consider fans concerns, including the structure of the game
No terms of reference for the project have been published, but it could range from fans’ concerns over ticket prices, the treatment of away spectators and involvement of supporters in clubs and running the game, to the balance of power between the FA, clubs and leagues..
The latter would address the question of whether the governance of the game should be centred on one independent regulator, which would have authority over everything else and enable the sport to speak with one voice.
In theory, an independent regulator could better manage competing interests and resolve disputes, but as ever, nothing is simple in football.
The growing gap between the richest clubs and the rest reduces competition in the game
‘I don’t have a clear view of what a fan review is,’ admitted Dr Garcia, who believes reform is necessary, but progress has been made, for example in restructuring the FA. ‘Will it put fans at the heart of it? Will it be organised by supporters or organisations?’
The knight in shining armour who takes on the role and takes up the cudgels on behalf of fans, will inherit a landscape littered with conflict and controversy.
The proposed Champions League reforms threaten to shift power to the biggest clubs in the Premier League, who themselves sought to seize more control of the domestic game last year, through Project Big Picture.
Clubs are reeling from the impact of the coronavirus, which has seen almost no fans attend a game for over a year. A situation which caused the Premier League and EFL berated by politicians for a slow response to help out clubs in the lower leagues.
The gap between the richest and the rest is growing ever wider, the Championship clubs perennially overspend as they strive to make the leap into the top tier and lower league clubs teeter on the brink of administration, while some have already succumbed.
Gary Neville (right) has previously urged Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden to hurry up and consider the reform of football governance by organising the promised ‘fan-led review’
The former chairman of the Football Association, Greg Clarke, stood down over the ‘unacceptable’ language he used when referring to black players, at a time when abuse is raining down on players, staff and officials on social media.
There’s plenty to go at, says the Football Supporters’ Association, a long-time advocate for change.
‘Last year’s Project Big Picture showed the desire that a handful of elite, billionaire club-owners have in wanting to stitch up football for their own purposes – guaranteed success for their clubs, more power, less competition, and ultimately fewer funds for the lower leagues and grassroots,’ a spokesman for the FSA said.
Manchester United was believed to be one of the clubs behind Project Big Picture last year
Curiously, the job description for the new role repeatedly refers to ‘seeing the Big Picture[sic]’ as an essential requirement for candidates, so applicants might want to brush up on Manchester United’s and Liverpool’s power grab in October.
‘The Government’s fan-led review has the potential to make historic changes to safeguard our game so long as it is given the power and scope to do so,’ added the FSA.
‘That means protecting our clubs, increasing transparency of ownership, improved financial controls, strengthening the pyramid and increased supporter engagement.’
The case for change has been pushed harder in the past year with the Department for Culture Media and Sport select committee particularly critical of football governance.
In addition, high-profile figures including former FA chairman David Bernstein and ex-Manchester United full back, Gary Neville, have argued for an independent regulator through their Saving the Beautiful Game coalition.
So, is this the hardest job in football?
‘No way,’ said one football administrator, who spoke to Sportsmail. ‘I’d rather be a civil servant than a referee.’