FA: lessons to be learned from manager search

The Football Association this week told PRWeek that it is ‘determined to learn lessons’ from its handling of the recruitment of England’s next manager.

The FA used a press conference last Thursday to confirm that Steve McClaren would be taking the job, after weeks of frenzied speculation as to who would replace the outgoing Sven-Goran Eriksson. The process drew increasingly negative criticism (see Presswatch Media chart).

FA director of comms Adrian Bevington told PRWeek: 'While the organisation attempted to conduct a professional corporate search for a very senior position, it was impossible to do so confidentially owing to the huge levels of media interest.

He said: 'A lesson learned is that owing to the unique position of the organisation, there is a greater need to act faster and decisively. It would undoubtedly fill the vacuum and reduce the speculative and frustrated media coverage that leads to negatives against the organisation.'

Bevington pointed out that the FA's original decision to appoint the next manager before the World Cup was 'generally positively received at the time'.

He said if it had opted to wait until after the World Cup before naming, or starting to recruit, a new manager, 'the speculation on a daily basis during the tournament would have made it impossible for the players and staff to focus on their jobs in Germany. They all wanted an appointment to be made before the tournament starts.'

He explained: 'Certain sports correspondents were telling me they would be focusing on the tournament by then, but their editors would still have been desperate to know who the new manager would be.

The FA has to host media activity every day, during the World Cup – it and it would have been unsustainable to deal with the speculation for another two to three months. It could also have jeopardised the team's chances.'

He added: 'We also have a responsibility to our clubs. They needed to know what our plans were, so they could plan for next season, with regard to staff and players.'

Bevington said the FA was pleased 'all but one' of ten informal meetings (Alan Curbishley's) held between CEO Brian Barwick and potential candidates in the early stages of the recruitment
remained 'under wraps': 'For an organisation that has so many constituents and is often criticised for "leaking" to media, this was a big result.'

He said the formal interviews – which took place in rural Oxfordshire – 'became more difficult to manage'.

Some have suggested the interviews should have been held at the FA's Soho Square HQ, but Bevington said: 'Can you imagine the scenes outside of the offices as leading Premiership managers headed in and out of interviews, as if going for a job as a bank clerk? We'd have been hammered for subjecting the candidates to a media circus and showing them no respect.'

He said: 'The simple fact is that we tried to conduct this element of the process with appropriate privacy, but the venue got out and a frustrated media expressed their anger with headlines of "farce" and "fiasco".'

'Despite being such a high-profile sport, football is really a "village", with a very small number of people involved at the top of the game. Once conversations involving candidates, clubs, travel organisers and FA figures take place, it was always likely some information would come out.'

In respect of McClaren's appointment, Bevington said: 'We wanted to lift everyone with an upbeat press conference. We had Steve signing his contract in front of the cameras – it may have looked a bit cheesy, but it came across very positively in the visuals that continue to be used.'

Looking forward, Bevington added: 'Steve is very keen that he maintains his role as assistant to Sven during the World Cup, so any media appearances will be limited.'

McClaren's personal management remains Key Sports Management, and he is using Max Clifford Associates (PRWeek, 5 May). Bevington paid tribute to the advice McClaren continues to receive from 'private advisers'.

More generally, in the context of the FA's reputation, Bevington said: 'We are continuing to develop a much-improved dialogue in senior areas of the media and this will help us, together with making strong policy calls – as Brian Barwick has proven he can.'

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