Family Affairs: The Problem of Nepotism in Football


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What is Nepotism and Favouritism?

            The Oxford Dictionary defines nepotism as a noun referring to the practice of giving unfair advantages to your own family if you are in a position of power, especially by giving them jobs.

            Nepotism has been a widely recognised and problematic aspect of society since the beginning of humankind. Whilst it is seen as an issue, it remains visible and pertinent throughout almost every industry, from banking to education to the army. Favouritism is a similar concept but involves friends being placed into positions or benefitting in a different way, rather than family.

Importantly, both concepts are common within football. Many significant figures in the world of football, from sporting directors, agents, coaching staff, scouts and even players are able to benefit from relatives and are placed into roles as a result of their family’s influence over clubs. In this blog I will first present a brief outline of nepotism and favouritism that occurs within football before exploring the motivations, legality and ethical implications of the concepts.

Examples

            There are many examples of Nepotism and Favouritism in modern football. From Zinedine Zidane signing his son as a player to Carlo Ancelotti employing his son as his assistant coach at Everton, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich to former Arsenal chairman, David Dein, helping his son sign players like Thierry Henry and Cesc Fabregas!

            One notable serial-offender of nepotism is the all-time great, legendary Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson. He begun by signing his son, Darren, for four years at United. He then placed his brother, Martin, into the role of Chief European Scout for the club, despite having no previous scouting experience. Despite Sir Alex’s public dislike of agents, labelling them the biggest problem in football, he then helped Darren’s twin Jason in sports media before becoming an agent and, at one time, managing 13 Manchester United clients. Darren then benefitted again from his father’s power as manager of Preston and Peterborough as his father loaned him many young talents and boosted his financial prospects.

            Nepotism happens across the world of football, regardless of the country or the league. At Bayern Munich, the President, Karl Heinz Rummenigge’s brother and son both operate as agents. Uli Hoeness, another club official at Bayern has also helped his brother, Dieter, as an agent and Dieter’s son, Sebastian, become a Bayern Munich youth coach and Hoffenheim manager.

            Roberto Mancini epitomised nepotism when he signed his sons, Andrea and Filippo, for Manchester City and neither of them played a game whilst collecting their wages. The same with Tony Pulis, who signed his son, Anthony, at three of the clubs he managed, Portsmouth, Plymouth and Stoke. Again, Pulis’ son featured minimally for each team and twice in four years for Stoke!

Why does it happen?

            Of course, a natural instinct for humans is to protect and help your family and friends. Lots of the motivation for acts of nepotism in football come from this. Many benefit from the power of relatives and friends and are able to be put into positions they would otherwise not have been able to obtain.

            Not all of it is about family love. A lot of nepotism is incentivised by financial reasons. Direct and indirect kickbacks are commonplace through nepotism. Club officials, such as Sporting Director’s may have family or friends in agency and will either give information to them about a certain player who the club may want to sign or sell and will involve the relative or friend in the deal. They will then be entitled to some of the remuneration that their friend or relative receives and benefit financially from the process.

            Sometimes, it is even more direct. A club official will point a player in the direction of a certain agent or connect the player’s agent with a family member or friend that will then off them a split in the deal, made attractive by the inside information the relative or friend may have been given to help involve themselves in the transaction. Once again, eventually, the club official ends up receiving kickbacks from the deal whilst also helping their family or friends.

What’s the problem and is it legal?

            In the UK and European countries, nepotism is currently not illegal under present legislation laws. However, in the US, it is a punishable criminal offence. Just because it is legal, does not mean that it is ethical.

The problem with nepotism lies in the immorality of gifting a person a role or financial benefit despite them not warranting it by their own merit. For example, if a manager signs his son instead of a more talented youth player, the opportunity is unfairly taken away, despite having better capability and potential than the son. There is never a fundamental issue with a family member or friend gaining employment for a significant role if they are qualified and successful enough to have earned the job based on merit. If a family member is given a job in a club, one must question whether they have deserved this employment through their own aptitude or whether they benefited from the power of a relative in being able to gift them the job.

It is clear that nepotism in general, and specifically in football, is an unethical practice. So, we can question why there has not been legislation created to prevent it. Football governing bodies should consider nepotism a significant enough problem in football that they should invest in policies of minimizing or eradicating it. Regardless of national legislation, football could have its own rules around investigating and monitoring the relationships between family members and friends at football clubs and in powerful roles.

Whilst it is certainly a difficult task to control as it could be subjective whether a family member or friend is good enough for the role they obtain within a club, it is important that others are not deprived of opportunities in football because of nepotism allowing underserving candidates to succeed ahead of them. It is a consideration that will improve the morality of the football world.

Conclusion

            I have shown in this blog that nepotism is a very relevant issue in the football world. At the highest level, from the Premier League to La Liga to the Bundesliga, nepotism is rife throughout even the top clubs.

            Nepotism allows individuals, families and friends to benefit financially and in their careers through the power of their close circle in being able to place them into important positions such as scouts, club officials, players, coaches and agents.

            I have also explained that nepotism and favouritism, whilst not illegal, is an unethical practice. It is difficult to legislate against and attempts to prevent it from occurring must be considered thoughtfully and cautiously. However, it is vital that, in order for football to become more morally endearing, nepotism should be minimized by football governing bodies and their own laws.

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