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Sunday 21 September 2014

Giving a manager time usually makes things worse

Published 26/11/2012 | 05:00

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IF Mark Robins had not scored that goal for Manchester United against Nottingham Forest in 1990, it's unlikely that there would now be an Alex Ferguson statue outside the Alex Ferguson Stand at Old Trafford.

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But as well as saving the rest of English football from a couple of decades of United domination, it would also have spared the rest of us from one of the game's great leaps of logic, namely that all a manager needs is "time".

Regardless of the scenario, when a manager is sacked somebody will argue that they weren't given enough time to succeed and point to the example of Ferguson who, after four years without winning a trophy, went on to win the FA Cup in 1990 and build a dynasty. It's remarkable that an argument based on one example in over 20 years still holds such credence.

Last week, Mark Hughes was sacked as QPR manager and, even allowing for their position as the only club of the 92 in England without a league win, there was still some sympathy because he had only been in the job for 10 months and, with a bit more time the argument goes, maybe he could have turned it around.

Evidence

More likely, however, is that Hughes' record of eight wins and 20 defeats from 34 games would have continued to steer the good ship QPR straight for the rocks of relegation. Harry Redknapp may or may not keep them in the Premier League but at least his presence now gives them a chance which, all evidence suggests, they didn't have under Hughes.

On the day of Hughes' sacking, Premier League managers were already shifting uneasily in their seats after the departure of Roberto di Matteo from Stamford Bridge which, predictably, led to shows of support all round. Ferguson took it as an opportunity to have a pop at Rafael Benitez, Martin O'Neill, with two wins from 20 league games at Sunderland, was astonished, while Alan Pardew, with the ink on his eight-year contract barely dry, reckoned it summed up the vulnerability of a Premier League boss.

Most of the vitriol was reserved for Roman Abramovich, whose presence and investment at Stamford Bridge has allowed the club to progress from one league title in 99 years to winning three in the following seven years. Not that that made much difference. Ruud Gullit and Michael Owen were "astonished", Rio Ferdinand described Di Matteo's sacking as "madness" and Graeme Souness said it "stinks of people who don't understand football making football decisions". But, much like CJ from the Reginald Perrin show of the 1970s, Abramovich didn't get where he is today by waiting on things to happen. In making his billions, Abramovich stepped on a few toes but took risks on investments and made decisions which paid off handsomely. He seemed to view Di Matteo as he might somebody who had made their fortune through the sheer, blind luck of winning the EuroMillions.

The medal can never be taken away from him but the clichéd view that Di Matteo had "masterminded" Chelsea's Champions League victory last season could only be uttered by somebody who either hadn't seen the games against Barcelona and Bayern Munich or was suffering from a dose of amnesia. The reality was that Chelsea showed plenty of fighting spirit but owed far more to luck and wastefulness of the opposition than any genius from the dugout.

In the three games (including extra-time) that Chelsea played Barcelona and Bayern, they allowed their opponents 62 shots on goal. There isn't a manager in the world who would go into a final with a plan to allow the opposition so much dominance that they average a shot less than every five minutes, as Bayern did against Chelsea.

Far from not understanding the game, it seems Abramovich believes it's unrealistic to expect such levels of luck to continue for a second season and has appointed somebody in Benitez who, to any objective analysis, represents an improvement. At the end of the previous seasons in which he has sacked a manager, Chelsea have finished the campaign with two FA Cups, a Champions League final defeat and a Champions League victory.

The "give a manager time" brigade might also like to check on the progress of the clubs that Redknapp last took over and the one from which Di Matteo was previously sacked.

As he told people often enough, Redknapp came into Tottenham when they were bottom of the league with two points from eight games. Maybe, given time, Juande Ramos would have got Tottenham to finish eighth, fourth, fifth and fourth over the next four seasons, but it seems unlikely.

Just 21 months ago, Di Matteo was "surprised and disappointed" to be sacked by West Brom despite suffering 13 defeats in his last 18 games leaving the club outside the relegation zone on goal difference. Roy Hodgson was appointed and, three months later, they finished 11th.

They built on that with a 10th-place finish last season and, today, West Brom find themselves in third spot, four points behind Manchester United. Given their progress since, it's unlikely the West Brom board lose too much sleep about getting rid of Di Matteo. Abramovich isn't likely to either.

Irish Independent

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