“Things had to change”

Adam Crozier arrived at Lancaster Gate in January promising to usher in reform, if not revolution. The FA’s alarmingly young chief executive spoke to Mike Ticher about the FA Cup, the 2006 World Cup bid, the England team and other disasters he inherited

Shortly after you were appointed you were quoted as saying the FA was “a bit of a shambles”. How did you find it when you arrived?
I think like everyone else I had a view from the outside on what the problems might be, but it was more of a shambles than I expected. The first 20 people I asked in the FA “What do you think you’re here to do?” I got 19 different answers. And I think that’s one reason why the FA was always so reactive, because people didn’t really understand what they were here for. The bas­ic philosophy was, whatever you do, don’t cock up. And when you start from that point of view, the one thing that leads you to do is not make any decisions. From an organisational point of view people didn’t know who reported to who. People were doing jobs they weren’t qualified to do. So we reorganised Lancaster Gate from top to bottom and ag­reed a new three-year plan. We’ve got all the building blocks in place now and we’re ready to move on to the next stage.

Does it help in pushing through reform that you come from a non-football background?
Well, I don’t think you could do it unless you love football, you have to have that. But it does help coming from outside. You see some of the issues very clearly and you don’t have the baggage of past relationships – “He did this to me and I did this to him”. It makes it much easier to avoid all of that nonsense and just do the right thing. And the other thing is, there’s no doubt this is the most exciting time to have a job like this. Because in many ways last year was as bad as it could have been for the FA. Almost everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong. But the good thing about that was it cre­ated a climate where people realised things had to change.

Could it be that coming from advertising you just bring a different kind of jargon and bureaucracy?
Not at all. If you want to simplify it, what it’s all about is bringing in really top-class people, making sure the structure’s right for them to operate in, that they’re all very clear what it is they’re here to do and that they’re accountable – if they don’t achieve it, they’re out. Now you don’t need to dress that up in fancy language, that’s just common sense. So you set about attacking the things that need to be changed but, importantly, keeping the things that work. A lot of what we’ve done on the FA Cup, for example, is actually about going back to tradition, rather than moving away from it, which is what it’s been doing for the last couple of years. As always, when there’s a period of change, people think, oh, that means they want to change everything. I don’t. I want to keep the things that work.

What does the FA have to do to get respect back in its relations with other countries after the 2006 World Cup bid?
We were probably repaid for 20 or 30 years of neglect on 2006. I think traditionally Eng­land’s been seen as a bit of an island, aloof from the system – “We gave you the game and that’s the end of it”. What we’re working on now is that if we want to have a voice then we have to take part. As we know, more and more, what happens at FIFA and UEFA level comes back to haunt us. The world club championship was a classic example. We’ve already had a mas­sive success in getting [FA chairman] Geoff Thompson on to UEFA’s executive committee and in­creased our representation on their com­mittees fourfold, which is terrific – I think we’re second now only to Germany in the number of people we’ve got. would say we lost the 2006 bid for two specific reasons. One is that we were bookended by two very difficult issues. First the so-called gentleman’s agreement, which meant that no one in Europe was supporting us, and second the hooligan issue at the end. I think the bid team did a very good job of getting us back in the frame, but the hooligan issue meant all those people who might have voted for us as a second preference basically did not want to be seen to be rewarding England for what happened. The second thing was, what we’ve just been talking about, we were always on the outside looking in. And I don’t think you can win anything like that.

Doesn’t that also mean learning from the way other countries have done things?
We have to be much more outward looking than we’ve ever been. I think there used to be a feeling that you could only do something if it had been thought of within the FA. There’s no harm in borrowing or cribbing a great idea – the trick is to learn the right things from the right people. For example, I think the Australian Institute of Sport has been great for focusing a coun­try on how important sport is and bringing talent to the top. The French have also done the most magnificent job. They did that because they took a conscious decision ten years ago to do it and laid the long-term foundations. And then they were pat­ient enough to see it through and accepted that they couldn’t fix things in five minutes. What we have to do is look at all the best examples, learn from it and try not to make the mistakes that they made along the way.

What can or should the FA be doing to change the behaviour of England fans travelling abroad?
The new legislation is important and it’s good that we got that through. I do understand that it may mean the odd innocent person suffers, but I think at the moment the greater need is to cut out the crap. So that’s a good first step, but anyone who thinks that’s a solution on its own is mad. One of the things we have to work out with the government is changing the culture of what it means to follow England abroad. And that’s really dif­ficult to do, because you’re breaking down behaviour that’s built up over a long period of time, and which, the government would be the first to admit, is not about football. You can see the same thing when you go on holiday, in lots of different places. It just happens to get more attention around football. So that part of it is not something that football can solve on its own. But at least people are now admitting what the problems are. Because I don’t think it is about the 0.1 of a per cent. It’s bigger than that and I think people are beginning to get that through their heads.

