“Sacked in the morning” – the Premier League’s managerial merry-go-round

by Mark Leonard

Rene Muelensteen“You’re gettin’ sacked in the morning” is a familiar chant heard from the stands these days. On the sidelines stands a twitchy manager who looks like Lee Van Cleef is about to fill him with lead.

The median tenure of a Premier League manager at the end of last season was 349.5 days, according to worldsoccertalk.com. This is about the same shelf life of a bottle of ketchup.

Eight Premier League managers have been ejected from their hot seats so far in the 2013-14 season. Five managers were sacked during the 2013-13 campaign.

The marriage is over

Much has already been written about the merits or craziness of each sacking so I’ll try a different approach and compare the sackings to the thoughts of a wife leaving her husband. This is a stretch but bear with me!

Paolo Di Canio, Sunderland – sacked 22nd September

His eccentricities used to be charming but I don’t want to be married to a mad fascist anymore. All my friends were delighted when I told them about the breakup.

Ian Holloway, Crystal Palace – mutual consent 23rd October

We tried marriage counselling but after he rotated through five different counsellors, enough was enough. Also, I didn’t like the way he looked at my sister.

Martin Jol, Fulham – sacked 1st December

He just let himself go. He still wears that faded blue Status Quo t-shirt from his college days. There were yellow stains under the armpits but he wouldn’t let me chuck it out. When he said, “it’s the t-shirt or me”, I decided to walk.

Steve Clarke, West Bromwich Albion – sacked, 14th December

He always treated me right but the miserable bugger hadn’t smiled at me in two years. Then, I went to a conference and was awestruck by the surprisingly lively presentation on thermodynamics by a Spaniard. Questions and answers turned into drinks, which turned into … well, you know.

Andre Villas-Boas, Tottenham Hotspur – sacked, 16th December

My first husband, Harry, wouldn’t even listen to me anymore so I was excited when Andre entered my life. All my friends told me that he was too young for me but I didn’t care.  When I mentioned a Roxy Music song to him one day, he asked me whether Roxy Music was a new iPhone app. I knew then that we had no future.

Malky Mackay, Cardiff City – sacked, 27th December

All my friends loved him. One day, on a whim, I went to a fortune teller who told me that I could do better. Our marriage never recovered.

Michael Laudrup, Swansea City – sacked, 4th February

A friend told me that she saw him flirting with someone else. He didn’t seem interested in “us” anymore. I dumped him before he could dump me.

Rene Meulensteen, Fulham – sacked 14th February

I was on holidays in Vegas. Rene talked a good game. Eight White Russians later, Mrs Meulensteen sounded like a good name. The next morning, it all went a bit Britney Spears.

But they looked so happy together!

Which of this year’s casualties was most shocking? You never know what’s going on behind closed doors. Relationships can end for a variety of reasons that are never obvious to outsiders.

Let’s start with Michael Laudrup. He topped a readers poll last year when fans were asked for their first choice to replace Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid. Last year, Laudrup led Swansea to their first major trophy, the Capital One Cup (that’s the League Cup to the rest of us).

His star of last season, Michu, struggled with injuries this year and there were stories of indiscipline in the squad. He might have walked himself at the end of the season but this sacking was harsh.

Steve Clarke’s sacking seems to have had the worst repercussions. Like Swansea, West Brom were struggling to match their over-achievement from the previous season, but they were hardly in free fall. The sacking was another bad move. Clarke had oodles of Premiership experience. Much of it was as a coach instead of the main man but his replacement, Pepe Mel, has a steep learning curve in English football if he wants to enjoy a summer in the West Midlands.

According to Wikipedia, Mel is also a novelist, having published two books, ‘Liar’ and ‘The Road to the Afterlife’. His research for those books might help him understand the mind of a football chairman.

I just can’t see what Malkay Mackay did wrong. He won the Championship and finally got Cardiff to the promised land of the Premier League after some near misses. Instead of basking in the glory and enjoying their time in the limelight, Vincent Tan decided that Cardiff could upgrade their manager, despite his popularity with the fans. It looks like a dumb move.

Villas-Boas was sacked by Spurs when they were in 7th spot and just three points off a Champions League place. Spurs endured some punishing losses but AVB was being lauded last season and, similarly to Laudrup, was linked with some big continental jobs. The Gareth Bale money was spent primarily on a gaggle of midfielders when at least one centre-half was much needed.

Spurs have a technical director, Franco Baldini, so all the blame can’t be placed at AVB’s door. Soldado hasn’t worked out and they could have picked up Benteke from Villa at the same price. AVB’s successor, Tim Sherwood, is already looking a bit shaky even though his results have been reasonable. It will be interesting to see what happens down the Lane this summer.

The strangest sacking of all was Rene Meulensteen. He lasted 75 days and was never given a real chance. Felix Magath has a reputation in Germany of saving teams from relegation but this one smells of desperation. Earlier in the season, Meulensteen was sacked after 16 days in charge of Anzhi Makhachkala. He needs to look for a more stable line of work but presumably he’s gotten some nice payoffs to ease the pain as he licks his wounds.

Even managers holding on to their jobs seem to get more abuse these days. Clubs and marriage. It seems like there’s no manager you can’t disparage.

Fear of failure

The fear of failure seems to be driving owners to be increasingly trigger happy. The stakes are high. According to this Guardian article, the new £5.5bn television deal ensures that the team that finishes bottom walks away with around £63m. Even relegation guarantees £59m in future parachute payments spread over the next four seasons. Owners tend to be more financially adventurous than the average punter, so is it any wonder that many of them are taking a gamble?

Successful businessmen are used to calling the shots and correcting the course of their company when something goes wrong. One of the only levers they can pull in a football club is changing the manager, often “bringing in their own man”. The financial hit can be huge as you pay off the sacked manager while the new manager often proceeds to revamp the squad.

It will be interesting to see if the Premier League’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules have any teeth to prevent clubs gambling with their futures. I suspect that while the stakes continue to be so high, we’ll see more creative accounting and more gaffers getting the boot. The smart ones will be negotiating a good severance package up-front.

By Mark Leonard

Mark is Irishman living in San Francisco, he supports Aston Villa.

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