Thursday 22 March 2018

Top-flight sack race turning into a sadistic game show

Carlos Carvalhal, who was sacked by Sheffield Wednesday after being deemed a failure, has been entrusted with saving Swansea from relegation. Photo: PA Wire
Carlos Carvalhal, who was sacked by Sheffield Wednesday after being deemed a failure, has been entrusted with saving Swansea from relegation. Photo: PA Wire

Paul Hayward

So, how long does a new manager get, Slaven Bilic was asked on Sky's Monday Night Football? Fired by West Ham, the day after Bonfire Night, Bilic gave an answer both hilarious and appalling: "One hundred days."

Premier League coaching has become a sadistic game show, with eight of its 20 leaders sacked inside 24 games, and Southampton's Mauricio Pellegrino in fear of becoming No 9.

Owners, fans and, yes, too often the media, conspire in this disposable culture, which is driven, as Bilic said, by the myth of the "new manager bounce".

A pattern is emerging in these rolling dismissals, which are running at a 10-year high in England's top flight, with Everton, Leicester City, Stoke City, Swansea, Watford, West Bromwich Albion, West Ham United and Crystal Palace all dumping what modern owners might call the 'head of the first-team department'.

First, there is always a rationale. Always. This one flirted with another club, that one lost the dressing room, this one is a love rat distracted by assignations. Anything will do, so long as it persuades the press and public the sacked manager "had to go".

The finality of these judgements is rarely challenged, in part because the machinery of self-justification employed by big football clubs these days is so formidable - and partly, it must be said, because the pay-offs at the top are usually so good that they buy a lot of acceptance from the victims.

Bilic's sangfroid about his own sacking as he spoke before Swansea defeated Liverpool was the outlook of a realist.

And lo, Carlos Carvalhal, who replaced Paul Clement at Swansea, produced just the kind of result to persuade owners that getting rid of the head coach is infinitely preferable to threatening 22 millionaire players with the tin tack.

With that 1-0 win over Liverpool, the Swans no longer look like dead birds on the relegation lake. They are back in the survival swim.


In his time at Sheffield Wednesday, numerous features appeared extolling Carvalhal as an innovator and future star of the technical area. But it fizzled out for him in the Championship, so he was elevated to the Premier League instead.

Yet the mockery surrounding his arrival in Swansea affirmed that competence has almost nothing to do with it. Perception has taken over - and owners and chief executives are in control of that.

Bilic did a fine job of holding the 'new manager bounce' up to scrutiny.

Yes, the new boss improves results, often. David Moyes at West Ham is a good example.

From there, though, people extrapolate that the previous manager really was as bad as his sacking suggested he was; that the problem has now been cut away. Bilic exposed that falsehood.

What they do, these rescue artists, is go "back to basics", in Bilic's phrase.

They abandon the previous incumbent's mission to guide the team towards greater sophistication. They make clean sheets and points the priority.

Equally, back to basics means "being on your toes, being aggressive" for the new manager (Bilic again). In other words, looking busy.

A jolt of urgency goes through the side. It seldom lasts. The new manager becomes as vulnerable to the whims of players as the poor stiff they replaced. With their colossal power, a first-team squad can get rid of this new face as well.

"One hundred days" is pushing it a bit, though Frank de Boer lasted only 77 at Crystal Palace. He, Ronald Koeman and Craig Shakespeare were all gone before the end of October.

Musical chairs has brought Alan Pardew (West Brom) and even Paul Lambert (Stoke) back into play.

Owners would like you to believe these are strategic moves, based on data and interviews. In reality, they are part of a vast recycling process, with the same names hopping from job to job.


When Pep Clotet was sacked by Oxford United, he became the 26th 'managerial casualty' at the 92 league clubs.

In theory, that means 26 bad 'hires' were made, but you will never see an owner or chief executive take responsibility for such an error.

There is no need for executive swords to be fallen on. Instead, the false rationalisation machine is rolled out, and the sacked manager is depicted as the author of his downfall.

Supporters are joining in this game. They tire quickly, they give up on managers with ever-increasing speed. It has become a sport within a sport. Managers hurtle from competent to clown in some variation of Bilic's 100 days.

And why, really? Because many Premier League owners are not in it for the strategy, the identity of the club, the relationships between employees.

They are in it for the vast TV revenues. Thus, staying in the Premier League is the great non-negotiable. But against that background they have fooled us into thinking temporary 'bounces' are the only solution to bad results.

Stoke stood by Mark Hughes as long as they could, but even they missed the opportunity to take on the players: to warn them to shape up or ship out.

The hidden cost, for many fans, is that they end up watching a futile cabaret of hire-and-fire, as the boardroom cry goes up: Next! (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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