Black coaches are rare in football. Is this because of a lack of diversity in the boardroom?


Ricky Hill packed his bags and prepared to uproot his life again. Next stop: Chicago. The former England international football player is accustomed to making sacrifices and traveling far to build his coaching career, an effort he says has been stymied because he is Black.

"It is something that I hate to do because home is where the heart is," Hill said of leaving behind his wife of 38 years and his 99-year-old mother to chase a rare management opportunity.

Racism has long permeated the world's most popular sport, with players subjected to racist chants and taunts online. While football governing bodies such as FIFA and UEFA have taken steps to combat the abuse of players, the lack of diversity in the upper ranks at major clubs remains an unsolved problem.

"It's two fights for equality," Hill told The Associated Press.

Hill — who as a teenager in the 1970s was among the first generation of Black players in England — says he routinely faced racist abuse from fans when he played for Luton Town.

"You would hear songs about you, see people spitting, that kind of vitriolic behavior."

That racism, he says, has continued to hold him back in the pursuit of his top-flight coaching dream.

"The difficulty we've had as racially diverse individuals and Black individuals, specifically, is there is no way of showing your worth as a coach or manager without actually having the opportunity to do so," he said.

The issue needs to be considered "through a Black lens," Delroy Corinaldi, co-founder of the British-based advocacy group Black Footballers Partnership, told The AP.

A BFP report in 2022 found that while some 43% of players in England's Premier League are Black, only 4% land coaching jobs in English professional football. There are currently only two Black managers in the Premier League.


Under-representation is not just an English problem. There are only two Black head coaches in France's Ligue 1, one in Italy's Serie A, and none in the top divisions of Spain and Germany.

Wilfried Nancy, who is French, built his coaching career with Montreal in Canada and he now leads Ohio's championship-winning Columbus Crew. He is the only Black head coach in MLS.

Nancy is puzzled by the lack of diversity in football coaching in Europe and the U.S.

"A lot of people like me, we have a lot of competency, but they don't have the opportunity for the moment to do it," he said.

Hill is standing up to racism in the sport. In 2022, he sued MLS and the USL Championship claiming discrimination after repeatedly being overlooked for jobs despite his decorated coaching career with Tampa Bay Rowdies and in Trinidad and Tobago.


A lack of diversity in boardrooms may be the root of the problem.

The Football Association in England launched a leadership diversity code in 2020, setting hiring targets to address inequality. Yet its most recent report in November said workforce representation still does not reflect the diversity of players. Of last season's hires, the report said, 9% of senior leaders, 11% of team operations, 16% of coaches and 9% of senior coaches were Black, Asian or of mixed heritage.

FA chief executive Mark Bullingham admits there is "still a huge amount of work to be done."

Burnley coach Vincent Kompany, who is Black, said this must be addressed to effect real change.

"If you have a boardroom that's diverse, you can't brush things under the carpet," Kompany said.

The Premier League's Coach Inclusion and Diversity Scheme aims to increase minority representation in coaching. The initiative provides coaches with a bursary and work placements.

Yet the BFP's latest report found that non-Black former players are 50% more likely than their Black counterparts to progress into management in England, and Black managers or assistants are 41% more likely to be fired.

"They are less likely to get in. Once they get in they are less likely to get promoted. And once they do get promoted they are more likely to get fired," one of the report's authors, Stefan Szymanski, a professor of sport management at the University of Michigan, told AP. "I'd like to hear what an explanation of this is, other than racism."


Two of the biggest coaching jobs in football will become available at the end of the season. And while it is not yet clear who will fill the positions at Liverpool and Bayern Munich, it's highly unlikely the successful candidates will be Black.

The standout favorite is Xabi Alonso, who is less than two years into his first job as head coach with Bayer Leverkusen. Alonso, who is white, had a distinguished playing career with Liverpool, Real Madrid and Bayern, and Bayer is on course to win the German title this season.

"You have to be fair. Who's qualified to do that job?" former Premier League player Troy Deeney told AP. "Part of the argument isn't to just say, 'Give Black people, women, whoever you think is marginalized, just give them the job.' Who's the Black manager that's doing really well at the moment that deserves that job?"

Ruud Gullit, then one of the most celebrated players in the world, became the Premier League's first Black manager when he was appointed by Chelsea in 1996. Multiple Champions League-winner Clarence Seedorf was hired by Italian giant AC Milan in 2014. He lasted only four months.

But high-profile Black players are more commonly hired as coaches to low-level teams.

Former England internationals Paul Ince and Sol Campbell began their managerial careers with then-fourth division team Macclesfield. Ince's only top-flight job was with Blackburn in 2008. He was fired after less than six months and has not been hired by a Premier League club since.

Meanwhile, Campbell's ex-England teammate, Frank Lampard, who is white, has held three Premier League coaching positions on the back of his one year at second division Derby.

Deeney was hired as head coach of fourth-tier Forest Green Rovers in December, but was fired less than a month later. He remains determined.

"If the reports coming out are suggesting the scale is tipped not in my favor, it doesn't mean I don't play the game. It just means I've got to play the game harder than everybody else," he said.

Hill had a four-month spell as manager of Luton, then in the third tier of English football, and has struggled to find work in England ever since. He has just taken a position as executive director of Evolution Soccer in suburban Chicago.

"The industry is such that everyone wants to stay in it and only a certain number of people can," he said. "But, disproportionately, Black people do not manage to stay within the game at a far greater rate than anyone else."


Inspiration could be drawn from the U.S., where the formerly white-dominated NFL implemented rules to try to level the playing field for people of color seeking positions as head coaches, general managers and executives.

The Rooney Rule requires teams to interview at least one person of color for a head coach position, and if any team loses a minority coach or executive to another team, it is awarded compensatory picks in upcoming drafts.

The system has paid off.

In the NFL, four minority head coaches have been hired this year and there's a record nine coaches of color entering the 2024 season.

A similar scheme was adopted by England football's lower divisions in 2019, but statistics show diversity remains an issue.

Last week, the government introduced legislation to create an independent regulator in English football. Szymanski said this could push clubs to commit to diversity where FA and Premier League incentives have failed.

"I would say voluntary arrangements have shown themselves not to be satisfactory," he said. "You need some kind of regulation to push the clubs to embrace change."

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