Mark Sampson: Did he warrant the sack?

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Mark Sampson’s tenure as England women’s national team manager was all going to plan on the pitch; he took the Lionesses to a bronze medal finish in the 2015 World Cup, a semi-final finish at the 2017 European Championships and beat Russia 6-0 in his final game. Yet, just a day after this impressive win, Sampson was removed from the job following evidence of “inappropriate and unacceptable” behaviour with players during his time at Bristol Academy, three years ago.

Prior to these allegations, Sampson was also involved in a racism scandal. Eniola Aluko, an international with over 100 appearances, suggested that the national team coach made an “Ebola” remark against her in 2014. Sampson is reported to have warned against Aluko bringing any of her Nigerian relatives to a fixture, due to the risk of them carrying the infection. The quote given by Aluko was “Oh Nigeria… make sure they don’t bring Ebola with them.” Additionally, it was also reported that Sampson asked a mixed-race player how many times she had been arrested – although he was later cleared of this, and the Aluko incident investigation remains inconclusive.

Many have raised the question of whether the evidence coming out for his dismissal is just a simple way to get rid of him given the complexity of the Aluko situation, and it could be argued that he has been planted in a trap. It seems particularly convenient that the evidence for an incident which occurred in 2014 had only arisen after the racism scandal.

Yet, some have suggested that a review of the 2014 investigation came about due to the Aluko incident, and that new evidence worthy of sacking was found upon this being carried out. FA chairman Greg Clarke said that these allegations of inappropriate relationships with female players range from “trivial to very serious”, with The Mirror reinforcing the severity of the issue by alleging that Sampson had a six-month relationship with one of his players whilst in charge at Bristol.

Another factor suggesting that the sacking of Sampson was rightful is that the 2014 investigation took place a year before Martin Glenn was chief executive of the FA, and he is reported to have only fully read the case in the week before the sacking, before passing it onto Clarke, due to a whistle-blower suggesting that a review was needed. The investigation showed “concerning contents” according to Glenn, largely regarding Sampson overstepping the boundaries between player and coach, which suggests that there could be at least some truth to The Mirror’s claim of a relationship.

Whilst Mark Sampson’s comments against Aluko remain officially unproven, it could easily be said that this new evidence of the 2014 scandal is simply an easy way to get him out of the job. Nevertheless, due to Martin Glenn allegedly only fully reading the report in the week before Sampson’s sacking, it’s quite clear that something shocking could have been discovered. The Daily Mail reports that Sampson was always “over-social” with players during his tenure at Bristol Academy, which could be deemed as breaking the professional boundaries, however, it is the far more serious claim from The Mirror which has, in my eyes, made his position untenable. With allegations of racism and relationships with players against him, I feel that it was obvious Sampson could not keep his role, or the reputation of the FA would be further worsened.