THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

{mosimage} 23 March ~ At today’s emergency board meeting, the FA will find itself looking for its sixth chief executive in a little over ten years after Ian Watmore confirmed his decision to resign. Watmore, in the job since June last year, handed his resignation to FA Chairman Lord Triesman on Friday. Triesman asked him to give the matter further thought over the weekend. The statement issued by the FA offered no reason for the resignation and the chance of a change of heart was made more unlikely when an email was leaked over the weekend about the appointment of Sky’s Julian Eccles as the FA’s communications director. Watmore is said to have been furious about the leak and made his views clear in an email of his own to FA Board members. 

Although there has been plenty of speculation that the relationship between Watmore and Triesman had been at times tense, the indications are that this was not the case and it was not a crucial factor in his decision. More likely, he seems to have become disillusioned with the difficulties he faced in getting things done and the slow process of decision-making through the FA’s committee structure. Sky Sports have been reporting that Watmore found the FA to be “riddled with vested interests”. He will have gained an early insight into that with the infighting on the Board managing the 2018 World Cup bid.

He was not the first chief executive to have a difficult relationship with the Leagues and with some clubs. His ideas for “reviving” the FA Cup did not go down well. Nevertheless he established a good working relationship with the Premier League’s Richard Scudamore and the pair co-operated well around Portsmouth’s difficulties. He seems to have been less successful with the Premier League chairman Sir Dave Richards whom he faced regularly on a range of FA committees. The view that seems to be emerging is that there was no single factor but an accumulation of issues that led him to conclude his position was untenable.

The FA's general standing has been diminished by its failure to take a stance on key issues facing the game, such as leveraged buy-outs, opaque club ownership structures and mounting debt. It is easy to take a view that Watmore’s departure doesn’t really matter that much. But one of the things that make his resignation so surprising is that it is less than a month since he announced a new management team and set out ten priorities for the coming year. And it is in those priorities, and the risk that they may slip even more, that a cause for disappointment can be found.

From the outset, Watmore championed the National Football Centre and the formation of the Women’s Super League. He had listed work to bring non-affiliated leagues, including Asian leagues, into the FA structure. Opinions differ, but there is a view that because League clubs concentrate their scouting on affiliated leagues this is an important factor in the under representation of Asians in the professional game. He was a supporter of UEFA’s moves to try to restore integrity to the game and was seeking a more co-ordinated approach to youth development. It’s easy to dismiss these as simply aspirations, as the right things to say – but at least he was saying them.

For some Watmore will be seen as naive in believing that he could bring about change quickly in such a conservative environment, others will see him as a decisive administrator hampered by internal politics. Either way, after less than a season in the job, and with the World Cup on the horizon, it’s very bad timing. Brian Simpson

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