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Sacked Managers Prove Patience Is A Virtue That Can Ill Be Afforded

Wednesday 16th October 2013
Bruce Halling  looks at the recent sackings of David Weir and Martin Allen, asking the question of why it is that managers are so dispensable in the modern game.

Over the past week, we have seen two League One clubs pull the trigger and decide the services of their respective managers are no longer required. David Weir's time in charge of Sheffield United proved to be significantly less successful than had been hoped for - after the club had won their opening game of the season, they failed to register another league victory and Weir ultimately paid the price for the club's poor form with his job. Gillingham are the other club who have opted to make a change by sacking Martin Allen, who had led the club to the League Two title last season.

Both managers have paid the price for underachievement on the pitch, albeit in somewhat different circumstances. In Weir's case, this was his first managerial role and one where the demands couldn't have been higher for a club at this level. Sheffield United are currently suffering from big-club-stuck-in-a-small-division syndrome, with the club historically used to playing at a higher level than where they are at currently. It was a slump a few years ago, capped off with a short but horrid spell in charge from Micky Adams which saw the club fall into the third tier and from there, it has continued to be bad news for the Blades.

In the 2011-12 season, Sheffield United were one of three Yorkshire clubs battling to be best of the rest behind Charlton in the race for automatic promotion, alongside Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield. It was a strange season in which both of the other clubs changed managers in the second half of the season despite being in the top four, while Sheffield United stuck by Danny Wilson. Ultimately, it would be Sheffield United who missed out on promotion, while the other two teams went up - one by claiming second place and the other through the playoffs.

Last season, Sheffield United would again see promotion slip away in a division which could have been anyone's for the taking. Indeed, the title and automatic promotion places weren't decided until the dying seconds of the season, but a poor run of form (particularly at home) in the second half of the season would condemn the side - who had sacked Danny Wilson in April and appointed Chris Morgan as an interim replacement - to the lottery of the playoffs and, as is so often the case, the side with the most to lose in the situation buckled under the pressure of expectation, condemning the Bramall Lane club to a third season at this level.

One would imagine that Weir's remit was simple - win promotion, no matter what. For a manager taking on his first role in a division that is known to being incredibly competitive no matter where you sit in the table, it's a daunting task and one where you have to learn quickly. Weir would have known what the expectations on him would be, and he failed to meet them. The fact that a club who should be competing for promotion are now sat at the very foot of the table goes a long way to displaying what a poor choice Weir was for manager, and whomever his replacement is has a big job on his hands to drag the club away from the relegation zone.

On the other hand, expectations wouldn't have been anything close to the same at Gillingham, and indeed survival in the division would have been what would have been asked of Allen. At the time of his sacking, Gillingham were sat a few places above the relegation zone having won two of their last three matches, which suggests to me that the decision to replace him had been made several weeks ago. This, in my view, is further evidenced by the instalment of Peter Taylor as an interim boss almost immediately after the fact - although Taylor has links to the club having formerly managed the club would have helped bring him to the club, but this wasn't a decision that was made last weekend - it was one they would have been sorting as far as perhaps even three or four weeks ago. After all, you wouldn't sack a manager just when it looks like things are starting to improve, surely?

There is one painful similarity between the two situations, however. Patience is a virtue that can be ill afforded in football in the modern-day game. If you look back several decades, a manager would often be in the job for ten, fifteen, twenty years, and sometimes even longer - something which is almost a completely alien concept in the modern game, spare a few very rare exceptions. Gone are the days of allowing a manager several years to slowly mould a team in their image and to then go on to achieve great success, and if you look back at some of the all-time greats and their track record, you have to wonder why this is the case. As an example, it took Bill Shankly two years to build Liverpool into a team that could win promotion from the Second Division, and of course the rest is history. Yet, in today's game, in a similar situation, Shankly would probably have been sacked after 12-18 months at the most.

At the end of the day, it boils down to one thing - survival. Football clubs are run on such strict financial margins that even the smallest failures can have significant implications in the long term. The idea of accepting relegation as part and parcel of the game and utilising it as a springboard to bounce back is something that simply cannot happen in today's game - the financial costs are too great for a club to simply bounce back in the way that some used to be able to, relegation often means a complete restructuring of the financial side of the club and with that comes the need to sell players and rebuild a squad. It becomes a desperate scramble to survive and so clubs are more desperate than in any era before to ensure they don't take any steps backwards that sometimes snap decisions have to be made in the battle to survive.

For David Weir and particularly Martin Allen, they were simply the victims of such decisions.
Bruce Halling
Bruce is a 24-year-old self-confessed Football League addict and author of the 'Road To The Promised Land' column. He is a passionate Southend United fan who has witnessed the Shrimpers' rise to the Championship as well as their more recent fall back to their current position in League Two. Though he doesn’t get to many games as a spectator, he has worked at Southend, Colchester United and now Queens Park Rangers as a steward, so is never too far away from the action on a matchday. Away from football, he is a Politics graduate and currently jobhunting. Follow Bruce on Twitter @brucehalling

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