Friday, April 12, 2024

Black players and white managers: Euro-Copa in dugouts

Gerald Asamoah was brought in place of Jens Jeremies in the final minutes of the 2002 World Cup final making me curious to see a black player coming in a German jersey. This experience cannot be the same for my nephew having sleepless nights in front of the TV to watch Euro 2020. The Europe of Euro cup is no more of white Christian men but as  The Guardian calls it, ‘a barometer of diversity.’ Though Rashford, Sancho, and Saka were racially abused and asked to leave to ‘home nation’ by a group of English fans, England’s recent glory came through the ‘away from home’ players. Though Arnautovic had to ‘fuck the Albanian mother’ of Alioski, we witnessed a Euro, where Shaqiri and Zuber added the heroics to the Euro experiences of Switzerland. Overall, this Euro was diverse and more colorful than ever before, much like the rainbow lights in the stadium of Allianz Arena. 

The flow of African players to the premier football leagues of Europe by the end of the 20th century not only diversified their leagues but also helped to lift the status of home-grown Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) players from being undesirable at their football pitches.

The diversity and racism in professional football have been much discussed. Apart from that, this piece looks at how diverse is the group of men standing in the dugouts, managers. 

It begs the question as to when heads are up for the national anthem and one’s eyes catch the diversity of European squads except for Spain and Italy, how colorful is the sight of coaches and assistant coaches of the teams? How many of the French football managers belong to BME groups in proportion to their squads?

While the Netherlands had one-third of their players from diverse ethnic groups, how far this applied to the men in formals in the technical area? For England, Belgium, Portugal, and others, we find a number closer to zero.

The case is not just about Euro 2020, but also about Copa America.

Bolivia is the only nation that could claim a manager with colored skin among the teams that competed in the tournament.

This is a stupefying fact comparing with the population and the number of players from the colored communities that has historically been part of these footballing giants. France, England, Netherlands, Belgium, and Portugal, arguably the most significant colonial powers, fielded third and a half of the players of color. At the same time, the pursuit of a managerial career becomes a hurdle for the BME footballers in many instances. The candidates coming from BME groups not allowed to progress through the current institutional structures bound in racism is a long-standing debate, at least in English professional football. Among the 92 top-flight football clubs in English professional Leagues, only 5% of the managers belong to Black, Asian, Minority, and Ethnic communities, which contrasts with the players on the pitch.

The case of Latin American national teams is no different; almost more than 50% of the players gracing the pitches of Latin American football are from colored backgrounds. We can find they do not have such a majority in the list of football managers of national teams. Just take Brazil as an example; when Neymar, Ronaldinho, Adriano, Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Romario, and more, add to the heroes of world football, how many of them have been there as the managers in the history of Brazilian football. When the squad list is full of native Brazilian, African, and other colored origins, the managers’ index is dominated by the people of European ethnicity. When Favela gives birth to most of the players and the football culture of the nation itself, why are there none or a minimum number of managers for the Brazilian national team originating from the  Favela? The men from the working class overload the squads that directly causes the over-representation of people of color in most squads. However, the post playtime career of these players is least attended.

‘They can play, but can they think’; might be one of the most infamous racist stereotypes produced in the past around black players. ‘We need white players to keep the balance of the team’ or ‘they are very athletic’ are reminiscent  of this idea.

The managerial position is something that is much dedicated to the brain, mind, and theories rather than the body, athleticism, and practice. Oscar Tabarez with a walking stick or on a mobility scooter is an acceptable frame to any football fan as it is acknowledged that a coach does not have to be athletic. The colonizers considered colonizing subjects as bodies over mind or brain. Multiple theories have been produced that the people of color from the colonized regions are naturally stronger in their bodies and could not simultaneously think. Thus the colored colonial subjects are more athletic to be in the field and not as brainy to be at the dugouts. Are these colonial ideas being practiced in modern-day football too?  The correlation of color and athleticism is in the technical areas and on the pitch as well. It is not coincidental that we can remember only Edouard Mendi, Andre Onana, and Steve Mandanda as black goalkeepers in European leagues; at the same time, we can recall much more names at the attacking positions. 

On the final note, I come back to Copa America through a comparison between Brazil and Argentina. Argentinian-born football managers have always been distributed as the national team coaches throughout Latin American countries. Jose Pekerman, Jorge Sampoli, Marcelo Bielsa, Jorge Celiso are some recent examples. A count cannot be claimed by any other national team, not even for Brazil, the equally successful football giant. Does this have anything to do with the colonial past of these countries? As Argentine president Alberto Fernandez said, “The Mexicans came from the Indians. The Brazilians came from the jungle, but we Argentines came from the ships, and they were ships that came from Europe “. The past of those who came from jungles and those who came in ships linger.   

Faseeh Ahmad EK is a media researcher and writer interested in sports, communities and local cultures.

Faseeh Ahmad EK
Faseeh Ahmad EK
Faseeh Ahmad EK is a media researcher and writer interested in sports, communities, and local cultures.
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