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Darren Moore’s unexpected success shows European soccer needs more black coaches

Moore was given the job only when all hope for West Brom seemed long gone

If the Premier League consisted of just the last six weeks of the season, West Bromwich Albion’s Darren Moore would be the consensus choice for 2017-18 Manager of the Year.

Coming off resounding wins at Manchester United and Newcastle, along with valiant draws against Champions League finalist Liverpool and Swansea City, it seemed West Brom’s miracle run would end at home against Tottenham. Then suddenly, the late-season magic under Moore continued in dramatic fashion, with Jake Livermore scoring the only goal in the game’s final moments to give West Brom another extraordinary result. Not even record-breaking champions Manchester City were better in that five-match stretch than the side affectionately known as the Baggies.

Unfortunately for Moore and West Brom, this inspiring epoch came too late for them. As in 32 games late for them. The West Midlands club was the worst team in the Premier League for most of the 38-match season. And when you are at the nadir in the Premier League, that means relegation out of it. Southampton’s victory over Swansea City on May 8 ensured West Brom’s demotion next season to the second-division Championship league, sparking concerns about the club taking massive financial hits and losing its best players, as often happens when a team is relegated in European club soccer.

It is an inevitable but painful ending that Moore and his reinvigorated players have to face. But West Brom’s results under their last-ditch caretaker manager have led to two salient questions.

The first is both micro and obvious: Why wasn’t Moore named West Brom’s manager much earlier in the season, when the club had a real chance at survival? But the second one pertains to a broader, more important macro inquiry beyond the club’s inability to give Moore the job sooner:

Why is Moore part of an alarmingly small number of black coaches in the history of high-level English and European football?

For those who haven’t followed West Brom or the Premier League’s non-elite sides regularly, Moore was the third manager for West Brom this season, meaning he was passed over the first time the Hawthorns club had to make a coaching change. Alan Pardew was brought in to replace Tony Pulis with the club near the relegation zone (the worst three teams in the 20-team league) in late November 2017.

Pardew getting the job was a prime example of a good ol’ boys white coaching club in England and throughout European football, where white men get managing job after job despite coaching failures. Despite his poor tenure at Crystal Palace that ended in December 2016 and his ignominious moment of head-butting an opposing player, Pardew got his latest “second chance” to save West Brom’s season. He exacerbated the issues that led to their demise.

West Brom would go on to win just once in 18 league games under Pardew, with an eight-game losing streak capping his overextended time. Oh, how West Brom owner Guochuan Lai and club CEO Mark Jenkins must wish they had named Moore, a former standout player for West Brom, their replacement for Pulis last fall instead of Pardew. Not only would Premier League survival have been guaranteed for West Brom with Moore’s galvanizing tactics and speeches, but they could have even fulfilled their preseason ambition to finish in the top 10.

Pardew’s incompetence sadly is the only reason that Moore was given a chance, and it wasn’t a real one at all. West Brom had less than a 1 percent chance of survival the moment Lai and Jenkins begrudgingly gave him the hopeless role. It’s what makes the Baggies’ accomplishments even more extraordinary under Moore, who received a well-deserved Premier League Manager of the Month award for that unexpected run.

Moore’s appointment made it a rare moment in the Premier League, with two black managers simultaneously working during the season. But with West Brom now officially relegated, Brighton’s Chris Hughton most likely will again become the only black manager in the Premier League next season in August. It reiterates another embarrassing racial situation in which black British players make up at least 33 percent of native players in the Premier League, only to have less diversity in coaching than a Downton Abbey episode. Add that to the solid number of African and black South American players in the Premier League and there is no excuse for England’s top-flight competition being so dreadful at having black managers.

The dearth of black managers gets even more dire beyond the Premier League, when one examines the other big five Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) leagues’ anemic number of black managers. Compared with Hughton’s lone black representation in England’s best football division, of the 78 total clubs in the top leagues in Spain, Germany, Italy and France, the number of black coaches is two.

Spain’s La Liga, forever in a fierce debate with the Premier League for best domestic soccer league in the world, has at least a minuscule percentage of coaching diversity. With AC Milan legend Clarence Seedorf coaching Deportivo de La Coruña, it’s the only La Liga side to have a black manager. But Seedorf, like Moore, only got the job during the middle of the season with the club already in a below-average place in the standings. And despite his efforts, Deportivo hasn’t improved at all and has been relegated to Spain’s second division for next season, meaning the Iberian country will likely return to zero black coaches.

