To sack or not to sack, is footballs culture of firing managers a route to success or a means of failure

Wednesday night’s 2-0 home win for Sunderland against West Bromwich Albion has all but condemned Norwich to be playing Championship football next season. All three relegated clubs, Cardiff and Fulham alongside them, have all sacked their manager at some point during the season (twice in Fulham’s case) in an attempt to avoid the drop but ultimately failed.

Sacking Culture

What does this say about the worrying trend of ‘sacking culture’ that has become ever present in the English game in recent years? This season alone has witnessed nine of the 20 Premiership teams calling time on their managers with 10 sackings in total. Below we look at each individual case to try and determine if this fad for firing the man in charge benefits football clubs in a quagmire or creates more disruption than it hopes to settle.

Manchester United, David Moyes, 22nd April 2014

Needless to say that following Manchester United’s worst season in two decades, a win percentage of just 41%, a number of humiliating defeats at home in the league and being dumped out of the cup competitions by teams they are expected to be beating, Moyes’s sacking was, in the end, inevitable, coming as it did just 10 months into a six-year contract.

From the word go, Moyes has had a torrid time attempting to emulate the greatest British football manager of all time with only a Community Shield to shine some light on an abysmal season. Ironically, it was a 2-0 defeat against his former side, Everton, which eventually sealed his fate.

Norwich City, Chris Hughton, 6th April 2014

Norwich’s big conundrum for Chris Hughton this season was a misfiring forward line of Ricky Van Wolfswinkel, Gary Hooper and Johan Elmander who between them managed a hopelessly meagre seven league goals in 33 Premiership matches.

Youth team coach, Neil Adams, was put in charge for the remaining five league fixtures with tough games against Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal. In the four games that have followed, Norwich have failed to score in three of them and only Gary Hooper from their attacking trio has added one goal with a strike in the 3-2 defeat against Liverpool.

At the time of the sacking, Norwich was in the safety position of 17th and five points clear of their closest rivals, Fulham.

Fulham, Martin Jol, 1st December and Rene Meulensteen, 14th February

A fifth successive defeat in the Premier League against West Ham on 30 November saw Fulham drop into 18th place, three points from safety and Martin Jol was replaced by former Manchester United coach Rene Meulensteen with immediate effect.

The Dutchman, who himself had been sacked earlier in the season by Russian outfit Anzhi Makhachkala after just 16 days in charge, only succeeded in taking Fulham to the bottom of the table with four wins in their next 17 games.

Eventually, Felix Magath was drafted in to save the club and much was made of his survival mettle having previously been in charge of struggling clubs but having never suffered the drop himself. A few months later and a 4-1 defeat away to Stoke, Magath tasted relegation for the first time.

Swansea City, Michael Laudrup, 4th February

Despite leading the club to Capital One Cup glory with an emphatic 5-0 cup final win against Bradford and their first ever victory at Old Trafford, beating Manchester United 2-1 in the third round of the FA Cup, Michael Laudrup was given the axe after a run of one win in 10 Premier League games.

At the time of his dismissal, Swansea were two points above the relegation zone and still involved in the Europa League having qualified for the first time in 20 years and opened their account with an impressive 3-0 win at Valencia.

His replacement, Garry Monk, has only won three of the following 13 games, but it has been enough to steer The Swans to mid-table safety and earn the interim boss a three-year contract.

Cardiff, Malky Mackay, 27th December

Malky Mackay masterminded the Welsh club’s first ever promotion to the Premier League having won the Championship title aplomb the season before. Even though they were largely dismissed as relegation fodder before the season even started, Mackay oversaw league victories against Man City and fierce rivals Swansea.

There were rumours that Malaysian businessman, Vincent Tan, was unhappy with the popular manager and despite having the full support of the Bluebirds faithful and being two places and two points above the last relegation spot, Mackay was shown the exit door two days after Christmas.

After being ousted, Cardiff went on a dismal run of form that saw them relegated in the penultimate weekend of the season under former United super sub Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Tottenham Hotspur, Andre Villas-Boas, 16th December

Some individuals point towards the heavy investment in new recruits that Villas-Boas made during a busy summer transfer window as justification for his sacking when Spurs struggled to break into the top four Champions League qualification spots. This argument is a bit of a misnomer when you factor in the world record sale of their Welsh talisman, Gareth Bale, to Real Madrid for £85.3 million, which evened out the financial outlay.

