Sacking statistics in English football are astounding.
In the last year, no less than 100 managers from the 92 professional clubs have felt the full brunt of the proverbial sacking axe, while just 3% of all current managers have been in their current jobs for more than five years. The average tenure of a top flight manager is now just over a year (373 days).
The Premier League still holds a managerial institution in Arsenal‘s Arsene Wenger as a lonesome beacon of positivity, but since the summer, eight gaffers from the English top flight have already been ousted from their respective posts. One in particular – Fulham’s Rene Muelensteen – lasted just 13 games in the dugout, before being relinquished of his Craven Cottage duties in favour of Bundesliga title-winner Felix Magath.
There’s now a whole sub-market of the betting industry entirely devoted to predicting who will be the next victim of a trigger-happy Premier League owner, headed by notorious odds-checking site thesackrace.com, and the small period preceding the January window has been dubbed by West Ham’s Sam Allardyce, and resultantly the British media, as ‘sacking season’.
Yet there is surprisingly little evidence to suggest that changing management mid-season is by any means a fruitful venture. According to statistics released by the LMA, a new appointment in the Premier League usually brings a 2.5 points average for the following match, but over the course of the next twelve fixtures the club’s form most commonly deteriorates further.
At the same time, throughout the past five top flight campaigns, at least one club that has changed gaffer mid-season has been relegated. Last term, two clubs that switched managers failed to beat the drop, and in 2009-10, all three teams that were relegated had changed their management staff. That feat looks set to be repeated this year, with the Premier League’s current bottom five of Crystal Palace, West Brom, Sunderland, Cardiff and Fulham, all wielding the axe since the summer.
So why, despite this mound of statistical evidence suggesting sacking managers simply doesn’t work – at least, not in terms of an obvious, positive correlation between new appointments and results – is the Premier League still trapped in this ‘hire and fire’ culture that was once considered a running joke of its foreign counterparts?
Well firstly, there’s more money at stake in the Premier League than ever before. According to The Independent’s Glenn Moore, this season’s relegated clubs will suffer an estimated £40million drop in income, through missing out on the English top flight’s £60million-per-club TV revenue deal.
Furthermore, there have been countless cases of former top tier sides falling into financial downward spirals – Bolton Wanderers for example, were in the Premiership for eleven years, but now face debts of £164million as they struggle for Championship survival.
Along with the Reebok outfit, clubs such as Charlton Athletic, Leeds United, Wolves, Middlesbrough, Leicester, Birmingham and Blackburn Rovers are still yet to return to the top flight since their respective relegations, many even spending more than a handful of seasons in League 1. Parachute payments of £48million over four years clearly hasn’t had the desired effect for the majority of its recipients.
With that in mind, and considering the unprecedented investments the recent influx of foreign owners have made in purchasing clubs such as Fulham – Shadid Khan spent £200million to acquire the West London club back in the summer – chairmen and boards would be rather seen doing something than nothing, and amid the four-month gap between the transfer windows, changing the management staff is pretty much all that’s within their power. The relentless pressure from the media certainly exacerbates the situation.
With such ridiculous sums of revenues at stake, Swansea’s £4.5million compensation pay-out to Michael Laudrup for example is comparatively a more than acceptable loss.
At the same time, the revolving door nature of the management occupation has become incredibly self-fulfilling. Why stick by a gaffer who has overseen six defeats on the bounce when there’s a good ten or fifteen out of work willing to take the hot seat? There’s no guarantees that any of the candidates will be the right man for the job, but a lot of the time it must seem like one of those ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ scenarios.
Then there’s the elephant in the room, the ultimate factor behind sackings that rarely gets the punditry attention it deserves – the ability to make an axed manager the scapegoat for everything bad that happened under his leadership.
Of course, I’m not suggesting that players refuse to take responsibility, or that the buck shouldn’t stop in the dugout. But overall, it’s much easier, quicker and less debasing to blame a side’s form on one man rather than the entire roster, just as it’s much easier and quicker to change that same one man, rather than an entire squad.
Relinquishing a manager and holding him solely accountable means the players can put poor results, disturbing form and bouts of low confidence behind them; I’m sure we’ve all heard the old adages of ‘everybody will get their chance’ and ‘the players are turning over a new leaf’ before. In effect, it’s a sacrifice for the sake of the players as much as it’s an indictment of one’s leadership.
Yet, the evidence is still compelling that this strategy rarely has the desired effect. In contrast, amid a free-fall of eleven defeats in 16 games, many called for Sam Allardyce to be given his marching orders at Upton Park. But after a recent revival of four consecutive victories, aided by West Ham’s injury list being significantly shortened towards the end of January, the Hammers are now tenth in the Premier League table, just nine points shy of that all-important 40-point safety mark.
Unfortunately, Big Sam’s tale of the current campaign, boasting the benefits of stability, is becoming an ever-rarer occurrence. Richard Bevan, chief executive of the LMA, has urged clubs to take a more sensible stance towards hiring and firing, stating last month; “Verifiable data has shown that the gains from changing football managers are marginal, if indeed there are any at all, and without doubt the sacking of managers is a costly business to football clubs, not to mention the other effects that the upheaval brings. For the good of the game, I believe it is necessary for all stakeholders to take a more pragmatic approach by looking to the medium term.”
But with the level of finance behind the English game continuing to soar, and every season, weekend and match in the Premier League seemingly so much more ultimate than ever before, the chances of a pragmatic wave tiding over the heads of Premiership owners is about as likely as West Brom’s Pepe Mel – one of the top flight’s most recent managerial additions – being in the same job this time next year.