Why do clubs sack managers when it normally does no good?

By Tony Attwood

Sacking a Premier League club manager is expensive, and dangerous, and doesn’t always work.  In fact it doesn’t normally work.  In fact, it rarely works.  But is generally expensive

Fortunately for Arsenal, the board are now made of sterner stuff than before, and there was never any real chance that Arteta would be sacked although the blogs and newspapers did their best to get him out.   Consider these headlines picked from thousands of a similar ilk that were published week after week…

These of course are just the tip of the iceberg and the question deserves to be asked, how could the media have got this so wrong, and how could a blog written by a little group of fans like this one get it so right?

Certainly one reason for the media getting it all so wrong is that they don’t like hard work, so having some dead beat ex-footballer sounding off about how awful Arsenal are, is about the easiest way of writing a column that anyone can invent.

Now you will know, if you have read Untold before, that we’ve been out on our own highlighting the issue of fouling and how reducing fouling is a way of wresting back control of a match from a referee who might be biased (as PGMO figures on the use of referees in Arsenal matches show is the case.)

But what is interesting is that the media over the years have actually asked the question, does replacing a manager mid-season improve results?  So they know the answer.

There is a fulsome academic study on this, and I am currently awaiting permission from the authors to quote their work, but for now I’ll make do with a statement from Sky Sports which said, “In almost all cases, the immediate upturn in form after sacking a manager is temporary.”

The most likely reason for that upturn is that with a new manager in place the players put in an extra effort to show the new man that none of the previous downturn was their fault, but over time that extra effort dies away, and the club slips back down again.

And some of the sackings look really silly – like Leicester getting rid of Claudio Ranieri just 25 league games after winning the Premier League title for the one and only time.  After the sacking Shakespeare took over, won five league games in a row, and then the following season opened with four defeats in six and was… sacked.

So sacking a manager in response to a poor run is not a very good idea because it mostly doesn’t actually solve anything long term.   Worse it uses up lots of money in compensation for the loss of the job, compensation to the club where the next manager is currently in residence, money spent on new players for the manager to create the club in his new image, and then money spent getting rid of the next manager.

Meanwhile the youth system is mucked up, because young players see an endless stream of transfers coming in, while they are not given a chance, so they opt to leave.

Worse, the bounce effect is not guaranteed – and sometimes is so paltry that it can hardly be said to be value for money.   Consider the sacking of Warnock by Palace back in 2014 – hardly a glorious time for the club thereafter.  Or think back to Garry Monk at Swansea or Paul Lambert at Aston Villa.

On the other hand there are some cases of results improving when a manager is not sacked.  And even more interestingly managers who are not sacked when their clubs sink to the bottom of the league can often do well.  Take Slaven Bilic at West Ham as an example.

So why do club owners do this?   One reason of course is the hope that the next manager they will get will be another Arsene Wenger delivering an all time UK record consecutive number of years in Europe.  But most of the time it appears that boards of directors haven’t got a clue what is going on.

Take Moyes at West Ham.  Moyes joined in 2017 with WHAM sitting 18th in the league.  He took them up to 13th, and as a reward on 16 May 2018, his contract was not renewed.  He came back on 29 December 2019, with the club in 17th.  They are currently third in the Premier League.  Does that set of changes sound as if the directors have any idea what they are doing?

Meanwhile elsewhere, looking at the bottom five of the Premier League only Sean Dyche of Burnley remains from the managers that started out the season with those clubs.

In fact if we run down all of the clubs who have changed managers this season it all begins to look a bit grim.

Team Outgoing manager Date out Position in the table Incoming manager Date in Position now
Wolverhampton Nuno Espírito Santo 24 May Bruno Lage 9 June 8th
Everton Carlo Ancelotti 1 Jun Rafael Benitez 30 June 11th
Tottenham Hots Ryan Mason 30 Jun Nuno Espírito Santo 30 June 9th
Watford Xisco Muñoz 3 Oct 14th Claudio Ranieri 4 October 17th
Newcastle U Steve Bruce 20 Oct 19th Graeme Jones 20 October 19th
Tottenham Hots Nuno Espírito Santo 1 Nov 8th Antonio Conte 2 November 9th
Norwich City  Daniel Farke 6 Nov 20th 20th.
Aston Villa Dean Smith 7 Nov 15th 16th
Newcastle U Graeme Jones 8 Nov 19th  Eddie Howe 8 November 19th

We might conclude that we’re lucky Mr Arteta was not sacked when the media and some fans demanded him out.

As for why clubs sack managers when it is clear it generally does no good.  Try this… First because they think it might just work, and second because they haven’t got a foggiest idea of what else to do.

2 Replies to “Why do clubs sack managers when it normally does no good?”

  1. People in leadership positions rarely get there because they know how to lead. Quite often it’s either luck or they are related to someone in a position of power. No surprise then that these boards have no clue.

  2. OT, but according to Tariq Panja’s Twitter feed, the ECA is thinking of holding its next general meeting in Doha, Qatar.

    The chairman of the ECA is…….. Nasser El-Khelaifi

    I hope they will be walking.

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