The Sack Race – The 5 Runners and Riders

The League Manager’s Association (LMA) released a quite shocking statistic yesterday – £99m had been spent last season by Premier League and Football League clubs in changing their manager. So what’s the reason for such a high figure? Compensatory packages, legal fees and ‘double contracts’ are the main outgoings. The astronomical figure does not even take into account agents fees and the cost of replacing a manager’s backroom staff. Going by the bookies’ odds, Arsene Wenger and David Moyes are among the five favourites to get sacked – an anomaly that I’m simply choosing to ignore because of its ridiculous assertion. With several contenders in the Premier League hovering very closely to the axe, let’s take a look at the main candidates for unemployment.

Steve Kean –

Quite how he ever got the job in the first place is beyond me. Woefully out of his depth, he is perhaps the biggest yes-man in English footballing history. Currently, Blakcburn are on a face-saving tour of India during their week off during the international break to appease their new owners Venky’s after they had to cancel their tour there in pre-season – a simply baffling decision. Kean’s assistant manager John Jensen was sacked by the board last week and his position is beginning to approach something close to untenable.

The circumstances, under which Kean got the manager’s job, initially on a caretaker basis before being offered a 2-3 year deal, are also somewhat murky. Kean’s agent is a man called Jerome Anderson, the founder of sports management agency SEM. Anderson was also a key advisor of Venky’s during their takeover bid of Blackburn through SEM’s corporate partnership with Swiss-based sports-rights company Kentaro. Kean signed 21 year-old defender Myles Anderson in July this summer after a fairly inauspicious start to his career at both Leyton Orient and Aberdeen, where he made just one league appearance – it won’t surprise you to know that Myles Anderson is indeed the son of Jerome Anderson, Kean’s agent. I suppose people in high places and all that.

Besides the supremely dodgy and corrupt set of circumstances that saw Kean get the job in the first place, while he’s actually been managing Blackburn, it’s fair to say that thing have not gone smoothly out on the pitch. Blackburn have lost 15 of their 30 fixtures under his tenure and have won just 7 –  these wins have come against Leyton orient, Sheffield Wednesday, Wolves, Bolton, West Brom, Liverpool and Arsenal. Sam Allardyce was doing a perfectly good job at Blackburn until he was sacked. The only mystery still left with concerns to Kean’s ill-fated first foray into management, is not if he will be sacked, rather than when?

Steve Bruce –

Bruce certainly looks a likeable enough individual, but is he really a Premier League manager?  The former Man Utd stalwart has signed 33 different first-team players since May 2009, including 5 loan deals. That’s two whole teams worth of players for goodness sake. The man clearly doesn’t know what he’s doing. Here’s a man that doesn’t have the first clue about how to build a team. He lacks both a coherent, long-term plan and an identifiable style of play. Can anyone out there honestly say that they know what a Steve Bruce type of player looks like? He’s little more than a poor manager trading on his former glories as a player. To put it quite simply, if you spend £40m on new players and all you deliver is relegation form, then you are bound to come under some pressure.

Perceived wisdom would tell you that his position has been weakened at the club with Niall Quinn leaving his role as Chairman to take up an international development role at the club and owner Ellis Short stepping into the breach in order to protect his investment. After a 2-1 win over Blackpool last season on January 22nd, over the course of the next 14 league games Sunderland won just 3 of them against Wigan, Bolton and West Ham, drew once against Arsenal and lost 11. In this horror run they dropped from 6th in the league and potentially challenging for a Europa League place all the way down to the anonymity of 14th in the table. They saved some face with a final day victory over relegated West Ham to leap all the way up to 10th in a deeply congested mid-table, but it merely helped to mask a club in free-fall. The pressure on Bruce now is not solely down to Sunderland’s indifferent start to the campaign this term, but is simply a hangover from the dreadful and worrying warning signs of last season. Bruce is living on borrowed time.

Owen Coyle –

For those of you that know me reasonably well, I think it’s fair to say that I’m not Owen Coyle’s biggest fan. 11 league defeats in his last 12 games stretching across the end of last term and beginning of this one paint an ugly picture of a club lurching into a fully-fledged crisis.

Coyle has profited a degree of goodwill from the press for a perceived change in the club’s style of football. This is quite clearly a concerted PR effort, for it simply has no basis in fact. Bolton now are still the same Bolton of old, except Coyle’s Bolton have acquired an undeniable soft underbelly of late, with the team already shipping 21 goals in their opening 7 league games this season as they are rooted to the bottom of the table in what now constitutes the club’s worst start to a season in 109 years.

Many will point to the tough fixture list Bolton have had so far, having played Man Utd, Man City, Chelsea and Liverpool already, but you have to play everybody at some point and this terrible run of form backdates to last season whereupon a capitulation to Stoke 5-0 at Wembley they lost their last 5 league games against Fulham, Blackburn, Bolton, Blackpool and Man City. A telling fact – Gary Megson and Sammie Lee were both
sacked before Christmas after better starts than Coyle has had this season. He may talk a good game, but he could, along with Alex McLeish, face the rather unenviable prospect of having managed 2 relegated teams in 3 seasons on his CV.

Roy Hodgson –

Is it too early for Hodgson to be considered under pressure? A sloppy start to the season has already seen them lose 4 of their opening 7 games. Since their return to the top flight, the words West Brom have hardly been synonymous with good defending – but it’s been their apparent lack of cutting edge up top this term that has been the most worrying aspect of their play.

While last season they scored an impressive 56 league, only four less than moneybags Man City, so far this season they’ve scored just 5 in 7 games, with Hodgson’s stubborn refusal for the most part to start with two up front often cited as a reason. This season’s relegation battle is likely to involve between 8-10 teams, a side with the resources of West Brom cannot afford a slow start to proceedings.

Neil Warnock –

QPR are a strange beast. Neil Warnock’s men are still without a win on home soil in three attempts and they’ve been hammered twice already, 4-0 on the opening day to Bolton at home and 6-0 away at Fulham last weekend.

The new recruits such as Joey Barton, Luka Young and Shaun Wright-Phillips were certainly most welcome in propping up and beefing out what was a deeply average Championship squad in both size and quality. Still, the worry remains that their inconsistency over the course of a long campaign could prove their undoing. They also appear to lack a genuine finisher of proven Premier League quality with Jay Bothroyd having found the transition difficult so far.

Warnock will feel the need to impress the club’s new owners in a bid to finally put to bed rumours of his departure.  With a tricky run of games after their next fixture against Blackburn (H) coming up – Chelsea (H), Spurs (A), Man City (H) – QPR will need to rediscover the comforts of home, otherwise they could be this season’s Blackpool; a side hampered in their efforts to avoid the drop by poor home form. He may not be under any undue pressure at the moment, but that could all quickly change inside a month or so for Warnock. Their next fixture against Blackburn could be one of the season’s first genuine six-pointers, with the potential fate of both managers and their future ambitions riding on a positive result.

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