Football management has become an increasingly dangerous and mercenary profession. One defined by ruthlessness and, at times, confusion. It is the one job role that, with only the very slightest of exceptions, you’ll either be headhunted or sacked within two years. There’s no job stability and you can be on top of the world one minute, but rock bottom the next.
Ronald Koeman is perhaps a case in point, he took Southampton to unknown heights, but was out on his ear at Everton within six months. One man’s treasure is another man’s trash and sadly, chairmen are all too quick to throw away their rubbish these days. Betting on the next manager of a club has become an increasingly lucrative market as the turnover of bosses gets higher every season.
The question on everyone’s lips is this: when do you get rid of a manager and when should you keep the faith? Quite often fans and owners have very different perceptions of this, but there’s never any continuity either. In some instances, fans want the manager out, but owners do not (Wenger). In others, fans want a boss to stay but he’s sacked anyway (Gary Rowett at Birmingham). What is the motivation for moving a manager on and when is it correct to do so? Also, what are the motivations for a sacking. Here, we look at just some of the factors to consider during a change of manager.
New owners, new philosophy and quite often that means new boss. There are very few instances of owners deciding to keep the manager in charge when they take over, and sometimes that is taken to extremes. Take the case of Leroy Rosenior, appointed as manager of Torquay United for a second time in May 2007 to replace the outgoing Keith Curle. He’d barely got his coat out of his car boot before he received the sack – a new owner took over at the same time and wanted his own man in place.
Gary Rowett had led Birmingham City to seventh in the Championship table during his two-year tenure and a return to the Premier League looked on the cards. The club was also being taken over by Trillion Trophy Asia and for reasons unknown to fans, they booted the manager. He’d brought some success to a squad assembled on a modest budget, but the new owners knew better. They brought in Gianfranco Zola, no doubt a marketable name, and what followed was a complete collapse and two-year flirtation with relegation.
New owners often feel they know best, but lifelong fans will beg to differ.
Delusions of grandeur
Scunthorpe United are hardly one of the country’s big names, but when they dismissed Graham Alexander in early 2018, it drew surprise from many quarters. The Iron, fifth in League One, decided they needed a fresh approach and acted after the transfer window had closed to get rid of their manager. Traditionally, Scunthorpe were always outside bets for promotion, but that didn’t matter to chairman Peter Swan.
Oddly, there was no replacement lined up and Alexander hadn’t exactly been failing in his duties. Bar a couple of seasons, Scunthorpe have always been a League One or Two club and they rarely attract 4,000 fans to their matches. Afterwards, their chairman commented he was flattered to be linked with Steve McClaren, proving how far the club had come. McClaren, though eager to get back into the game, distanced himself from the job.
Often, teams feel that a big-name manager affords them some sort of status and that alone can be motivation for appointing or sacking. This is certainly the case, in the lower reaches of the Football League, where a ‘local boy done good’ chairman gets blinded by a big name. Lincoln City appointed former England striker Chris Sutton despite him having no experience at all. In his memoirs, he recalls being asked for his autograph as he left the interview – by one of the panel. His predecessor, Peter Jackson, had guided the club to a mid-table finish. Within eighteen months of Sutton arriving, Lincoln City were relegated.
Underachievement a deciding factor
Here’s a selective and somewhat ambiguous reason for getting rid of a manager, because everyone has a different understanding of achievement. Arsenal fans can’t wait to get rid of Arsene Wenger because he failed to secure a top-four finish for the first time in decades in 2017, but Everton fans would break the bank to finish fifth every season. Arsenal fans are famous for wanting Wenger out, arguably the most successful manager of their entire existence, who has delivered titles, domestic cups and virtually unbroken European qualification. His Gunners were always amongst the favourites to qualify for European competition at the start of any season.
At the other end of the spectrum, Paul Tisdale remains at Exeter, the second longest serving manager behind Wenger. Tisdale has overseen promotions, relegations and mid-table finishes too. In 2016/17, there was a clamour for him to be sacked as they sank to the bottom of League Two. The board held firm and Tisdale turned it around, securing a top-seven finish and a Wembley play-off final appearance. Similarly, Wenger has delivered trophies consistently throughout his career, yet the fans want him gone. Both managers are rare examples of the owners not only knowing better but behaving loyally towards a manager.
Claude Puel led Southampton to their highest ever Premier League finish and a domestic cup final, something that delighted fans. The board didn’t feel his achievements were in line with their expectations though and he was fired. His replacement led Southampton into a relegation battle and elimination from both cups, whilst Puel returned at Leicester and has guided them to the top half of the table. There wasn’t a fan in St Mary’s who wanted Puel out, completely the opposite to Tisdale and Wenger.
Opinions can change on a whim
The problem is that football is a game of opinion – a game where your opinion is as valid as the next man’s. Fans might want more for their club and demand a manager out, while owners want bigger names and better contacts and all the while, managers rise and fall like empires. When to get rid of a manager is a complex question that is based on far more than just results. Puel had the success, but he was fired anyway. Wenger, seemingly not successful, has hung on to his job.
How quickly a club acts is entirely based on their culture, Barnet ploughed through five managers in 2017/18 whilst some clubs have got through that many in ten years. Leeds United are another who change managers on a whim, moving after a handful of bad results.
The reasons for sackings are often revealed using smoke and mirrors, Stuart McCall took Bradford City to the top seven in League One, but was sacked after a bad run. The board blamed results, but fans fear he was targeted because he didn’t get on with board members. The owners will say they acted in the club’s best interests but in a game of opinions, who knows what a club’s best interests are?