The FA’s name is attached to the Premiership, but the FA doesn’t run it. How have you found relations between the two?
Everyone always thinks that there’s a lot of infighting going on, and actually, on the whole, there isn’t. On the bigger issues, like transfer fees, people are a  lot closer together than you might imagine. It doesn’t mean there aren’t things that we dis­agree on. What’s helped a lot is that both myself and [Premier League chief executive] Richard Scudamore are new to it and, as I said before, we don’t have any baggage. I think in fairness the Premier League have begun to review their position and that’s why you see them contributing to things like the Football Foundation. Of course people can argue about whether it’s the right amount of money or the wrong amount of money, but it’s a lot more than was there before. We also work hugely together on the football academies and centres of excellence. In a way that’s the most important thing we’re doing at the moment. The No 1 focus for us has to be to develop a bigger pool of English talent. Now we have to do that in conjunction with the clubs, and I have to say they have been fan­tastically supportive. Because we all want the same thing, which is the maximum number of top class English players.  But in the end, we have different roles. Our job is to lead the succ­essful development of football at every level. The Premier League’s job is to run the most exciting league in the world. They’re not the same thing.

Do you foresee increasing friction with the clubs over the demands of the national team on their players?

There’s a lot of noise on that issue, but there’s one fundamental issue, which was shown by what went wrong at Euro 2000. When the England team does well, it is fantastic for the whole of football, including all the clubs. The two recent upsurges in English football occurred after Italia 90 and Euro 96. It creates this huge halo effect, which drives up attendances, gets kids playing the game, gets people interested in the game who had maybe lapsed, it brings more money into the game, which helps to provide better facilities. And in doing badly, you’re reminded of that, because the morale goes down a bit.

But as clubs get richer and more powerful, doesn’t that inevitably diminsh the national team?
You talk to the vast majority of top-class players and they are still obsessed with being picked for England. If you look at the newspaper reports on injured players, it’s always “I hope I’m fit to face…” not Liverpool, not Man Utd, but France or Germany. They want to be in that team. Our answer on the issue of availability has perhaps been different from others. What we’ve agreed is that we will concentrate on top-class friendlies and competitive games. So we’ve had Argentina, Brazil, Ukraine, then France in September, Italy in November and Spain next February. There’s no difficulty getting players released for that. What we’ve also done is not taken up all our dates. We didn’t play a game this month and we probably won’t play one in April, because it’s just at a time of the season when it’s not good for anyone.

You mentioned that France had the patience to wait ten years for success. But you have said the aim of the new funding going into the grassroots is for England to win the World Cup in 2006. Isn’t that a bit of a hostage to fortune?
I suppose in a way it is, but on the other hand do you seriously think they’re sitting in Brazil or Italy saying, “I wonder how we can work out a way to get to the quarter-finals”? Or are they sitting there thinking, “OK, what do we have to do to win?” The reason we’ve set it up as winning it in 2006 is not that we don’t want to win it before then, because of course we do, but it’s not a figure that’s plucked out of thin air either. At that stage, the academies are two or three years into existence and you should start to see the really great kids coming through. At the same time, the better young players like the Beckhams and the Owens who are there now should absolutely be at their peak.

Shouldn’t “grassroots” funding by definition also be for non-elite players?
It is vital to make sure all the right facilities are there to get the elite players to the top. But the second half of it is to make sure in the long term as many people as possible participate in football, whether it’s playing on a Saturday or Sunday morning, going along to watch, or watching it on TV. Because football is there for fun. You have to do both of those things at the same time. And those people deserve the right facilities to go along and have fun with – not the crap that they’ve got at the minute.

You wouldn’t consider that you’d failed if England didn’t win the World Cup in 2006?
I think the first job is to get in the frame, because we’re not in the frame at the moment. We should be in a situation of going into every major tournament knowing that we’re in the top four or five who could possibly win. Where Euro 2000 may be helpful in the long run is that in the past we’ve gone out with glorious failure. The problem with glorious failure is that the glory means no one remembers it was a failure. So you dis­guise it and people move on and think everything’s fine. And actually everything isn’t fine. So in the end that short, sharp shock may actually be quite helpful, painful though it is.

You have put a lot of stress on the importance of reviving the FA Cup. Would you agree that a lot of its problems have been inflicted by the FA themselves?
It’s difficult for me to look back on decisions that have been made in the past because I can’t do anything about them. But in saying that, we would never make decisions like that again, categorically. This is a difficult year, in that a lot of the changes we’ve brought in – getting it on BBC, getting the replays in the same week, moving the games back to being just on a Saturday or Sunday and then the draw on Sunday night – those things have to wait for a year because they are part of the new contract. We’ve moved the third round back to January, which I think is really important, and after this season we’ll get the final back to being the last game of the season, so I think within a year we’ll have fixed everything that needed fixing. But unfortunately we have to go through a process that, if the right decisions had been made in the first place, we wouldn’t have had to do.

