What happens when a Premier League club sacks its manager?

By Tony Attwood

Here’s an interesting question: what happens when a Premier League club replaces its manager?

It is an interesting question because it is one that the AAA by-passes whenever it does its anti-Wengerian rhetoric.  It just says, “Wenger out!” and cites all the things that it says are wrong.  In essence the argument is “we should be doing better than this” and from there make the leap to getting rid of Wenger.  Sometimes the statements and demands are taken further to incorporate the removal of the board, but the actual argument rarely if ever goes further.

So it is worth asking – what happens when the manager of a Premier League club goes?  Do they automatically turn things round and rise up higher?

If you are a regular reader of Untold, you might know that each time Tottenham replace a manager we take a good look at the situation, list all the managers that the club have had and do a bit of collective head-shaking.  Indeed this last time around we were even so bold as to nominate the day each season when a Tottenham manager is sacked as St Daniel’s day, named in honour of Mr Leavy.

In Tottenham’s case, self-evidently, replacing the manager doesn’t work.  But are Tottenham the exception?  Does it work for every other club, but just not Tottenham?

Now we can begin to get a picture because sports scientists at Sheffield Hallam University have been working the figures over the past 10 years of Premier League dismissals.  36 clubs have been analysed and 60 managerial changes looked into in the report. ‘You don’t know what you’re doing! The impact of managerial change on club performance in the English Premier League’ researchers looked at data from 2003/4 to 2012/2013.

And the answer to whether sacking the manager works or not is, “it depends where you are in the league”
For clubs in the top 10, sacking the manager doesn’t help.  Lower down, it might, or it might not.  One thing is sure, changing the manager is expensive and is not a guaranteed solution.

But for the elite going for the championship itself or trying for a top four finish, their findings are ‘managerial change is inadvisable’.   This is because such a change causes instability, offers no guarantee of improvement, generally costs lots and lots of money in compensation, and just makes you look stupid.  (Actually I added the last bit about making you look stupid, so ignore that if you want a serious academic analysis, but the other bits come from the report).

Certainly these figures are born out by the examples we can recall at once.  Tottenham didn’t rise up and conquer the top four each time they sacked someone.  Indeed when they sacked Arry – the one person who could get them into the Champs League, they then immediately sank down.

When the all-fighting Mr Moyes left Man U they were 7th.  When the Giggsy who “had all the look of being a successful Premier League manager” after one match, finally stopped being manager, they were… 7th.

 The researchers suggested the same pattern could be seen when Chelsea dismissed Jose Mourinho in 2007 and Luiz Felipe Scolari in 2009.  But for lower clubs, it might be worth a risk as a way of trying to avoid relegation.  It doesn’t always work however.  As Norwich found.  And Fulham.

The report shows that although clubs earn more points after changing managers – clubs in the top half of the league do no better.

Dr Stuart Flint, a lecturer in exercise psychology at Sheffield Hallam said, “The main findings of this study were that managerial changes led to an increase in points per match but did not necessarily lead to an improvement in final league position.”

So, why do clubs sack managers?

First, because it often feels better to do something than nothing.   It’s an emotion thing.
Second, doing something rather than staying with what you have, bides time.  The people criticising hold their complaints and just wait to see what happens next.  So life is quieter.
Third, supporters like the AAA like to complain, because blaming someone is their raison d’etre.  When a sacking happens they can claim a triumph.  When the improvement doesn’t happen, they can say that the board brought in the wrong man, and start complaining again because… that’s what they do.
None of these reasons has any validity whatsoever – but they are emotional.  And football is emotional – as I said in the first point.
But logic tells us that sacking the manager is a pointless exercise.  And now the evidence proves it.  It won’t stop the AAA, but then not much does.  They’re funny that way.
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21 Replies to “What happens when a Premier League club sacks its manager?”

  1. I’m sure that this is the case in general.
    One exception that proves the rule?>
    The appointment of Mr A Wenger at Arsenal.

