John Salako is most well known for his time at Crystal Palace and he also had spells at Coventry, Fulham and Reading. He also gained 5 England caps whilst Graham Taylor was the manager in 1991. I caught up with John to discuss his career, the lack of ethnic minority managers and England’s 2018 World Cup campaign.
What was the proudest moment of your career and why?
It probably happened quite early on as a 21 year old when Palace played Man United in the FA Cup final, which went to a replay. We beat Liverpool 4-3 in the semi-final at Villa Park which is arguably the best game I was ever involved in.
But possibly the greatest moment came a year later when I played for England at Wembley against the world champions Germany. To line up with the likes of Gary Lineker and Des Walker was just incredible. It was the realisation of a lifelong dream, I just wish there had been more of those.
Are you satisfied with your five England caps?
My ultimate dream was to play in European Championships and World Cups but it wasn’t meant to be. I got injured, came back, got into the squad, didn’t play and got injured again. That was it really as far as England was concerned. You can look back and think, if I didn’t get injured I would have got 40 or 50 caps but that’s just the way life works out.
You’ve had coaching experience in the past, is that something you see yourself returning to?
I did my original coaching badges while I was injured when I was 24 or 25. After my time coaching with Palace I decided that was it for me. I’m quite happy to live in the real world and let them get on with it. I thought about going for the UEFA Pro Licence but realistically you need to be in a job if you’re going to apply for it.
Do you think more could be done to help players deal with retirement?
Massive amounts need to be done. There’s not anywhere near enough done by the PFA or the FA. There needs to be pathways so that players can move into another career after football.
Do you feel you coped well with retirement?
Yeah, probably. When I got to 36 it was my decision to retire and I went straight into working for Sky. I could have been a little better prepared in terms of understanding how the real world works. An awful lot of lads will not have any idea of what they want to do. A lot of people just miss the training, the playing, the adulation. When that goes you don’t know what to do with yourself.
What advice would you give to players facing retirement?
Players should have some sort of plan, get coaching badges, get qualifications in personal training or anything they’re interested in. They should get some education and start putting things in place for when retirement comes.
What practical steps do you think could be taken to increase the number of BAME managers in football?
First of all, it comes down to the lads themselves, they need to show more of an interest. There is an old guard within the FA and Premier League, it is predominantly white heterosexual men over 70. People from ethnic minorities need to ensure that they have the right qualifications and badges so they are in a strong position to apply for jobs.
Do you support quotas or the Rooney Rule?
The Rooney Rule would help to a certain extent, it doesn’t mean the minority candidate needs to get the job, just an interview. It enables someone to get an interview when they might not have got one otherwise. I don’t think the Rooney Rule can hurt but I think the best person should always get the job.
Guys like Chris Powell and Chris Hughton have had to make a lot of sacrifices to get where they are. Most people aren’t prepared to do that, they expect to retire from playing and walk straight into a top job. A lot of young managers don’t get the experience and knowledge base to sustain them.
It’s great to see Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard go into jobs, but they’ve gone in at a very high level. I want to see more top players go into the academy system and get the knowledge base so they can understand how clubs work, from the press to the boardroom. Lampard and Gerrard have put themselves in very precarious positions where they could be chewed up and spat out again.
Are you excited about England or did the favourable draw at the World Cup provide false hope?
We did get a lucky draw but there’s some great signs there. There is a nucleus of young players that can come together like Loftus- Cheek, Trippier and Maguire. We got some of our identity, confidence and belief back. Against Croatia it showed that we just don’t have a real focus or the right mentality to bring out the best in ourselves.
Do players ever view the national team as a hindrance to their club careers?
Yeah, we want players to go out and give everything. But sometimes you look at players and think, you are not giving your all. It’s sad and tragic because it should be the pinnacle, it should mean the world to wear the England shirt. It doesn’t mean enough to them to play for England but that will hopefully change.
Find John on Twitter at @JohnSalako