Managerial swap-shop and flogging Wembley: a new manifesto for football

Louise Taylor on 13 November 2019

An election beckons. Forget Boris v Jezza, this one is even more surreal. I am campaigning for the post of English’s football’s very own prime minister, or, to give it an official title, Dictator (Benevolent) of the national game.

As at Westminster, Europe remains a contentious subject but my manifesto champions both integration and much-needed reform. England will lead the way in overhauling its showpiece club competitions, which brings us to the Blueprint for Change; a document embracing all the big issues …

Europe: revamp Uefa’s club competitions

The Champions League and Europa League group stages are to be scrapped, leaving every round a high-stakes knockout. Consequently eliminated will be the boring pre-Christmas mini leagues, the disappointing, almost apathetic, atmosphere inside many grounds during the initial stages and the sound of Pep Guardiola moaning about Manchester City fans failing to back their team properly in continental combat. With the fear factor firmly back on the agenda, meaningless group fixtures will be extinct and the possibility of giant-killings can only promote excitement and re-engagement.

Inequality: make football less London-centric

Politicians may struggle to bridge the north-south divide but the national game will show the way by fully moving the Premier League and the Football Association HQs out of London. The capital’s stratospheric housing costs dictate that many extremely able candidates are priced out of potential relocation to the south-east so shifts to Liverpool, Leeds or Newcastle – Manchester and Birmingham are overly obvious options – would widen the talent pool while promoting regional diversity among staff. Hats off to the Football Association for already dividing its personnel between Wembley and St George’s Park in rural Staffordshire but now let’s complete that job. Meanwhile self-styled “metropolitans” will be pleasantly surprised to find their fears regarding life north of Watford and horror of provincialism unfounded. Soon they will be talking up the improved quality of life with the zeal of religious converts.

Redistribution of wealth: sell Wembley

The national stadium is impressive but there are sufficient top-notch grounds around the country to enable England to rank among those nations who lack a fixed home and instead rotate matches between cities. Quite apart from helping reconnect fans from far and wide with Gareth Southgate’s side, the £600m-odd raised by the stadium sale can be infinitely better invested in grassroots causes and women’s football.

Health: address equality in care and coverage

A new universal, compulsory, comprehensive, private medical insurance scheme covering every player in the Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship. It will ensure access to the best sports surgeons – ie those who have performed complicated operations 200 times rather than twice – for all squad members, thereby ensuring equality of treatment with male counterparts. Funding will be split between clubs and a ring-fenced FA account stemming from Wembley’s sale.

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Society: players and managers to live within 40 minutes’ drive of clubs

Globalism and parochialism are not necessarily mutually exclusive. It really is possible to be both internationalist and loyally localist and one way of marrying the two is for the Premier League’s international luminaries to establish roots in their adopted communities. It helps reinforce weakening ties that bind supporters to clubs, leaving the former feeling less disenfranchised. Manchester City fans’ adoration of Guardiola is enhanced by his decision to live in the city and educate his children at local schools; United supporters’ indifference to José Mourinho was exacerbated by his constant shuttling between luxury hotel suite and London home. There does not have to be a binary divide between self-styled citizens of anywhere and citizens of somewhere.

Diversity: bring in the Rooney rule to embrace English coaches

The Rooney rule – guaranteeing interviews for BAME managerial candidates – will be extended to the Premier League and, crucially, boardroom executive roles but also complemented by a new stipulation. Top-tier teams seeking head coaches must grant formal audiences to at least one English candidate. This just might offer a Chris Wilder, Eddie Howe or Sean Dyche the chance to shine at, say, Arsenal or Manchester United.

The climate crisis: ration private jet habit

When David Moyes became Manchester United manager he requested on-demand access to a private jet. At the game’s highest level such executive charters are viewed a bit like buses, and Premier League sides constantly lease planes to fly relatively short distances between matches. Granted, flying is quick and convenient but the climate emergency necessitates behavioural modifications, so a new air miles seasonal quota will ration the number of flights – particularly on non-commercial aircraft – taken by players and staff of all league clubs.

Mental health/national wellbeing: one-off compulsory managerial transfer window

Sometimes true radicalism is needed so, to celebrate my election, there will be a fun few months featuring a “for one new year only” Premier League managerial swap shop. The names of those coaching the top 10 clubs on 1 January must be placed in one hat and their bottom 10 peers in another. A two-by-two draw will then involve those randomly paired together exchanging teams until May. Interrupting Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester renaissance is a shame but potentially watching Daniel Farke and Jürgen Klopp relocate to Liverpool and Norwich respectively should prove compulsive viewing. Similarly, the prospect of seeing Unai Emery choreograph Aston Villa while Dean Smith helms Arsenal remains irresistible.

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