Glenn Moore: Why no Premier League managers have been sacked yet this season

THE WEEKEND DOSSIER

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The Independent Football

It is not just Santa who will be getting the sack ready as Christmas nears. With 18 points at stake in the next 25 days, and then the re-opening of the transfer window, several Premier League chairmen will also be pondering whether it is time to hand their manager the most unwanted of seasonal surprises.

Common decency dictates few managers are actually fired at Christmas –Sheffield Wednesday’s brutal Christmas Eve axing of Derek Dooley in 1973, and Charlton’s despatch of Les Reed seven years ago, are rare exceptions. December, is, however, a dangerous time in the dug-out. Last season Martin Jol (Fulham), Steve Clarke (West Brom), Andre Villas-Boas (Tottenham) and Malky Mackay (Cardiff City) were all sacked this month, bringing to six the number of ousted Premier League bosses.

So far, 14 matches into this campaign, no manager has been handed his P45 (Tony Pulis quit Crystal Palace on the season’s eve). If they all make it to midnight, this will be the first season since 1995-96 that the top flight has reached 7 December without a dismissal. Then the first manager to go was Roy McFarland, at Bolton, in January.

It is a very different story in the managerial killing field of the Championship, where Uwe Rösler last month became the 12th manager to part company with their employer. Even with Watford by then on their fourth gaffer, and Leeds their third, that meant nine clubs were under new management. There have also been four changes in League One, and eight in League Two.

This is not unusual. The Premier League, notes Dr Sue Bridgewater, director of sports research at Liverpool University, “has historically been somewhat more stable in terms of managerial roles than the Football League”. Bridgewater, who is also a consultant to the League Managers’ Association, adds that another likely factor is “a majority of appointments are managers with high levels of experience, success and the highest level of coaching qualification”.

 

In addition, notes Bridgewater, “last season saw the highest number of dismissals in the Premier League [12, plus Mauricio Pochettino quit] and, as so many clubs changed manager last season, these clubs are early in the tenure of the new manager and might be less likely to change again within less than a year”.

In this, the current season is similar to 1995-96, which followed a campaign in which 15 clubs changed manager either during or after the season. Only McFarland, who had been joint-manager at Bolton alongside Colin Todd, was removed, though there were also two post-season changes.

Certainly Alan Irvine’s survival prospects would seem to be enhanced by having only been appointed at West Brom during the summer. And while Albion chairman Jeremy Peace can be ruthless – Pepe Mel lasted less than six months – the fact Irvine was head-hunted by newly appointed technical director Terry Burton should buy him some time.

Similarly, that Pochettino was only hired in the summer, and Neil Warnock late August, ought to work in their favour even at clubs that work through managers as rapidly as Spurs and Palace.

There are a couple of other factors at work. No team has been cut adrift at the bottom, and is thus looking in need of dramatic surgery, and the three teams in the relegation places have managers who as recently as May were being toasted for winning promotion.

Among other bosses of clubs in the lower reaches of the table, Gus Poyet has credit in the bank for saving Sunderland from relegation last season, as do Steve Bruce for taking Hull to their first FA Cup final and highest league finish and Mark Hughes for overseeing a transformation in Stoke City’s football while also steering them to their best finish since the 1970s.

Making up the bottom nine are Aston Villa, whose four-year contract offer to Paul Lambert in the opening month of the season now looks ludicrously premature to many, but not necessarily to owner Randy Lerner. The American is trying to sell the club, so needs stability. He has also adopted an increasingly common strategic plan, which can be summarised thus: survive at minimal cost. Like Alan Pardew at Newcastle, Lambert has slashed the playing budget while staying in the Premier League, which in itself is now worth at least £65m.

The problem comes, of course, when survival is imperilled. So far Lerner and Lambert have kept their nerve and been rewarded with a brace of 15th places (worth £72.7m to Villa last season).

One other factor is the domino effect. Chairmen tend to copy each other.

Warnock has said that when he was at QPR, and just keeping clear of the relegation zone, he watched with concern the uplift in Sunderland’s results after Martin O’Neill replaced Steve Bruce in December 2011. Warnock knew his inexperienced chairman, Tony Fernandes, would look at O’Neill’s impact and assume that was what happened when a club changed manager. Sure enough, a few weeks later Fernandes fired Warnock.

LMA research suggests there is often a brief improvement when a club changes manager, but results soon revert to the norm. Improvement might, too, have happened anyway, which is why two of the most significant acts by owners this year have involved not acting.

Last winter Sam Allardyce was reportedly on the brink of being fired by West Ham almost every week. This autumn Alan Pardew was said to be one result from the sack. Both men survived and their clubs have subsequently thrived.

Given the huge cost of replacing a Premier League manager – in pay-outs to him and his backroom staff, and transfer fees as the new man demands his own players – several chairmen have doubtless looked at West Ham and Newcastle and decided to stay their hand. After all, Fulham (twice), Cardiff and Norwich all changed manager last season, and still went down.

Nevertheless, at some point a nervy chairman will reach for the trigger.

Nigel Pearson, with two points from nine games and his relationship with Leicester supporters souring, looks vulnerable. So does Bruce, who has invested more than £30m net in 2014, and won only six of 33 league matches.

Yet both clubs could suddenly revive under their management. Decisions, decisions...

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