Big League

Just as he landed the coveted role of chief executive of the Football Association, it was revealed that Saatchi & Saatchi UK boss Adam Crozier had falsified sales figures as a newspaper ad salesman in the Eighties. The FA job puts him in the harsh glare of the spotlight and in the unforgiving world of football politics. Does Crozier have what it takes to pick the football establishment up by the blazer lapels and take it into the next millennium?

It was an exclusive The Daily Telegraph had been sitting on for 12 years. Its Saturday edition revealed that Adam Crozier, the Saatchi & Saatchi UK boss who was last week appointed chief executive of the Football Association, had falsified sales figures while he worked as an advertising salesman at the newspaper in the late Eighties.

To make matters worse, he had not mentioned the fact in his interview for the FA job. The man hired to help improve the reputation of English football’s governing body had embarrassed his new employers even before taking up his new post.

Does the FA believe it has scored an own goal by employing Crozier? Apparently not. It has rallied around the 35-year-old Scot, who has apologised “unreservedly for any embarrassment caused”.

Perhaps it wasn’t such a heinous crime – Crozier described it as “the mistake of a young man which involved absolutely no personal gain whatsoever”.

But football is an unforgiving world. Before The Telegraph splashed the news of Crozier’s indiscretion across the front of its sports section on Saturday, one colleague had told Marketing Week: “He is very skilled in getting things working behind the scenes. He kept Saatchi on an even keel when the agency was going through the traumatic split [when brothers Maurice and Charles were forced out and they set up M&C Saatchi].”

He added: “But the FA role is a huge job. You have to deal with everyone from the 22 Premiership chairmen to Fifa and the media. And I don’t know how well he will work in the glare of the spotlight.”

Public scrutiny of all things football has led to the downfall of many in the game. Crozier’s predecessor Graham Kelly and chairman Keith Wiseman lost their jobs earlier this year when they became entangled in a cash-for-votes scandal. Their exit followed revelations that Wiseman had arranged an unauthorised &£3.2m payment to the Welsh FA with the aim of securing a place on Fifa’s executive committee.

And Glenn Hoddle was sacked following an off-the-cuff remark in an interview with The Times that disabled people were paying for the sins of past lives.

But you can see why the FA was impressed by Crozier – subsequent revelations notwithstanding. His ability to steer through the corporate politics of advertising, one of the most ruthless industries in modern Britain, and to rise at the age of 30 to head one of its most problematic ad agencies must have seriously impressed the combined blazers of the FA.

He came into contact with the body as part of the team advising on the 2006 World Cup Bid, and says he found the role of FA chief executive “irresistible”. And as executive director David Davies says: “His record of achievement speaks for itself.” At least Crozier’s misdeed is now in the open. It may well be forgotten by the time he takes up the post in January.

That will be when his abilities will be tested for real in his new role, seen by many as a poisoned chalice.

As one agency source says: “It’s a bit like being chairman of Railtrack – no one praises you for doing a good job, but when things go wrong your head is on the block.”

The post has been described as the biggest job in English football, and it is easy to see why. Crozier will have an over-arching role running the FA and being responsible for its 200 staff. He will also be in charge of running the England team, the building of the new Wembley Stadium, the Premiership and Football Leagues, the FA Cup, liaising with European governing bodies Fifa and Uefa, and leading England’s bid to stage the World Cup in 2006.

But it is not only these immediate tasks that Crozier must address. He will also have to consider the long-term strategy of a game that is in danger of spinning out of control, as prices of everything from replica kits to top strikers spiral upwards.

The huge upsurge in the game’s popularity over the past decade – fuelled by BSkyB’s exclusive deal with the Premier League – has upped the stakes and risks, driving a wedge between the game’s bosses and its fans. Former minister David Mellor is looking at just this problem through the Football Taskforce. As one source says: “Everything is cyclical. Look at Italian football – it has almost priced itself out of the market. It has become divorced from the real fans.” It may be hard to imagine now, but English football’s popularity is by no means guaranteed in the decades to come.

