If Steve Bruce had managed to hang on just a little longer, the Premier League would have broken a record last week.
A Sunderland victory instead of a home defeat by Wigan would almost certainly have kept Bruce in employment, which would have meant that all 20 top-flight managers had avoided the sack by the middle of December for the first time since 1999. The first to lose his job during that campaign was Danny Wilson at Sheffield Wednesday, who did not leave his post until March, with the club heavily embroiled in a relegation dogfight.
Richard Bevan, chief executive of the League Managers' Association, believes there has been a shift in values at boardroom level in the Premier League which has led to longer managerial spells. "One of the reasons why we've only seen one manager leave his club this season is that people are recognising that if you want success you've got to have stability," he told The Independent. "There are a significant number of directors beginning to realise that if you appoint a manager you can't expect them to deliver results straight away. You have to give them time to [bring] their philosophies, culture and vision to a club."
The Wigan Athletic chairman, Dave Whelan, believes there is a growing realisation from owners regarding the pressures of managing top clubs. "A loss of patience in the boardroom means a huge loss of money for the club with the fees after making the decision," he says. "It's starting to come across to owners that it is a very difficult job and managers need time to try and put the problems right."
But while there seems to be a change of attitudes in the top division, the Football League shows no sign of altering its ways. A staggering 56 managers have left their posts since 15 December 2010: 50 of those were in the Football League (see panel, below) while just six were in the top flight (Bruce, Roy Hodgson at Liverpool, Roberto Di Matteo at West Bromwich Albion, Mark Hughes at Fulham, Gérard Houllier at Aston Villa and Chelsea's Carlo Ancelotti).
"The Championship is where there is a significant amount of pressure and that's where we see the most amount of movement," says Bevan. "The clubs have got very short-term goals of surviving in the league or reaching the play-offs."
That is something the Blackpool chairman, Karl Oyston, agrees with. Famous for running a tight ship at Bloomfield Road, Oyston poured scorn on directors who often make snap decisions to achieve their dreams. The introduction of Uefa's Financial Fair Play rules aims to stop clubs gambling away their futures for a quick prize. "The Premier League and the riches it brings has been the ruin of many clubs," Oyston told The Independent. There are 24 clubs chasing the dream of promotion and some are willing to gamble a lot of money.
"The Financial Fair Play rules will be breached and the penalties aren't strict enough. The penalty as it stands isn't enough. It should be to prevent promotion – that would be a real deterrent."
Bevan thinks the financial factors in the lower divisions mean that clubs should be more patient with their managers. "In the Football League there are greater financial pressures than in the Premier League. Therefore, you would like to think the need for financial stability in clubs would see them keep their manager longer. It is apparent in many cases – I don't think there were more than two or three clubs who made a profit last year," Bevan adds.
"We did a review analysing the cost of changing managers and the total figure was in excess of £99m last year. In a time when grass-roots academies and investment in club infrastructure is key, you would like to think that clubs will look a little bit more medium-term.
"The costs behind sacking a manager – from bringing in new players to compensation – are enormous. Clubs who value financial stability need to look at managerial stability if they want to deliver success and if you look at results, only on a few occasions does changing your manager lead to long-term success."
Having said that, Bevan thinks the future is bright for managers. "I believe we will push the average tenure up from the current 14-month period this year. Looking back into the 1990s, you could see that three years was the average," he said.
Cries to give managers more time have rung around the footballing world for years. Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger are prime examples that time equals success, but it could be argued that David Moyes has enjoyed only modest achievement at Everton, despite being in the job since 2002.
"Time doesn't necessarily mean success," adds Whelan. "Some managers have to leave clubs for obvious reasons – they may not get on well with the board or the supporters and that's hard to recover from. You're seeing this happen at Blackburn Rovers [with Steve Kean] at the moment. Fans never forget and once they have made up their mind on something they stick to it."
In League One, Preston sacked manager Phil Brown yesterday, a week after Hartlepool United relieved Mick Wadsworth of his duties. Despite having an awful home record, Hartlepool were just five points off a play-off place, citing a fall in attendances and match-day revenue as the reason for parting company with their manager.