  2. Sacking a manager works if the manager has reached the limit of its competence. Keeping an out of his depth manager does not help.
    However quite often, sacked managers are not under-performing per se. They just fail to meet the unrealistic chairman’s expectation when they don’t have the means to meet them anyway.
    Spurs is a case in point. Spurs have the 6th wage bill in the premiership and objectively are the 6th biggest club in the premiership. Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool have all bigger budget. They are exactly where they are expected to be. Daniel Levy keeps sacking managers because they fail to reach top 4 and play entertaining football. Some years, one or two of the bigger club may have a bad season, however overall teams revert to their mean financial position. Spurs have no divine right to consistently reach top 4. Levy should first build a new stadium and then use the extra resource to compete. Without more resources, unless he hire a managerial genius or a very lucky one, Levy’s hope of bringing consistent champion’s league football at White Hart Lane will always a pipe dream. His problem is that he can’t fund the stadium.
    Another reason why sacking a manager in England is not that effective is that English players are less adaptable than their foreign equivalents. As managers buy players for a specific role, when a new manager comes with different views of style of play and players’ role, the players can’t adapt. The manager has to then wait until the next window transfer before being able to modify his squad. But because of financial constraint, he may not be able to modify the squad as much as he would like to.
    Look at Stoke, their back 4 under Pulis was 4 central defenders. Any manager wanting to play silky moves and overlapping fullback would struggle with that team. That extra cost of not only replacing the manager and his staff, but also half the playing squad makes sacking a manager ever more ridiculous.

  3. I’ve always maintained that the job of football manager is among the most stressful in life.
    Despite Arsene’s success at Arsenal FC, one only has to look at a photo of him (say) 15 years ago and now. We all age with advancing years but even the pressure on a man who has tasted much glory, whose job is totally secure and whose immediate future looks bright, is clear to see.
    The players are fully fit, tactics are clear, the match is at home and the opposition is minor.
    Yet when the team starts the match, the manager is virtually helpless. Unknown to him, a player has domestic problems and his mind is elsewhere. Another is nursing an injury he keeps to himself.
    Arsene is lucky if you can call it luck. He is certain of 100% support from his Board and also from whoever becomes an employee of Arsenal FC. Such loyalty is not bought but earned over the years.
    When the time comes for the Board to appoint Arsene’s successor, it will be done calmly, quietly and with great deliberation.
    Arsene and his place at Arsenal is surely a role model for other clubs and managers to follow 🙂

  4. Off topic but the insane David Luiz transfer to PSG for a fee believed to be in excess of £50m has been confirmed by both clubs. FFP? More like FFS. Lets see if Platini will do anything to the club his son is associated with

  5. I do wonder if there is more to the Luiz move than we are being told. Luiz is not worth £50m – I suspect a series of moves to come to manoeuvre both clubs into the black for FFP.
    On its own, as Mahdain described, it is insane.

  6. Nicky
    Yeah, but for £7.5 million per year I think I’d be in a position to handle that stress, and even be in a position to work 7 days a week.

  7. It is very very tricky in Arsenal’s case.

    The team is certainly not at top ranking but the financial hand is tided for many years and it is hard to say if they have under performed. In fact one can argue they have over delivered in some years.

    They are not the top 1 or 2 now but certainly 3rd or 4th and very few manager/ coach can bring it to the very to and plenty (95%) would make it worse. Top coaches are in demand and probably not avaiable when if they suddenly fire Wenger due to poor performance. A contract run down or Wenger wanted to leave would be another story.

    Even if there is a top coach, he might not fit the style and management structure of the team. If that is the case, the new coach would take at least two to three years to tear things up and build the new one that suits him. Many great coaches fail in the process and the team need to do it all over again with the new one.

    Considering the risk and recent performance. Sticking with Wenger is the most logical strategy even if you do not like him. Especially for those who think that the team did badly because they did not bring in “big names”, it can only go up from now because they have much more money to do so. Wenger probably won’t bring in as many as people like to see but he will bring in more when he finds the right guy with the right money.

  8. Valentin
    May 23, 2014 at 8:27 pm

    To sack or not to sack?

    Valentin I think your point that a new manager has to wait for the next transfer window before obtaining players he would like, is a strong point and a major factor why a new manager is not able to produce a winning team straight away.

    A club board/owner/chairman/CEO whoever is responsible for sacking and appointing a manager has an impossible task.

    A low league position at the New Year is a conundrum for him. Does he let the situation continue? Does he change managers? The manager might change things round or start digging for relegation.

    To sack or not to sack?

    What the club boss has to take into consideration in making the decision is all the factors that are causing the team to lose. Most of these are unknown to us fans.

    Some reasons that are known or can be discovered such the number of injured players can be known to us. Most fans ignore the information that is available to them.

    They here only what they want to hear, which usually along the lines of ‘Out, out, out’ It sounds good so it must be the right decision.

    In what proved to be Arsene’s last season at Monaco, Monaco got off to a losing start and the club took the decision to scrap the manager’s new contract and dispose of him.

    With money to spend Arsene took a ‘holiday’ from European football and went to Japan. The rest you know.

    However what will happen if we get off to a poor start next season and at about Christmas we are in the bottom four?

    Of course the AAA and Uncle Tom Cobley and all will be at the club’s throat demanding the sacking of Arsene.

    It would be stupid to say ‘au revoir’ Arsene. The mistake Monaco made.

