This week, Bruce Halling reflects on managerial sackings and the ruthless nature of Football League management.
The role of the first team manager seems to be under more scrutiny than ever, particularly in the tight and competitive environment of the Football League. This has been demonstrated by the fact that since the Football League season kicked off six weeks ago, already five clubs have sought a change of management.
Andy Thorn (Coventry), John Sheridan (Chesterfield), Terry Brown (Wimbledon), Gary Waddock (Wycombe) and John Ward (Colchester) have already bitten the bullet as clubs seek to make changes to appease the high expectations of executives, sponsors and fans in a game in which it seems that short-term success appears to hold more and more importance in comparison with any long-term objectives the owners may have. Indeed, for a manager to have lasted in the job for more than three years now is considered something of an achievement – at current, only eight of the Football League’s seventy-two managers have been in their current position for over three years.
It is surely no coincidence that of the aforementioned five, three were managing clubs who had suffered relegation at the end of last season. It is surely taken for granted that there will be a period of adjustment for these clubs as they have to adapt to life in a lower division, and with it changes in the playing staff, with players either choosing to leave to pursue their playing careers at the level which they had become accustomed to play at, or being moved on for financial reasons. Yet the period of time being allowed for a readjustment to a new league is getting smaller and smaller – Thorn was afforded just three league games this season before being shown the door. He can quite justifiably feel hard done by as well, as Coventry have yet to pick up a league point since his dismissal a month ago.
And what of John Sheridan too? His Chesterfield side were doomed to relegation by about February of last season, yet he was allowed to stay in the role for the entire season. The Spireites form improved dramatically over the final third of last season, with the team winning the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and ending up finishing third bottom, which would have been unthinkable three months prior to the end of the season. All the indicators pointed towards the board having faith in Sheridan’s ability to bounce back from the blow of relegation and mount a challenge for promotion this season. Instead, after three league games, he too was shown the door.
This just demonstrates that the constant craving for success is almost overpowering and unbearable, and that ultimately, once the end of the season comes and a new one starts, the achievements of times gone by are merely confined to the history books. John Still at Dagenham & Redbridge seems to be the only standout exception from this recent trend, with the 62-year-old remaining in the job following their relegation from League One a couple of seasons ago and their subsequent struggle for survival last season. It would have been all too easy for the Daggers to sack their manager last season, but it appears that chairman David Andrews is more than happy to keep Still in the role, given that it was under his management that the club came into the Football League for their first time in their history. This loyalty to a manager who has brought the club success in the past, however, is an increasingly rare occurrence.
For the unfortunate victims of this hire-and-fire culture that now exists, it is often the case that managers are hindered in seeking new employment by the fact that they are often remembered for their failures rather than for their achievements. Gary Megson, for example, seems to be a man that nobody wants to have in charge of their football club, yet he twice led West Brom into the Premiership. There are more examples of this, too. Billy Davies, who has been out of a job for over a year, took an unfancied Derby County into the Premiership, but his spell there will be remembered more for how hapless the side were after they went up. Phil Brown did wonders with Hull City, but will be better remembered for his failure with Preston. Even George Burley, who took Ipswich Town into the Premiership and led them to a fifth place finish in their first season up, isn’t a manager who seems particularly sought after, and his reputation won’t have been done any good after his most recent managerial stint with Apollon Limassol was brought to an end after just two games.
The only good news for the men who are ruthlessly dispatched by the merry-go-round of football management is that, because managers are chopped and changed so frequently, there sometimes comes an opportunity for a manager to seek redemption. The obvious example that springs to mind here, at least from recent times, is Alan Pardew. After decent spells in charge of Reading and West Ham, he was deemed to have ‘failed’ at Charlton and Southampton – despite winning more than half of his games in charge at the latter. He was given the job at Newcastle in December 2010, and is doing a fantastic job there now, having led them to a 5th place finish last season.
And yet, it goes on. Over the next few weeks, I expect more sackings to come, with a number of managers under pressure to deliver results in the coming weeks or face a spell out of work. The names that spring to mind include Steve Kean (Blackburn), Paul Jewell (Ipswich), Darren Ferguson (Peterborough), Paul Groves (Bournemouth) and Mark McGhee (Bristol Rovers), and it will be interesting to see how quickly the managerial merry-go-round dispatches of some of these managers who are not currently living up to the expectations of their respective clubs.