Wadsworth was disappointed to leave Victoria Park and notes that there is more to managing a club than picking the team. "As a manager you invest a lot of time and effort at a club. I hadn't missed a reserve game since I went to Hartlepool. You have to show an interest in all aspects of the club so it was obviously disappointing – especially as we were in a good position. I believe the home form would have turned itself around, given time. Decisions to get rid of managers can be short-sighted and it's too easy to constantly change. What it is saying to managers is 'why bother'?"
Oyston sympathises with the difficult decision reached by Hartlepool, but claims such issues are not exclusive to lower-league sides. "All clubs need to make decisions based on finances. Football is a business. There's nothing more certain than that many clubs will have a wobble and they need to make calls based on money. That's the case throughout the game," he said.
It is hoped the new managerial training scheme at the FA's new base in Burton, St George's Park, will enhance the quality of managers throughout English football.
Perhaps that serves as a reminder that the quest for success lies in tuition rather than time.
What if the boot's on other foot – Oyston
The Blackpool chairman, Karl Oyston, and the LMA chief executive, Richard Bevan, were happy enough to speak to The Independent but there is no love lost between the pair.
Oyston believes in giving a manager time, as does Bevan, but the Seasiders' chairman was still critical of the LMA. "I have no respect for the LMA," he said. "They are a hopeless organisation and need to realise that the process is a two-way street. They bleat about managers being given more time but when one walks out on a club we don't hear anything about it."
Bevan responded: "I think his comments are more a reflection of him than of the LMA. The reality of the work carried out by us in legal representation, training and education makes such a statement nonsensical."
Sack race: Managerial movement in the last 12 months
56 managers have left their jobs since 15 December 2010 but just six of those were in the Premier League
Premier League (6)
Roy Hodgson (Liverpool)
Roberto Di Matteo (West Bromwich)
Mark Hughes (Fulham) resigned
Gérard Houllier (Aston Villa) health reasons
Carlo Ancelotti (Chelsea)
Steve Bruce (Sunderland)
George Burley (Crystal Palace)
Darren Ferguson (Peterborough)
Gary Johnson (Peterborough)
Roy Keane (Ipswich Town)
Graham Laws (Burnley)
Aidy Boothroyd (Coventry City)
Ian Baraclough (Scunthorpe United)
Mark Robins (Barnsley) resigned
Avram Grant (West Ham United)
Alex McLeish left Birmingham City for Aston Villa
Dave Jones (Cardiff City)
Malkay Mackay left Watford for Cardiff City
Sean O'Driscoll (Doncaster Rovers)
Billy Davies (Nottingham Forest)
Steve McClaren (Nottingham Forest)
Keith Millen (Bristol City)
Steve Cotterill left Portsmouth for Nottingham Forest
Sven Goran Eriksson (Leicester City)
Nigel Pearson left Hull City for Leicester City
League One (15)
Chris Hutchings (Walsall)
Eddie Howe left Bournemouth for Burnley
Phil Parkinson (Charlton)
Alan Irvine (Sheffield Wednesday)
Paul Ince (Notts County)
Paul Hart (Swindon Town)
Danny Wilson (Swindon Town)
Paul Trollope (Bristol Rovers)
Dave Penney (Bristol Rovers)
Micky Adams (Sheffield United)
Andy Scott (Brentford)
Nicky Forster (Brentford)
Paul Mariner (Plymouth Argyle)
Mick Wadsworth (Hartlepool)
Phil Brown (Preston North End)
League Two (16)
Kevin Dillon (Aldershot)
Alan Knill left Bury for Scunthorpe United
Ronnie Moore (Rotherham)
Micky Adams left Port Vale for Sheffield United
Jim Gannon (Port Vale)
Sammy McIlroy (Morecambe)
Mark Stimson (Barnet)
Martin Allen left Barnet for Notts County
Keith Hill left Rochdale for Barnsley
Paul Buckle left Torquay for Bristol Rovers
Peter Taylor (Bradford)
Peter Jackson (Bradford)
Peter Reid (Plymouth)
Dario Gradi (Crewe Alexandra)
Ian Sampson (Northampton Town)
Gary Johnson (Northampton Town)
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