David Bernstein reached 70 on May 22. Hence he has to step down this week as chairman of the Football Association in the middle of its 150th anniversary party.
Bernstein will be succeeded by Greg Dyke. The latter’s record suggests a more bullishly aggressive approach than that of the suave former French Connection chairman [who oversaw the FCUK promotional campaign].
January 2011 saw the one-time Manchester City chairman’s elevation to leadership of the English game. He succeeded Geoff Thompson six weeks after England’s high-visibility failure in the bidding for host rights for the 2018 World Cup finals.
Bernstein’s leadership of the FA has seen progress in a number of domestic spheres. Renovation of youth development has continued and St George’s Park was unveiled finally at the heart of the FA’s coaching vision going forward.
He offered the impression of a safe pair of hands and sought to finesse some of the proposals of the Burns Report into the governance of English football.
Sports Minister Hugh Robertson was barely satisfied with the slow pace of progress so a faint possibility of government intervention remains in the air.
This is hardly Bernstein’s fault. The chairman of the FA is squeezed between the needs of the grassroots game and the pressure of the Premier League. One of the victims of this perpetual stand-off is the England national team itself. The failings of a compromise approach was evidenced by the implosion of a weakened under-21s at the recent European finals in Israel.
Bernstein’s reign also encompassed the storm over racial abuse. He had been chairman for only nine months when the John Terry and (original) Luis Suarez incidents exploded. In time Bernstein may reflect that in bringing a unified focus to the issue he played a significant role in driving FIFA and UEFA into long-overdue recognition of the problem.
In the international political arena Bernstein’s era will viewed as more negative than positive. His work within UEFA has been more effective than on the FIFA stage. Wembley has hosted the Champions League Final twice and highly successfully during his reign; David Gill has also stepped out of the club world as England’s new representative on the European federation’s executive committee.
FIFA has been a very different matter.
Bernstein’s first appearance in most delegates’ vision was in standing up at FIFA Congress in 2011 and opposing the re-election of Sepp Blatter as president even though there was no other candidate. Such a step was politically courageous on Bernstein’s first FIFA outing as FA chairman. However he did so despite being asked to refrain by UEFA president Michel Platini and the gesture backfired spectacularly.
Influential figures such as FIFA vice-presidents Julio Grondona and Angel Maria Villar immediately stood up not only to disagree but to question the historical enjoyment by England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales of independent international status.
This was far more damaging to Irish, Scottish and Welsh concerns over international singularity than ever their participation in the Great Britain Olympic football project would have proved [They left it all to the FA despite approving the hosting of Olympic matches in Glasgow and Cardiff].
Reason was simple. The anomaly pointed up by Bernstein’s critics gave FIFA reform leaders Mark Pieth and then German Theo Zwanziger all the ammunition they needed to drive through the death of the British vice-presidency and open up to examination the make-up of the law-making International Board (four votes for the UK, four for FIFA).
Bernstein’s vain proposal – which would left crisis-hit FIFA rudderless for at least six months at the worst possible time – has been held up ever since by Blatter as a gesture of sour grapes at the World Cup bid disaster.
It took Bernstein and the FA six months to start mending fences with FIFA but the British vice-presidency [written into statutes by Sir Stanley Rous in 1946] will become ‘just another’ UEFA delegate once Jim Boyce has completed his term in 2015. Suggestions that UEFA will allocate the seat to a British representative may be taken with a pinch of political salt.
It will be fascinating to see how Dyke deals with FIFA and Blatter. To be fair, it is unlikely to be among his priorities. There is plenty enough to concern him at home, never mind abroad.