    With regard to spuds. I believe ‘Dan, Dan the sacking man’ has made a big mistake. As you point out Valentin a new manager has to wait for the next transfer window. Sherwood became the manager with the ‘cash splashed’ and has worked with players he did not choose.

    To have come sixth in the circumstances surely proved he has the ability to produce a successful team.

    He was in a good position to show that he has learnt from this season and should have been given the chance to make it to the dream land of a Champion’s League placement.

    For ‘Dan, Dan the sacking man.’ It is easier to sack then to plan.

  9. @Oldgroover,
    No amount of money can compensate for the absence of good health and the strain on Arsene over the years is plain to see.
    I only hope he is better than he looks.
    A few Chorizo-based meals would do him the power of good, IMO 😉

  10. oldgroover,

    About that much talked about Arsene Wenger’s salary (whatever amount it might be), my believe is that your employer (who aren’t financial illiterates) pay you what you are worth based on the job you do for them, how good you are at it and the number of people capable of or qualified to do it. There are very very few people in the world who can do what Arsene does. His employers know this and that is why they pay him what they do. Also, based on how the club has been run, he has earned every penny.

    You and I would work for 22 hours a day, 7 days a week for what Arsene gets but would anybody in their right mind give the job to us? It may sound popular or even witty on blogs to talk like you did but a little thinking shows the lack of logic in the statement.

    In order to earn my meagre salary, a minimum wage worker would have to work 24/7 and naturally such person would say “hey for what he earns, I’d put in more hours and days” but unfortunately for them, they lack my educational qualifications and experience which are mandatory for what I do.

    The idea of using Arsene Wenger’s salary as a cudgel to beat him with his poorly thought out and one resorted to whenever there is need to malign him. It shouldn’t be because he gets what men of his calibre are paid but unlike most of such men, he earns it every year.

  11. A great deal of sense spoken in the article and comments.

    Bootoomee – really good points about the salary.

    An interesting case is WBA. Normally come across as stable – but the sacking of Clarke was utter madness. Some great results – but then a run of 4 defeats and he is out the door. They were very, very lucky not to go down this season. And, frankly, with decision making that bad they deserved to. Unsurprisingly, the replacement manager has now gone too. Jeremy Peace – you don’t deserve to still be in the Premier League (not fair to blame the fans – no issue there).

    West Ham, on the other hand, stayed loyal and were rewarded (much as I dislike Fat Sam). Kudos to Gold and Sullivan.

  12. @Mahdain – what a great little video – thanks for the link! Me too – I shed a tear. That cheer for Arsene Wenger at the end!

  13. Instead of focusing on Arsene. Wenger salary, think about the following:



    The West Ham wage bill for him and his non playing staff (coaches, nutritionist, physios, statisticians, …) is higher than Athletico Madrid players wage bill!

    Now knowing that, do you still think that Arsene Wenger is overpaid?

  14. For the sake of clarification, I did not say that Arsene Wenger is overpaid or undeserving of his very high salary.

  15. Wenger does earn a good salary, but …..how many years in the CL….let alone his successes, his guiding the club through the stadium move and his record on transfers….he is worth every penny and a hell of a lot more. Stan and Ivan are well aware of this

  16. AW is manager, footballing director, VP of operations, VP of budget, VP of transfers, confident to the players, translator / decoder, scouting chief, valuation expert, diet guru, fitness supervisor, head communicator, espionage / counter-espionage director, architect of stadium outside and inside, and creator of visible and invisible goonerdom since his appointment.
    Since AW has about 15 jobs at the club, an average salary of 0.5 mil per job is absolutely justifiable. I looked at the salaries and I value him at over 10.4 mil per year.

  17. I think sacking a manager only makes sense when he is either severely under-performing, or there is someone else willing to take over who has a more suitable long term vision.

    What the people calling for Wenger’s sacking often point to is that ‘other big clubs’ are all about results (as if Arsenal somehow aren’t) and if a manager doesn’t win, he’s out. Ok, Real Madrid seem to operate that way. As do Chelsea. Barcelona less so, but still do (especially this season)

    What they forget is that those clubs (apart from Chelsea) all have a structure that was established for them many years ago. An identity. So a new manager coming in, is only filling in the blanks. Wenger has established Arsenal’s identity and brought them to the elite. Any manager coming in now will not be reversing Wenger’s philosophy, nor should he be allowed to be. Wenger is, and will be, to Arsenal (a bit more than) what Cruyff is to Barcelona. The reason for their success even 20 years after he left the club.

    So, who do we get to build on Wenger’s work that is expected to be so good that it requires Wenger not being continued with? And why must it happen now and not 2, 3 or even 5 years down the line?

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