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FA shortlists economist Lord O’Neill for chairmanship

Written by on 26/01/2021

A former Treasury minister who is one of Britain’s most respected economic thinkers has been approached about becoming the next chairman of the English Football Association (FA).

Sky News has learnt that Lord O’Neill of Gatley, who spent nearly two decades at the Wall Street bank Goldman Sachs, is one of about half a dozen names in contention to succeed Greg Clarke.

The selection of a new chairman comes at a critical time for the national game, which has seen its financial position deteriorate as a consequence of the pandemic.

It emerged last month that the FA had taken out a £175m loan through the Bank of England’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility to shore up its balance sheet.

The governing body’s hunt for a new chairman, which is being overseen by the search firm Egon Zehnder International, was triggered by the resignation in chaotic circumstances of Greg Clarke in November.

Mr Clarke was forced to quit after an excruciating select committee session, during which he made a number of disparaging remarks about black footballers.

As well as Lord O’Neill, a number of football and sports industry insiders, as well as one senior business figure, are thought to be in the frame to replace him.

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Former minister Lord O'Neill is an economist and Manchester United fan. Pic: AP
Image: Former minister Lord O’Neill is an economist and Manchester United fan. Pic: AP

Lord O’Neill’s presence on the shortlist underlines the prestigious nature of the FA role, despite the organisation’s current challenges.

After leaving Goldman – where he coined the acronym BRICs to summarise the world’s fastest-growing economies – he became a Treasury minister during David Cameron’s administration after the 2015 general election.

He stepped down from the role not long after the EU referendum, devoting substantial amounts of his time to a landmark review that he oversaw on tackling antimicrobial resistance, and to the formation of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, where he sits on the board.

Lord O’Neill is a prominent Manchester United fan, and has paraded his allegiance publicly for many years.

He was a non-executive director of the club before its takeover by the Glazer family in 2005.

In 2010 he helped to orchestrate the Red Knights campaign which sought to wrest control of the club from the Glazers amid widespread unrest among United fans about their ownership.

He now also chairs Chatham House, the think-tank, and is involved in a number of charities.

The FA is expected to want to identify Mr Clarke’s successor in the coming weeks, amid stiff tests for the future of elite and grass-roots football alike.

The game was rocked last autumn by the emergence of Project Big Picture, a blueprint drawn up by the Premier League’s biggest clubs that would have radically altered the structure of English professional football.

Whoever succeeds Mr Clarke may also – depending on the recovery of the FA’s finances – face pressure to revisit a decision reached in 2018 not to sell Wembley Stadium in a deal that would have raised hundreds of millions of pounds.

The proposed sale to Shahid Khan, the owner of Fulham FC, was drawn up during the tenure of Martin Glenn, the then FA chief executive.

Mr Glenn has since been succeeded by Mark Bullingham.

Last June, the FA axed more than 120 jobs, warning that it was facing a £300m loss for the financial year.

An FA spokeswoman said its search for a new chairman was ongoing, while Lord O’Neill did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday afternoon.

 Sky News

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