Do clubs really get improvement when they change managers?





By Tony Attwood

“The best month to change your manager – and why sackings always work”

Back in March last year we ran a piece “Why Arsenal supporters should support Tottenham’s fans’ push for a new manager.”

At the time we noted that while Arsenal had been restrained in changing managers, Tottenham, Manchester City and above all Chelsea, have worked on the idea that two years is a long time in Premier League management.   Looking at the traditional big six through this century and the difference between Arsenal (where the average tenure of a manager is seven years), and the other top six clubs, we found that elsewhere the tenure is much shorter – all the way down to Chelsea where the average managerial tenure at the time as 1.6 years.

Our conclusion was that “there is no direct link between the average tenure of each club’s manager and the number of trophies he manages to pick up. Manchester City and Tottenham H change managers every 2.3 years on average.  Man C have won 11 trophies and Tottenham Hots 1.”

A further conclusion was that, “to make a success of regular managerial changes the club needs vast amounts of money available so that each manager can buy his team, before having it dismantled by the next guy, and so on and on.”  (And we didn’t even get round to the cost of managerial compensation for breach of contract).

The occasion of that enquiry was a defeat of Tottenham after which every caller and commentator on TalkSport2 seemed to want a new manager, with no one questioning whether it would improve Tottenham’s position of being the club that has won the same number of trophies in the 21st century as each of Wigan Athletic, Portsmouth, Swansea City, Birmingham City and Middlesbrough.

The conclusion was “the knee-jerk reaction of clubs and fans to demand a change of manager is as likely to make things worse as it is to make things better.”  Chelsea make it work, we argued, because they simply keep changing managers until they get one who wins things, and when he stops winning things he goes.

Finally, we concluded that “demanding that the manager goes, is as good a way as any of making matters worse – or at least ensuring that they don’t get better. 

So it is interesting to read in the Telegraph an analysis of the impact of Premier League sackings which has as part of its headline “The best month to change your manager – and why sackings always work”.

And there was me saying that much of the time they make things worse.  How could I get it so wrong?

The exact statement in the Telegraph is that “mid-season managerial changes have delivered impressive results at clubs across the division. Everton moved up six places in the league table after swapping Marco Silva for Carlo Ancelotti in December 2019, while Newcastle United moved up eight places last season after replacing Steve Bruce with Eddie Howe in October.

“Another example is the dismissal of Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham Hotspur, and the subsequent appointment of Jose Mourinho. It did not work out in the long-term for Mourinho in north London but it should be remembered that Spurs were 14th when he took over in November 2019. That season, they ultimately finished in sixth.”

Now the clue to what is going on here is the, “It did not work in the long-term” statement.  What we need to know is exactly what term it did work out in.

The paper looks at 27 managerial changes across the past four seasons, and their impact.  12 of the changes resulted in clubs rising up the table over a four month period, four went down, and 11 remained where they were.

So on that basis changing the manager has a success rate of 44% – under half.  Which is rather odd both in terms of the cost of such changes and the headline “Why sackings always work”.

But when we look at by how much the clubs that are counted as having success actually went up, we can see that the average number of places these clubs that went up moved by was just three.

And remember, only a minority of clubs actually improved places by sacking their manager.

In fact the table of clubs rising successfully is dominated by two clubs: Tottenham and Newcastle who each went up eight places after the sacking of Pochettino by Mourinho and Bruce by Howe.   

And indeed the Newcastle situation of replacing Bruce by Howe is an odd one since that replacement came about because of the purchase of Newcastle by the Saudi Arabian state, and it was evident for months that Steve Bruce simply had a holding position while matters were resolved.  His ability to buy players was severely curtailed since everyone knew that there would soon be a new manager in charge.

So what we have in the Telegraph is a long and detailed article “Revealed: The best month to change your manager – and why sackings always work” which reveals nothing of the kind, but in fact reveals that managerial change only works in a minority of cases, and even then, most of the time, the changes are so small as to be an extreme waste of money.

But why would they do that?

The answer is simple.  As with player transfer rumours, football journalists love suggestions of change – it gives them simple stories that can be put together quickly.   Hence the 100+ stories about Arsenal buying players every summer, and now, the stories of how good managerial changes are.

If it ever leaked out that most transfers of players and changes of managers actually don’t work at all, that would scupper the raison d’être of 95% of football journalism.  And then where would we be?

2 Replies to “Do clubs really get improvement when they change managers?”

  1. The reason clubs change managers is simple, it’s easier to change a manager than most of the players. That’s true even if it’s the players that are the problem. That wasn’t true of Chelsea under Abramovich of course, he would change managers and players regardless of cost. I doubt that will continue under his successors. Where you draw the lines changes the story. Far from a short term appointment Pochettino was at Spurs for 6 seasons. Most of them were very successful but towards the end of his tenure he seemed to lose the plot and was eventually replaced. Given the problems Spurs had replacing him I would imagine they are hoping Conte hangs around rather than doing his normal vanishing act. Sometimes the club has no choice about changing managers. I doubt Brighton wanted to lose Potter but once Chelsea offered to quadruple his salary they didn’t have a choice.

  2. Potter can save a pile of that wage increase for 1.6 years. When they fire him he will be welcome at many other clubs.

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