With 'just' three sacked, the Premier League is a manager's safe haven
The Weekend Dossier: The Championship has already gobbled up and spat out 14 managers this term
Sadly, we have become almost immune to people losing their jobs. Perhaps it is another consequence of an endless recession. Jobs go. Life goes on. In football, there is scant regard for employment. It is 20 years since supporters started vociferously (and gleefully) informing managers that they were about to be put on the dole. "You're getting sacked in the morning" is not one of English football's greatest works. A social conscience sometimes escapes the game. Bad results? Give someone the sack, anyone, just get rid of them.
It is to that backdrop that the League Managers' Association released these figures: 37 managers (or 40 per cent) in England have lost their jobs since the start of the season (we're only in February, don't forget), either through dismissal or resignation. Imagine 40 per cent of a workforce wiped out in seven months and the reality of those figures should sink a little deeper. It is a phenomenal turnover. The grim reaper in English football has never had it so good.
Yet – and it feels incredible, so it must be incredibly – the Premier League has become the bastion of calm. Twenty men stepped out into the lion's den on that first weekend back in August: 17 of them are still there. That means "only" 15 per cent of top-flight managers in England have lost their jobs. (It also means that the rate of people leaving their posts in the remaining three leagues in English football stands at a staggering 47 per cent, with just under a third of the season still to play.)
In the Premier League only Chelsea, Southampton and Queen's Park Rangers have felt the need to replace their manager mid- campaign. The three were among the bookmakers' pre-season favourites to get the chop. Anything that went on Wembley-bound Michael Laudrup (8-1 before a ball was kicked) and Steve Clarke (comfortably in the top 10 for the campaign's entirety, also 8-1 in August) looks particularly misjudged. Nigel Adkins, however, was in charge of a newly promoted team with an unpredictable chairman. Roberto Di Matteo was the man who had to win the Champions League to get a permanent position. They looked vulnerable before a ball was kicked, and so it proved, but it is the new-found solidity in Premier League boardrooms, during a season, that is revealing.
New media – and by that we mean the internet and specifically Twitter – has hastened the demands from noisy (if not necessarily representative) supporters for change. So far this season the eye of those calling for a dismissal has at some period pointed at Brendan Rodgers, Alan Pardew, Martin O'Neill, Sam Allardyce, Brian McDermott and Paul Lambert.
Currently Rafa Benitez, Arsène Wenger and Roberto Mancini find themselves unable to move away from talk of their impending dismissal. "F****** hell" was the response of Mancini yesterday to speculation that he was about to be replaced by the Malaga coach, Manuel Pellegrini. Mancini is manager of the current Premier League champions. That is easily forgotten in some quarters; not however, it is emerging, in boardrooms. Premier League clubs are keeping their fingers away from the trigger while the season unfolds.
This year's calm, relative to the rest of English football, follows a trend. Last season only four managers went in the top flight during the campaign. Change during 38 games is no longer seen as a wise move.
Steve Bruce (Sunderland) was sacked at the end of November, Neil Warnock (QPR) went on 8 January, Mick McCarthy (Wolves) was relieved of his duties in 13 February, and from there, with more than three months of football to run, only Andre Villas-Boas (Chelsea) was fired.
Three this season. Four last. The Championship has already gobbled up and spat out 14 managers this season. The Premier League used to change more mid-season as well, if not quite to that level. In 2010-11, six managers lost their jobs during the season. In 2008-09, eight managers bit the dust, as did the same number the season before. The haste for mid-season change is lessening.
The LMA is aware of the change in mid-term casualties. It is an area amid increasingly brutal statistics (55 per cent of first-time managers never get another job) to offer a hint of optimism.
It is also the case that you will get more of a chance to impact upon a club if you land a job at the top table. The average duration of a Premier League manager's term of office is currently 3.88 years (figures obviously helped by the longevity of Sir Alex Ferguson and Wenger), compared to 1.29 in the Championship. For the record, League One is similarly fraught at 1.36 years to impact upon a club and League Two at 2.23.
The opportunity to afford change is important. It offers stability. It does not, however, mean that pre-season is a bed of roses. Alex McLeish (Aston Villa), Kenny Dalglish (Liverpool) and Harry Redknapp (Tottenham) all went last summer, but at least they were not cut off mid-term – as those in the graveyard of the Championship will admit, it is better than their lot right now.
1. Sparks still flying in Turkey
Fenerbahce's Europa League tie with Bate on Thursday was played behind closed doors because fireworks and objects were thrown on to the pitch during an earlier game against Borussia Mönchengladbach. It was still not enough to stop a lit flair landing near the dugouts during the first half, arriving attached to a parachute.
2. Rochdale's feat endures
"It is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime occasion for a Fourth Division player, it'll be a long time until another one gets there." They are the words of Peter Whyke to Bradford City's players. He should know. In 1962, he and his Rochdale team reached the final of the League Cup from the fourth tier, the only team other than Bradford to do so: "Even after more than 50 years there are still people coming to our house for autographs." Rochdale lost the two-legged final to Norwich. That anecdote is a pointed reminder that football fans see more than score lines.
3. Fans' Van Persie blunder
When the blinkers go on fans, there is no hope. Sections of Arsenal's support backed the decision to sell Robin van Persie last summer. The argument then was that he was old (28), injury-prone and the arrival of new players with the £20m Manchester United paid would more than offset the sale. I don't really need to put anything here, do I?
4. Big boys fall short...
It is 17 years since the Premier League was not represented in the Champions League quarter-finals. For Arsenal, hopes of progress to the last eight now seem slim after the loss to Bayern Munich. Manchester United's hopes are better, but no better than 50-50, against Real Madrid after a 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu. However, the Champions League was still more of a cup competition in 1996, filled, strangely, with each country's champions. Thus England's failure was limited to the failure of Blackburn Rovers. More questions should be raised if four clubs cannot produce a team able to reach the last eight.
5. Minnows seize the day...
Premier League big boys will also not be represented in the League Cup final tomorrow. Good. Swansea City and Bradford City have treated the competition with huge respect this season. Thus, one of them will win it.
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