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Accountant Bernstein to chair FA

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24th Dec 2010
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Once again, the Football Association has turned to a chartered accountant for leadership in difficult times.

On Tuesday the FA board unanimously approved the recommendation to appoint chartered accountant, retail magnate and former Manchester City FC chairman David Bernstein as its new chairman. Among a string of directorships he holds, Bernstein is non-executive chairman at Wembley stadium, where he has gained respect for improving the stadium’s finances and dealing with pitch quality issues.

With better known rivals such as Arsenal chairman David Dien in the running, Berstein was greeted as a surprise choice. But after overseeing quiet, but effective periods of change at Manchester City and Wembley, his financial and people skills will be useful to the FA, which is still reeling from a disastrous bid to host the 2018 World Cup.

Following a humiliating exit in the first round of the World Cup selection process with just two votes, acting FA chairman Roger Burden declined to take on the post full time.

Burden said the FA board was “united in its view” that Bernstein would be an excellent chairman. “I have worked with David for some years and have always been impressed by his professionalism and integrity,” Burden added.

Berstein became a director of Manchester City in 1994 and when the club was relegated to the old Second Division in 1996, then chairman (and legendary former player) Francis Lee turned to him for help deal with the financial ramifications. The incoming investors eventually ousted Lee from the board and offered Bernstein the chairmanship.

In the five years that followed, the club returned to the Premier League and Bernstein set in train the move to its new Eastlands stadium.

Away from football, the 67-year-old chartered accountant made his fortune as joint managing director of Pentland Group, which had a stake in Reebok. Bernstein was also chairman of French Connection during the late 1990s during the time when the controversial “FCUK” advertising campaign fuelled impressive growth. Currently he is non-executive chairman at Blacks Leisure Group and Adams Childrenswear Group and holds directorships in Ted Baker, Cellar 5 Group and Carluccio’s among others.

It’s not the first time the FA has turned to an accountant for a steady hand on the tiller. Facing financial meltdown due to cost overruns on the new Wembley statduim, the association recruited PricewaterhouseCoopers partner Mark Palios as chief executive in 2003. Palios did a good job restructuring the FA, but was forced to resign after it emerged that he had an affair with Faria Alam, an FA secretary who was also reported to be sleeping with England coach Sven Goran Eriksson.

In an interview with the BBC, Palios commented: “I was chief executive, not chairman. Whilst it’s a great job to have, it’s also the worst. You can’t really effect the change people think you can. It’s a  big misconception of the FA to change things as an organisation. The chairman who sits on top has the same problem.”

Suggesting that football was “not in bad shape”, Palios said it was “sub optimal” and needed to move on. Bernstein has the ability to make things happen, he added, “But the way things have been configured in the past, I don’t think that’s possible.”

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