Thursday, 21 September 2017
Louder Than Words
For me, this goal celebration on Tuesday night - the first of 6 goals against Russia in the first World Cup qualifier from Prenton Park - led by goalscorer Nikita Parris and taken up by the whole team speaks louder than any words. At the risk of alienating some people and appearing controversial, I am deeply saddened and frustrated that the FA chose to sack Mark Sampson.
Let's look at the facts and admittedly this can be hard to do with such murky half statements, hints and suggestions that are swirling around this whole incident. Chelsea striker Eni Aluko made allegations of bullying and discrimination against Sampson, suggesting that she had not been picked for the squad because he is racist. Evidence flagged up to suggest a bullying practice within the team's coaching included a recorded commentary in which a coach said she is 'lazy as f*ck'. I see nothing racist in that comment. In fact what I see is a coach who has concerns over her commitment or capability to play for her country. In a TV interview Aluko stated that the first time she wasn't picked in eleven years occurred after such an incident. Surely the clue here is in her own words? Aluko is now thirty years of age and in two years time when it comes to the World Cup she will be 32/33. A manager must consider the long term benefits to the squad and unfortunately for Aluko that may mean not being selected and allowing younger players a chance to shine. The vibe I get from Eni Aluko is that she is someone who believes that playing for her country is a right not a privilege that she must work for.
Aluko subsequently claimed that Sampson made a remark regarding her Nigerian family and the Ebola virus, a remark he strenuously denies. Now if this remark did actually occur then Sampson is an idiot. Is he a racist? I don't think so. To me this is just an example of ill advised banter in a culture that places 'bants' highly; the kind of stereotyping comment that he, as a Welshman, has probably born the brunt of many times with the old 'sheep shagging' gag. If he did say that, I don't for one moment think race or the colour of Aluko's skin entered into his mind.
Sampson was cleared by two inquiries over Aluko's allegations, and it's clear from that photo that the team have the upmost faith in him as a manager and as a person. Aluko's sour grapes spilled over onto Twitter with a near incoherent ramble that effectively alienated her even further from her former Lioness teammates, proving once again that she simply isn't team orientated. This came not long after she called everyone who attested to having positive experiences of Sampson's coaching 'enablers' for racism - an unfair comment given that her desire for a further inquiry was based on hearing all views...all views except perhaps those that do not support her own experience perhaps?
The tipping point to this whole saga came yesterday when fresh allegations came to light regarding Sampson's previous role as the coach of Bristol Academy. This is where things get complicated as, beyond a mention of a 'safeguarding issue', we haven't been told what this complaint amounts to. However what we do now is that he was cleared in this inquiry too. So why is it that a man who has been proved innocent three times in a row has been sacked for misconduct?
And why is it the FA paid Aluko £80,000 compensation? The FA come out of this terribly it must be said; they claim not to have known about the Bristol allegation when they came to hire Sampson for the prestigious England job in 2013. The news only came to light, they say, in 2014 whereupon the inquiry commences that subsequently cleared Sampson's name. What makes things very murky indeed is the fact that this wasn't raised during these fresh allegations from Aluko.
In summary, it's a terrible mess and one which I feel the Lionesses will struggle to overcome. Losing a skilled, talented and passionate coach like Sampson will not help a team who have, under his tutelage, become one of the strongest international sides in the game and this has immediately seen them start the road to the World Cup on the back foot. Equally, should any new manager reinstate Aluko to the squad (which I feel they will inevitably do, for fear of being branded racist themselves) it will make for a decidedly fractious team given the comments that Aluko has made regarding what she perceives to be miss-placed faith and trust in Sampson.
I don't know, you ever get the feeling that we're not allowed successes in this country? It seems we as a nation delight in building people up only to knock them down. I know I won't be in step with everyone's opinion when I say this, but speaking as a long term fan of women's football, I fear a good manager's career has been ruined here.