By the time Boas had received his marching orders, Tottenham had accumulated 27 points from 16 games, one better than at the same point in the previous season. In the end, it was not so much the points tally as the manner of the lacklustre performances and his failure to get the best out of this summer signings that sealed his fate. A couple of humiliating thrashings didn’t help either, a 5-0 defeat in front of the White Hart Lane faithful by a free-scoring Liverpool side and a 6-0 thumping at the Etihad.

Since taking over as caretaker boss, Tim Sherwood has fared only marginally better with an average 1.85 points per game to the 1.68 managed by Villas-Boas.

West Bromwich Albion, Steve Clarke, 14th December

Last season Steve Clarke directed West Brom to their highest ever Premier League finish. This success didn’t prevent him biting the bullet after a slow start to the new campaign with three wins from 16 games and four straight defeats culminating in a 1-0 defeat against relegation rivals Cardiff.

At the time, The Baggies were two points and two places above the drop zone, one spot higher than the position they currently occupy under Clarke’s replacement Pepe Mel. The Midlands club have all but survived relegation compliments of a vastly superior goal difference to Norwich who trail them by three points with just one game left to play.

Crystal Palace, Ian Holloway, 23rd October

Ian Holloway was another manager who led his side to promotion but had the plug pulled on him shortly thereafter. The outspoken media darling officially parted ways with The Eagles through mutual consent citing a lack of energy for a relegation dogfight. An excuse that rouses suspicion as he was later appointed the manager of Millwall, a team steadfast in the thick of one at the foot of the Championship.

When Tony Pulis took charge, Palace were already second bottom after a dreadful start to the season left them with just three points bagged from their opening eight games and five adrift of safety. Palace were already down in the eyes of many but Pulis has been a power of strength leading his team to a very respectful eleventh spot in the table with a healthy 44 points tally.

Sunderland, Paolo Di Canio, 22nd September

Paolo Di Canio became the first casualty of the season after Sunderland put his head on the block for registering just a single point in his opening five league fixtures.

Sunderland managed to avoid the drop under his stewardship last season but his side failed to gel this year after rumours of numerous fall-outs between him and his players.

The colourful box office Italian was a questionable appointment and his time on Tyneside short lived with less than six months in the dugout.

Summary

Of the nine clubs from 20 that sacked their managers during the course of the season, seven of them occupy the bottom ten positions in the league with the likelihood of the other two, Spurs and Manchester United, falling into the bottom half of the table always a virtual impossibility.

The bottom four clubs all sacked their managers and of the three being relegated, two of them were in positions of safety when the decision to call time on their managers was made.

Contrast this with the teams who retained the faith. Hull City came up from the Championship and Steve Bruce found them a route into the FA Cup Final whilst securing their Premier League status for the next season.

Regardless of all the problems Aston Villa have faced in recent years, Randy Lerner has stuck by Paul Lambert who successfully staved off relegation two years running. Similar to big Sam Allardyce at West Ham who have also had their brushes with relegation but who has steered them to safety after David Sullivan and David Gold refused to bow to pressure from the media and Hammers fans to have him replaced.

It’s easy to say that Moyes and Di Canio had to go, but equally, you could quite easily argue that they were wrongly appointed in the first place. Villa Boas turned out to be a disappointment at Spurs, but considering the form of the top five this year – Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Everton, it’s hard to see how he could have forced his rejigged and transitional Spurs squad any higher than the sixth spot they currently occupy.

The most notable success has been the ability of Tony Pulis to work mini-miracles at Selhurst Park. His remarkable achievements at Palace have earned him widespread plaudits placated by rumours of a Manager of the Year nod. Often criticised for putting a battering ram of a team together at Stoke, Pulis has exercised more creative flair at a Palace side that for all the world looked doomed to the drop.

By stemming the defeats with an organised and robust defensive unit, Pulis has added efficiency as a building block which has generated belief, built confidence and got them playing some expressive attacking football, aptly demonstrated when they clawed back a three-goal deficit with only eleven minutes left to play against a Liverpool side still in the title hunt.

Pulis aside, the evidence here suggests that the sacking culture that has become so inherent in the English game doesn’t fix deeper lying issues or yield immediate returns. If clubs want to build for the future they need to look closely at who they are appointing, making absolutely sure that the man they appoint fits the role and then give them the time, support, patience and transfer market backing they need to build stability and the eventual success that comes with it.

As things stand, Nigel Pearson of Leicester City, Sean Dyche of Burnley and whichever manager leads their team to success in the Championship play-offs are probably already looking over their shoulder before a ball has even been kicked in the 2014/2015 season and that cannot be healthy for the long term prospects of the sport.

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