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Why the sack is not always the answer

Thursday 8th March 2018

Crystal Palace opened the floodgates for the Premier League sack race this season. Frank De Boer was fired after only four matches. A flurry of other firings has followed. It's nothing new. Hiring and firing have become synonymous with the coaching job. The Premier League is no exception. In fact, it has become the norm. Whole websites have been created on the subject. One such is succinctly named “The Sack Race”.

Entertaining as it is, clubs don't sack managers for fun. It is (mostly) intended to correct one problem: poor results. There are other reasons. Claude Puel was sacked despite delivering improved results at Southampton. He did so by changing the team's playing style, and the defensive aesthetic didn't sit well with fans. In Manuel Pellegrini's case both at Real Madrid and Manchester City, Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola had respectively become available. Despite pushing both teams to new heights, the Chilean lost his job twice because his club thought they could do better. 

Fans are usually the first to voice their dissatisfaction. Then the club, if it is not named Arsenal, does what it considers necessary. The manager is sent packing. Many times it works like magic. A new coach comes in and turns around the club's fortunes almost instantly.

Chelsea have surprisingly benefited from constant managerial turnover. Between 2008-18 the club has had ten different managers. That’s an average of a manager a year. And yet the club has remained a force in the Premier League and Europe. Andre Villas-Boas was sacked. Roberto Di Matteo came in and won the Champions League. Di Matteo was sacked. Raphael Benitez came in and won the Europa League. Benitez was sacked. Jose Mourinho came in and won the Premier League title. Mourinho was sacked. Antonio Conte won the Premier League in his first attempt. Chelsea is the rare club that thrives on chaos rather than consistency.

It seems the sack has become the Blues' tonic. All Chelsea needs to do to move forward is to bring in a new manager. Arsene Wenger has been at Arsenal throughout the ten-year Chelsea managerial merry-go-round. Despite the stability, Arsenal has won just three FA Cups. No Premier League titles. No Champions League. Maybe the #WengerOut movement has a point. 

But Chelsea has not been alone in the sack habit. Every other club in the Premier League, again not named Arsenal, have made their share of sacks. Unfortunately, it has not produced Chelsea’s kind of results. In most cases, it at least yields positive results for a short period. Paul Clement kept Swansea up. Roy Hodgson pulled Crystal Palace away from the relegation fight although they are now back in it. Louis van Gaal returned Manchester United to the Champions League, then watched them crash out again. 

Still, most does not mean all. In some cases, it has not been the solution. Hull City was relegated even after sacking Mike Phelan and replacing him with Marco Silva last season. Newcastle was relegated even after Steve McClaren was issued walking papers. Not even Raphael Benitez could save the club from the drop. The list goes on. In fact, it is becoming clearer this season that at least two clubs will not survive the dreaded drop despite changing managers.

Clubs may need to exercise more patience with their underperforming managers. Sometimes it’s funny how it works. A club sacks a manager and goes on to replace him with another that has recently been sacked by another club for poor performance. Carlos Carvalhal couldn't do anything for Sheffield United but has worked wonders for Swansea. Why couldn't he have turned it around at Sheffield if given the time?

Who knows? Maybe West Brom wouldn’t be at the bottom of the table if Tony Pulis was still the manager. Sacking him has not yielded any positive results for the club on or off the pitch. Pulis is now helping Middlesbrough make a push for a Championship play-off place. All that experience could have helped West Brom stay up.

Sir Alex Ferguson did not have it rosy at the beginning of his tenure at Manchester United. But he went on to achieve extraordinary success with the club. A little patience can be what is required to ride out the rough patch and return a club to winning ways. 

Or lift another higher than it's ever been. Eddie Howe’s situation with Bournemouth is a case in point. When Crystal Palace, West Ham, Swansea City, Stoke City, and West Bromwich Albion all made the decision to sack their managers, Bournemouth stuck with their man. The result? He won the manager of the month for January after steering the club away from the relegation zone to the middle of the table in just under two months.

The lesson is simple. The sack is not always the answer.

Emmanuel Odey

Emmanuel is a freelance football journalist who lives and breathes the round leather game. He is a contributor on several platforms. You can follow him on Twitter for more.

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