Given the lure of the Champions League and the Premiership for the very biggest clubs, isn’t it too late to rekindle their interest in the Cup?
I don’t think so, because the clubs, the players and the man­agers love the FA Cup. It is the people’s competition, because it’s the one competition where everyone starts on an even footing.  I think the great thing about the way we’re reorganising the FA Cup is that it gets back to the principle that when the Cup is on, it takes over. People need a break from the league, even the Premier League. I know they’re going to look at the structure of the Champions League, because  it’s crossed that bridge between being a cup and a league and it’s become more like a league. I think in the last year it’s become less attractive because of it and even the bigger clubs agree on that, they’re the ones who are now saying they want it fixed.

Do you expect complaints about the new fines for breaches of discipline?
There were lots of problems with the old system and the main one that I find in talking to players or managers or anyone connected to football, including the fans, was that they felt it was unfair. It was shrouded in mystery and you never knew what was going to come out. I think what we’ve got now is very fair, very transparent, all the punishments are laid down, everyone will be treated exactly the same. Not surprisingly, people have focused on the bigger ones, but the truth is that anyone who behaves properly is totally unaffected by that. But for those that are, we have to see it through from day one. We have to enforce the punishment, no matter how unpopular it is. It’s only by doing that that people will realise we’re deadly serious about it. What we can’t have is people crying wolf and saying “Look, that’s a really serious incident” when it isn’t.

On the evidence of the first Premiership games, the new system hardly seems to have reduced the potential for controversy.
If you take the Sunderland-Arsenal game on the first day of the season, Patrick Vieira now knows exactly what he’s going to get, he’s gone for three matches, that’s it [the interview took place be­fore Vieira’s red card against Liverpool]. In terms of the crowd­ing round the referee after that incident, he has writ­ten to us already to say that at no stage did he feel he was being confronted, in fact three of the players were actively calming it down. What we’ve also told the referees to do, if that’s not the case, is just to cite it, to say “Look at this, they definitely con­fronted me, can you take care of it?” Where we’ve got to be careful is in not diving in and exaggerating incidents. Because it is a man’s game and you’ve got to be careful.

It’s odd that you say it’s a man’s game, since you’ve taken pains to stress the importance of the women’s game since you took the job.
Funnily enough, one of things we’ve been trying to say about women’s football is that it is different. I think one problem is that they keep getting it com­pared to the men’s game, and as long as they do that it’ll always be second best. One of the things that we’re trying to say is that women’s football is a great game in its own right. We are committed to having a professional league in three years, you can feel it coming – Fulham are already professional, Croydon have become Charlton and no doubt they will go full-time. And I think we’ve just got to make sure that when it turns fully professional it’s ready for it and it can genuinely stand on its own feet.

Can you see it taking off as a spectator sport?
I think it’ll take time. For girls, it’s the fastest-growing sport in the country, and they’re going to grow up wanting to carry on playing football. What they need, just like the men, are some heroes, and in America that’s happened already. That’s what we’ve got to encourage here and that will happen with a professional league. But it may take five to ten years to be really big.

What impact do you expect your new financial compliance unit to have on the way clubs are run?
It’s got two main roles. One is to investigate any potential wrongdoing and it will be getting regular financial information from the clubs to ensure that they catch that. So in other words, to stop a Crystal Palace before it happens, rather than sort out the mess after it’s happened. The second thing is to give clubs help. A lot of clubs are in financial difficulty and a lot of them can’t afford or don’t know how to go about fixing it. What we can have is a team of people who can go in and say, right, if you’re going to get yourselves out of this, here are the ten things you need to do. It’s not just about a business going down, it’s a whole community being affected, and that’s why we have to get involved.

What about the FA’s relationship with fans? It’s hardly been a close one in the past.
What we have to do is listen a lot more to what people are saying. We’re about to produce our own document on how we think the fans should be treated, and how we will treat them on any FA occasion. We will also work as the end point in the hierarchy, so that if people feel they’ve had no proper redress from a club or the Football League or the Premier Lea­gue, then we’re the next step. We have already started to listen to fans more. Our new TV deal, for ex­ample, has been very popular. We’ve got competitive internationals back on BBC1, which I think is where they should be. We’ve got the FA Cup back on BBC, where many people would like it to be. Most of the fans I’ve spok­en to believe we’ve gone a long way to redressing that particular issue. Though football in general is obsessed with the short term, I think fans are quite good at understanding that we need to think longer-term. So when you say you’re not going to fix issues in five minutes, it’s going to take a few years, they get that. And if they know you’re trying to do the right thing, they will back you

From WSC 164 October 2000. What was happening this month