Germany, despite the country’s growing diversity and desire to give young managers chances to coach at the highest level, doesn’t have any black managers in its top league, the Bundesliga. Wolfsburg fired Valerien Ismael in February 2017 after he only got his chance during the season and not at the start of it. Ismael also didn’t get much time with, Wolfsburg’s poor start to that season being too much to overcome. He received only three months on the job and hasn’t received another one in Germany ever since.

Italy’s Serie A having an array of black managers is about as laughable as the pope being of darker pigmentation (before Rihanna, of course), with zero black managers right now. Seedorf was the league’s second black manager in its 120-year storied existence, and he only got the job at AC Milan in 2014 because he was one of the storied club’s greatest players. Seedorf’s hiring came two decades after Jarbas “Cane” Faustinho braved new waters after being hired by Napoli. Despite finishing in seventh place out of 18 teams in the 1994-95 campaign and winning a trophy (the now-defunct Coppa delle Alpi), Faustinho managed the Naples club for only that season. The Brazilian went on to never receive another Serie A or major European league coaching job again.

Surely Ligue 1 in France, a country with a vast array of black immigrants and black culture like England, would take the progressive mantle of truly diversifying its managerial ranks, which England has failed to do. But Ligue 1, just like La Liga, the Bundesliga and Serie A, makes the Premier League coaching roster seem as diverse as Wakanda.

The vastly experienced and qualified Antoine Kombouaré of Guingamp is the only black coach in France’s best league. And it appears Kombouaré and Hughton will be the only black managers in the big five European leagues come the start of the new seasons in the summer, meaning a whopping two black managers in 98 clubs.

These numbers are equally depressing when you see that among England’s top four football leagues (the Premier League and the three leagues below it in the English Football League pyramid), Hughton and Moore are the only black managers out of 92 clubs. And of the elite soccer clubs in the world, only Seedorf at AC Milan and former Barcelona tactician Frank Rijkaard had a chance to manage them. And similar to his fellow Dutchman Seedorf, Rijkaard was only able to manage at a place as great as Barcelona because he was a club legend.

Those statistics have led to the inevitable frustration from former black players not seeing chances for them to manage at the highest level. Former players such as Manchester United star Dwight Yorke, Reading’s Jason Roberts, Danny Gabbidon, 1960s Ghana star Osei Kofi, former Queens Park Rangers manager Chris Ramsey and others have highlighted how impossible it is for blacks to get coaching opportunities.

“If it’s not because of the color of our skin, then tell me what it is,” Yorke has said. “I’m speaking out about it.”

Even Hughton has expressed his concern over this everlasting dilemma.

“The lack [of minority managers], particularly at the top level, is very much a concern,” Hughton said last year. “One thing I’m more pleased about these days is that it is on the agenda and is spoken about more. But at the moment the results haven’t dramatically changed.”

With incidents of racist abuse from fans popping up from time to time in La Liga and especially in Serie A, changing the culture of owners and executives to hire black managers in Spain and Italy could take generations, if it ever happens. And it really doesn’t facilitate a willingness for diversity when Seedorf condemns his black players for letting racists cause them to protest, as he inexplicably did when he questioned Kevin-Prince Boateng’s actions in not tolerating disgusting fan behavior toward the Ghanaian midfielder when both were at AC Milan.

When these massive global leagues have a growing number of black players season by season, none of them can claim they lack the numbers to even consider diversifying their touchlines. Only England’s football governing body has implemented the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which requires teams or clubs to interview at least one minority candidate for the coach/manager’s position. But Premier League clubs have only scoffed at it by not adopting the rule in their managerial search. And it firmly showed again with the Pardew-Moore situation.

West Brom’s season didn’t have to be doomed to failure. But it was possible only because of their confidence in a banal, uninspiring choice of a multiple-times-fired white manager over a fresh black option who was firmly a part of their community. The Premier League and the other top leagues in Europe, however, do have the time to correct this systematic nonsense and not make the same mistake West Brom and so many of the continent’s clubs continue to do.

It was too late for Moore’s miracles to save his rejuvenated side. But his work could be the latest defining example of saving European football from the tiresome white managerial homogeneity unacceptable in these current times.

Because who needs to see Pardew get another chance when there are qualified managers of color like Moore waiting and begging for just their first one?

Andrew Jones is a sports, political and culture writer whose work has appeared on The Guardian, MSNBC, Ebony Magazine, Salon, SB Nation and The Intercept. He is also proud of his Brooklynite, "Do or Die" Bed-Stuy ways.