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Ex-Chelsea director Emenalo on racism in football: There needs to be a shift in how black players and managers are perceived

By The Rainbow
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Former Chelsea sporting director Michael Emenalo says “the narrative has to change” if black coaches are to be given the same opportunities as their white counterparts.

The issue of racism in society has been given greater prominence in recent months following the killing of American George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis in May, which sparked Black Lives Matter protests across the globe.

Premier League players and staff have shown their solidarity against racism by taking a knee before kick-off at every game , while the players also have ‘Black Lives Matter’ printed on their shirt sleeves.

Emenalo, though, believes there needs to be a more fundamental shift in how black players and managers are perceived if there is to be true equality in football.

Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo is currently the only manager from a black, Asian and minority ethnic background in the Premier League. Emenalo meanwhile is one of only two BAME technical directors in Premier League history along with Les Ferdinand, whose QPR side were relegated three months after his appointment as director of football in February 2015.

“The narrative has to change. The narrative right now is always that white is good,” he told the Guardian .

“So it doesn't matter what Chris Hughton produces as a manager. There's always someone saying a white guy can do it better. People need to do the right thing. Like Martin Luther King said: 'Judge me by my competence – not my skin colour.’

“When I sit behind the bench at a game, I want to be close to my work. But it's also so that people of my colour could say: 'I can do that.' People in the parking lot would say: 'Oh my God, you don't know what you mean to us.' Then I feel even worse because I want to say more.”

Emenalo joined Chelsea as chief scout in 2007 following a playing career that saw him play in five countries and feature for Nigeria at the 1994 World Cup. The 54-year-old was briefly promoted to assistant coach in 2010 before becoming technical director the following year.

He would go on to spend a decade at Stamford Bridge, overseeing a complete overhaul of the club's academy structure and being credited with the scouting and signing of players such as Kevin De Bruyne, Mohamed Salah, N’Golo Kante and Eden Hazard.

Despite those achievements, Emenalo felt he constantly had to prove himself to the 10 permanent or caretaker managers Chelsea went through in that time.

“Everybody has a misconception of my knowledge, insight and experience. I did it 10 times with 10 managers,” he added.

“Each time I climbed the hill and convinced them of my worth. I have a university degree in international relations and diplomacy. I know how to deal with people and with situations. I had World Cup experience and been part of this industry on five continents.

“I said: 'I'll give them an opportunity to understand me.' They all did but it's not easy starting from ground zero every time.”