The sack race: not merry and it doesn't go around

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The Independent Football

This season's record number of early-season sackings of football managers has brought them scant sympathy. There is a widely held notion that the managerial "merry-go-round" quickly picks up almost all of those who fall off. The scepticism is based on a myth.

Of the 94 Premiership and League managers or joint managers at work at the beginning of the 1995-96 season only 34 still hold managerial positions. Even allowing for a few retirements, promotions to international management and moves to other countries, nearly two-thirds have drifted out of the game or play more minor roles at League or non-League clubs.

Among the better-known past managers who no longer operate in that capacity are Frank Clark, Alan Ball, Liam Brady, Ray Clemence, John Duncan, Archie Gemmill, Joe Jordan, Roy McFarland, Chris Nicholl, Colin Murphy, Bryan Robson and Joe Royle. For each there are numerous less familiar names now forgotten.

The myth of the merry-go-round is based on a few big-name managers who thrive in spite of their failings. Of those who have remained throughout the five years only five (Alex Ferguson, George Burley, Alan Curbishley, Dario Gradi and Peter Reid) are still at the same clubs. Twenty-nine have moved on (in many cases several times).

Surveys of the effect a change of manager has on a club have concluded that improvements are often short-lived. Twelve clubs in the Premiership at the start of the 1994-95 season who changed managers are now in a worse position than they were then. Eight have been relegated.

John Barnwell, the chief executive of the League Managers' Asociation, said: "Including this season and looking back over the five-year period, our figures show that 230 or so are no longer with a club. We're not saying they were all dismissed. A further 61 have been recycled back into another capacity – coaching and so forth. But about 100 are no longer in the game. A small minority remain, so the concept of a merry-go-round is totally flawed. The majority never get another job in management."

Barnwell points out that in the past managers faced danger periods of the season, but now they are under constant threat. "You might have got two or three sackings early on, then nothing until after the FA Cup first round proper. Then the first week in January when the big clubs came in and might get knocked out. You could see a pattern but now it's all over the place.

"Where you do see continuity it's usually where there has also been continuity on the board – the situation at Crewe where Dario Gradi is coming up to his 1,000th match. But what we see now is an escalation in the demand for success because the rewards are so great, but usually the aims are unrealistic."

Every week Barnwell's organisation has calls from former managers asking about work. The current situation suggests that more are likely to be lost altogether. Obviously, Barnwell would like to see changes, making jobs more secure, especially for managers at clubs run by people with little patience and suspicious motives.

In the long term Barnwell hopes every manager will have a licence. "That licence would be lodged with the Premiership and the Football League. If you were dismissed, a licensed manager could not take your place until your contract was settled. On the other hand if you left your football club without agreement by that club or agreed compensation being put in place, your licence would not be released for you to work at another club.

"The lawyers talk about restraint of trade and so on. But we say contracts are two-way things and we want to bring some credibility into it. We recognise that we have ambitious managers and that other clubs might covet those managers, so we need to have procedures in place which would leave no doubt."

For the moment, though, few would have the confidence of Carlton Palmer who on his arrival at Stockport County last week claimed: "I haven't got the fear factor of being relegated. If we have to be relegated to rebuild, I'll accept that." Famous first words.