David Davies may not sound like your typical manager – he got a politics degree, trained as a teacher and spent 22 years at the BBC before joining the FA and eventually becoming its executive director. But then, few would describe the FA as a typical organisation. ‘You quickly learn what it is like to manage in a goldfish bowl,’ he says of his time at the helm. ‘We went through an extraordinary three-week period where there wasn’t a day without the photographers outside. People say it must be amazing to never have a dull day. But we used to have an expression at the FA: ‘Dull is good’. You can’t describe what that’s like, managing under siege.’
The three-week period to which he refers came back in 2004, when Davies found himself with a starring role in the ‘Fariagate’ scandal. When news emerged that his PA Faria Alam had been involved in a love triangle with England boss Sven Goran Eriksson and the FA chief executive Mark Palios, Alam tagged on a sexual discrimination allegation against Davies too. Davies was cleared, but the fall-out lasted 11 months. ‘I call football the world soap opera,’ he says. ‘Perhaps I appeared in rather too many episodes.’
Davies clearly thinks that running the FA isn’t the easiest job in the world – not least because the nature of the game plays havoc with those who come from a background of charts and figures. ‘There’s a view that you can bring the business practices you’ve used in your career into sport, and you’ll win,’ he says. ‘You do what the Harvard Business Review has taught you, and the ball hits the post and goes out instead of in. Alan Sugar is a reasonably successful business person, but I heard him say that his tenure at Tottenham wasn’t the most successful period of his life.’
During Davies’ 12 years at the FA (where he was executive director from 2003 to 2006, and did two lengthy stints as acting CEO), the organisation lost four CEOs in little more than nine years. Reports of internal strife at the FA were clearly not exaggerated. But rather blaming the media, as others have done, he thinks its problems boil down to a lack of coherent aims. ‘There are no agreed priorities for English football – talk to the Premier League, the FA, the Football League, the Conference, and they all give you a different priority.’
Then there’s the issue of corporate governance. The Premier League’s board consists entirely of its chairman and chief executive. That’s it. ‘I spoke to Sir Derek Higgs about that,’ says Davies, ‘and he didn’t think I was telling the truth.’
Davies is now backing Lord Treisman, the FA’s current chairman, who has recently called for greater transparency in the running of the sport. Davies believes Treisman is the man to cajole the various warring factions into some sort of order. ‘He has the business background, has spent time in politics, he even trained as a referee,’ he says. ‘And he has a sense of humour. Can he do it? Time will tell. Will they let him do it? Time will tell.’
The trouble is, no amount of transparency will ever help that ball bounce on the right side of the goalpost...
'FA Confidential - Sex, Drugs and Penalties: The Inside Story of English Football' by David Davies (with Henry Winter) is out now in hardback, published by Simon & Schuster. RRP £17.99.
In today's bulletin:
Recession is here - but cheer up
Ashley spends £3m at JJB
MT's Little Ray of Sunshine: More fuel for engine room
Editor's blog: Bambino crisis in Italy
Books Special: David Davies on FA Confidential