Football & Management

To Sack or Not Sack: Football Managers Living on the Edge

By Lande Abudu


“The modern manager lives on the edge, fighting for his job from game to game, unsure of when his board might wield the axe. Across the English football leagues last season, there were 59 managerial changes. Whose head will be next on the chopping block?”


Arguably one of the biggest games in the English Premier League, the “Manchester United versus Liverpool” fixture—also known as the northwest derby—commands global attention. Year in year out, players and fans alike are charged with electric excitement in preparation for the duel. This year was no different. The season’s first northwest derby, ended in a near-controversial draw; which ultimately means two things: Liverpool’s race towards a Premiership title has suffered a temporary setback, and the predictions of a loss that was supposed to end Olé Gunnar Solksjaer time as Manchester United’s manager didn’t come to pass. Olé can breathe again. But where is this intro leading?

The contrasting fortunes of two Premier League managers have never been better highlighted – on one hand is the legendary player-turned-manager (Solksjaer) and on the other is the poster boy, Champions League winner and mastermind of Liverpool’s revival otherwise known as Jürgen Klopp. Pre-match hype centred on this contrast so much that the match itself almost became secondary. Results are everything and longevity as an EPL manager is a thing of the past.

The modern manager lives on the edge, fighting for his job from game to game, unsure of when his board might wield the axe. The sack race is well and truly on. Across the English football leagues last season, there were 59 managerial changes. Whose head will be next on the chopping block?

The bookies aren’t complaining, though. One of the side-effects of the unpredictability of managerial positions is the boost to the betting industry. Following Arsenal’s loss to Sheffield United, odds on Unai Emery, the manager being sacked, were slashed from 23/1 to 8/1. There’s number-crunching going on for those in the most precarious positions including Mauricio Pocchettino (Tottenham Hotspur), Marco Silva (Everton) and Frank Lampard (Chelsea). Massimiliano Allegri was reported to be in England, waiting for the nod from Old Trafford as a replacement for the beleaguered Olé. Furious betting activity ensued. Will he, won’t he? There is potential for anything to become big business.

What might be more pertinent to ask is whether the swift termination of a manager’s contract necessarily solves the problem. Jose Mourinho was pilloried for everything, from team selection to style of play and transfer activity. Cheers greeted Solksjaer’ s appointment as United’s caretaker manager. A heady and historic Champions League comeback against PSG was supposed to be part of heralding a new era: ‘Olé’s at the wheel!’ Current situation – he is hanging onto his job by a thread having been given the role in full capacity. Even his legend status will wear thin if fans don’t see the right results soon. Ironically, the much-maligned Mourinho boasts a higher win rate: 52% to Solksjaer’ s 29% after 17 games in charge. To better put it in perspective, the even-more-loathed David Moyes can boast 58% while Sir Alex, who had a 41%-win rate from his first 17 matches, of course, went on to bulge United’s trophy cabinet.

No modern-day manager will get the chance to spend over twenty years in the role. The jury is still very much out on whether a quick dismissal paves the way for guaranteed success. Not being a scientific study, a win rate is only one of the metrics to judge a manger by. The club ethos, the style of play and the dressing room rapport all play a role in the decision. Increasingly, wealthy owners keen to see a return on investment also loom large in the background.

The impact on the game is big. Uncertainty can lead to a lack of loyalty. After all, if a contract is not worth the paper it’s signed on, does it not encourage the mercenary candidate? If you don’t have time to build and implement a cohesive strategy, it surely must put the club at a disadvantage. There has to be a correlation between club success and longevity of the manger. Both Klopp and Pep Guardiola went without a trophy in their first seasons in charge. The next season, Manchester City won the premier league with a record number of points.  Had the owners hastily dismissed Guardiola following a trophy-less season and huge outlay, the club’s future might have been very different indeed. He makes a good case for giving managers some time to properly execute their plans.

In contrast, under Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, there have been 13 previous managers, Frank Lampard being the 14th. He would argue that despite the frequency and the big compensations paid, they can boast an increase in the number of trophies won for the club. It is still not a perfect science: to sack or not to sack? The number of managers looking over their shoulders in the dugout is not about to decrease anytime soon. Not while the odds are pasted on almost every high street.

Lande is Executive Secretary, Renewable Energy Association of Nigeria.

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