John Barnwell, the former Wolves manager, once said “If you are a manager you don’t have fitted carpets.” Fewer people now take their carpets with them when they move house, but the principle is as valid as ever with even successful managers constantly in danger of the bullet.
Brian McDermott’s sacking by Reading this week was almost as brutal as Southampton’s dismissal of Nigel Adkins in January. It is less than a year since the pair were celebrating promotion to the Premier League, yet Sam Allardyce is now the only surviving manager of the trio who came up last summer, which few would have anticipated in August.
The West Ham man is one of only two managers promoted into the Premier League in the last five seasons to still be in the same job. The other is Tony Pulis, now in his fifth season since taking Stoke City back into the top flight and under pressure himself from supporters after a rare run of indifferent form.
Seven of the remaining 13 were fired, five without even completing their first Premier League season. Indeed, McDermott is the third Championship-winning manager in succession to be axed midway through the subsequent campaign following Chris Hughton (Newcastle United) and Neil Warnock (Queen’s Park Rangers). Neither of those teams were even in the relegation zone at the time.
Reading were level bottom, but given McDermott had the smallest budget in the division that was hardly surprising. In his Evening Standard column yesterday, Allardyce wrote: “For a new manager in the Premier League your budget, and particularly your wage bill, has to increase dramatically in the first year otherwise you are far more likely to be relegated.”
Despite the takeover by Anton Zingarevich, McDermott was only given £6m of the club’s massive Premier League income to strengthen the team and was able to recruit one marquee signing, Zingarevich’s compatriot Pavel Pogrebnyak. Whether the striker was McDermott’s choice or the owner’s is moot. With five Premier League goals Pogrebnyak has lived down to the low expectations of Russians established by his predecessors in England.
Several of the managers promoted into the Premier League in recent years have moved on voluntarily, and in some cases controversially. While Brendan Rodgers went to Liverpool with Swansea’s blessing, neither Burnley nor Norwich were happy to lose Owen Coyle and Paul Lambert respectively. While the managers’ behaviour can hardly be admired, their lack of loyalty is unsurprising given the alacrity with which clubs sack managers. Coyle’s successor at Turf Moor, Brian Laws, was given less than a year while Lambert’s predecessor at Carrow Road, Bryan Gunn, was axed after two games as a permanent appointee.
Is there any method to the dismissals? Last season QPR were 17th when they fired Warnock. They appointed Mark Hughes, spent heavily in the transfer window, and finished 17th. Hughes was sacked himself this season with QPR bottom, which is where they are this morning, though recent improvement under Harry Redknapp, after a third wave of spending, suggests they may yet escape. West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle prospered after Di Matteo and Hughton left but neither were in crisis at the time and the improvement might easily be ascribed to the vagaries of form, especially when injuries and the fixture list can significantly affect results. Both sacked managers have done well elsewhere since.
Dr Sue Bridgewater of the Warwick Business School, who works with the League Managers’ Association, said research indicates there is often an immediate upturn in results but that usually lasts no more than a dozen games and the team frequently then perform worse than before the management change. She added: “Research into other sports such as baseball shows that – whether or not you change manager – at some stage you get a similar upturn in form.”
Of course, with nine matches to go, a short-term boost might save Reading thereby appearing to justify Zingarevich’s decision. But Reading enjoyed a similar revival in January collecting 10 points from 12 and earning McDermott the manager of the month award. The improvement in their form post-Christmas (14 points from 11 games – compared to nine from 18 pre-Christmas) suggests McDermott had begun to get to grips with the top flight despite his stubborn preference for playing two strikers and two wingers, which has often left his team very open.
Long term, Bridgewater said, studies conclude “clubs who change managers frequently do worse than those who have more stability.” They also incur extra expense, in settlement payments to the former manager and his coaching staff, and through meeting the new man’s inevitable desire to overhaul the playing squad.
Yet the sackings continue. “With some owners,” said Bridgewater, “it can be a perception issue – they think ‘he’s a Championship manager, he’s a Premier League manager’. So someone can get a club promoted, but then the owner thinks, ‘that’s not who I would have appointed if we were in the Premier League to start with.’
“For others, they want to be seen to be doing something. If the new man keeps them up the board can say they got it right; if he doesn’t, they can say they tried everything.”
Meanwhile McDermott will spend this afternoon following events from Old Trafford from afar, every bulletin a dagger to his broken heart.
Little reward: Changes at the top
Promoted Club Manager Fate When Seasons*
2012 Reading Brian McDermott Sacked Mar 2013 0
2012 Southampton Nigel Adkins Sacked Jan 2013 0
2012 West Ham Sam Allardyce Still there - -
2011 QPR Neil Warnock Sacked Jan 2012 0
2011 Norwich Paul Lambert Resigned Jun 2012 1
2011 Swansea Brendan Rodgers Resigned Jun 2012 1
2010 Newcastle Chris Hughton Sacked Dec 2010 0
2010 West Brom Roberto Di Matteo Sacked Feb 2011 0
2010 Blackpool Ian Holloway Resigned Nov 2012 2
2009 Wolves Mick McCarthy Sacked Feb 2012 2
2009 Birmingham Alex McLeish Resigned Jun 2011 2
2009 Burnley Owen Coyle Resigned Jan 2010 0
2008 West Brom Tony Mowbray Resigned Jun 2009 1
2008 Stoke City Tony Pulis Still there - -
2008 Hull City Phil Brown Sacked Mar 2010 1
* seasons lasted after winning promotion
1. School sport feels the pinch
David Cameron is expected to announce a new £100m-150m school sports initiative today. In 2010 the Education Minister, Michael Gove, ended the successful school sports partnerships, which had £162m in ring-fenced funding. It doesn’t need a maths teacher to do the sums. This is a cut.
2. League learning curve has become a treadmill
Brentford’s thoughtful manager Uwe Rosler had a point this week when he suggested lower league clubs play in too many competitions. Echoing an argument often used about county cricket’s treadmill, he said: “The lower leagues are there to develop players. That doesn’t only come through games but also training. In our league we have no time to train. It’s just resting, then playing. Other countries are miles ahead in terms of player development.”
3. Thriving Indonesia is next frontier for Premier League
Ever wondered why Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool are touring Indonesia this summer? A survey by upmarket estate agents Knight Frank offers an answer. Luxury property prices in the archipelago are the fastest-rising in the world, with a 38 per cent rise in Jakarta, the capital. This huge nation (235 million population) has one of the world’s most rapidly growing economies and a love of football that the chaotic domestic game is unable to exploit, but our clubs would love to.
4. Investors hedging their bets on football
There are no crumbs of comfort for Coventry City fans from the dire straits the club finds itself in, but there could be a silver lining for the wider game. The losses incurred by hedge fund SISU may deter other opportunist investors in the knowledge that football clubs are not always a short cut to a fast buck.
5. Arsenal Ladies fly the flag for English clubs
Stop the hand-wringing, there is one English club left in the Champions League. Arsenal Ladies take on Italy’s Torres in the first leg of their quarter-final on Wednesday. However, that this match takes place at Borehamwood FC, at 3pm, not the Emirates at 7.45pm, shows how far the women’s game has to go to gain popular appeal. This despite England’s growing success, most recently in this week’s Cyprus Cup.