Crozier’s advertising background should give him some sense of long-term strategy, and should have made him aware that a business that forsakes its customers will eventually have its comeuppance. But his background may raise suspicions that he is just another chip off the old block, in league with the important media stakeholders in football – the television companies, the sponsors, the advertisers and the press.

Crozier is not commenting on his appointment. But there is no doubt he will be watched carefully to see whether, on the one hand, he emerges as a stooge for the powerful commercial interests that control the game, or, on the other, he manages to put into practice what marketers claim to be their true vocation – to represent the consumer in the boardroom. The future of English football may depend on his ability to balance the two.

The appointment has surprised many of his advertising colleagues. It is understood that Crozier beat a number of high-profile candidates, said to include two chief executives from top-20 companies, New Zealand Rugby Union boss David Moffett and a former chief of sports marketing giant IMG. He will reportedly earn &£300,000 a year, which is nearly double the salary of his predecessor.

David Davies, the former BBC journalist who is caretaking the role, is understood to have signed a new four-year contract with the association. The FA refuses to comment on speculation that following Crozier’s Telegraph revelations, Davies will become the public face of the body, leaving Crozier to busy himself with the behind-the-scenes work.

The FA is viewed as one of the last bastions of the Establishment, where musty corridors and old leather armchairs make it more reminiscent of a late-19th-century club rather than the hub of a multi-million-pound international industry. It will take a major culture change to haul the association up by its blazer lapels and introduce it to the new millennium.

“It is a case of suits versus blazers,” as one observer points out.

Slowly things are starting to change. Earlier this month, the FA’s ruling council voted in favour of a new, streamlined board of directors to run its commercial and business affairs. The plan still needs final approval by the association’s 1,200 shareholders, but it is likely to be granted later this year. Further changes are expected in January, when the FA working party reports on alterations to the committee structure and the council.

At the time of his appointment, Crozier said: “There is a real will for change at all levels of the organisation. My role is to lead and direct that change for the benefit of the whole game.”

As for what Crozier will bring to the game, the jury is out.

As joint chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi, he has made his fair share of enemies – you don’t get to be a board director at one of the biggest ad agencies in the world aged 26 without upsetting a few people.

One former employee claims: “The appointment is a complete mis-match.” But, equally, there are many who have worked with him who believe his appointment will be good for football.

An insider says: “Crozier is well used to dealing with the commercial side of business at Saatchi, with global giants such as Rothmans and Procter & Gamble. But the FA job will be very different – it is more like a politician’s role.

“He will have to deal with royalty, Fifa and the Government. But most importantly, he must win over the real power brokers of English football – the 22 Premiership chairmen, people like Ken Bates at Chelsea and Alan Sugar at Tottenham. These often-outspoken men are used to getting their own way and may not take too kindly to being told what to do by a young former ad chief who has never been involved in football.”

However, other industry insiders claim Crozier’s lack of football “baggage” will give him a position of strength. “He has no hidden agenda,” says one. “Like a lot of sports, football can be a murky business, full of backdoor deals and conflicts of interest. The politics of advertising is a bear pit – yet compared with football it’s like a stroll in the park.

“At least the FA has recognised the need for change and it will do everything in its power to ensure Crozier gets support.”

Most observers agree that English football is in desperate need of a new broom to sweep away the cobwebs in Lancaster Gate. But few doubt the enormity of Crozier’s task.

Crozier, born on the Isle of Bute in Scotland, is an avid Celtic fan. He lives in London and is married with two children. He also supports Tottenham Hotspur, but strenuously denies rumours that he used to play for Spurs alongside FA Cup final hero Ricky Villa (he would have been about 14 at the time).

As a teenager, Crozier had trials for Hibernian and Stirling Albion, but admits: “Unfortunately, I was crap.” Candid maybe. But time will tell whether his abilities behind the scenes can improve on his performance on the pitch.

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