You’re fired! The dreaded two words that no one wants to hear, least of all a football manager. In these times of political correctness, you might want to call it parting by mutual consent. Time and again that Sword of Damocles hangs over their heads, sometimes to stab with ruthlessness. Never more so than last year’s Mad November. At the end of August, only four managers across the entire English football leagues had been sacked. There was optimism that the 2019/2020 season might just be different. However, from September to December, twenty-four managers had been given their marching orders in across the European leagues. Remarkable statistics but even more so when we look closer at those that were relieved of their jobs. Having not had a managerial change in over 2 decades, Arsenal sacked Unai Emery, Spurs parted ways with Mauricio Pochettino who had led them to their first-ever Champions League final last season, Watford’s Quique Sánchez Flores added to the list followed by Everton’s Marco Silva and finally the genteel Chilean, Manuel Pellegrini of West Ham completing the Doomsday December. Continental Europe was not left out of the November and December clear-out – Niko Kovač’s departed Bayern Munich and Carlo Ancelotti was asked to leave Napoli despite taking them to the Champions League knockout stages.
From the beginning of August, a total of 20 managers have left their clubs in the five biggest leagues in Europe – Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Ligue 1 and Serie A. Just over half of them had been less than a year in the position. The statistics are not encouraging.
December can be a nervous time for club chief executives and owners. With the season at its halfway point, it’s a time to take stock, assess performances and strategize for the next half of the season. In the modern era, what makes a manager’s job safe? His win margins. It is that simple! There is nothing to convince that there is more to it than that. If there were, then Arsene would still be preaching flair football or football purism to his Board and still be at the Emirates as gaffer.
Modern football has no patience for a lack of results. Given the colossal amounts spent on players and facilities, there is little room for errors. Competition is fierce. Losers are not remembered. A few of us still talk of Leeds United’s phenomenal run in the early 2000s. But talk is cheap. Leicester City have a premier league trophy in their cabinet, with the accompanying increase in premium of club and players. That is the reality. Following a £170m investment in players and with West Ham languishing slightly above the relegation zone, Pellegrini’s fate was almost inevitable. At Everton, where in the 2017/18 season, they were the fourth-highest net spenders in the premier league, it is no surprise that the manager turnover has increased since David Moyes spent eleven years at the helm. With more investment comes increased expectations. Everton have spent £450million since Farhad Moshiri became the owner in 2016 and are now on their fourth manager, interim management not included.
All eyes, therefore, are on the successors at the various clubs. Everton announce their intent to be one of the big boys by appointing a manger with the pedigree of Carlo Ancelotti. Three-time Champions League winner, he wouldn’t come cheap. Expectations have soared even higher. Spurs also go tried-and-tested in Jose Mourinho, the Reborn One, while Arsenal gamble on old boy and erstwhile Guardiola understudy, Mikel Arteta. The youngest premier league manager’s task will be to deal with the Granit Xhaka issue. Xhaka has not endeared himself to the fans by publicly disparaging them while wearing the captain’s armband. Gennaro Gattuso replaces Ancelotti at Napoli. These managers along with the numerous others will have to handle pressure especially when results are not going the team’s way. They must be ruthless while also showing compassion when needed. They will have to manage their millionaire players under media scrutiny and fan adoration. Theirs is no easy task but the potential rewards mean that as vacancies arise, there are many willing to fill them.
For those already in the job, uncertainty remains constant. Whispers are getting louder about the near-revered and sometime wunderkind, Manchester City manager, Pep Guardiola. A December 3-2 loss to Wolves seemed unimaginable until it happened. £52m-man, Benjamin Mendy was at least partly responsible for Wolves’ 82nd minute equaliser. At the other end of the scale is Matt Doherty, Wolves’ £75,000-man who was very involved in their winner. And several other losses followed. These are the metrics that make or mar a manger’s career. Bookies are part of the football value chain, with odds changing from game to game on who the next managerial casualty will be. Chelsea’s Lampard has the club and fans’ support because of his huge status there. However, if results don’t turn around quickly, no one can be certain as to who will lead the teams out in the coming months. Manager come; manager go. As events unfold, fans will always have their football.
Lande is Executive Secretary, Renewable Energy Association of Nigeria.