To stick or twist? The fear of relegation from the Premier League – and the risk of losing the income that comes with top-flight status – pushes many club owners towards the classic gambler’s dilemma.
Leicester City’s Thai owners decided last week that time was up for Craig Shakespeare and pulled the trigger and on Monday Everton said goodbye to Ronald Koeman.
Crystal Palace, bottom of the table, fired Dutch manager Frank De Boer after just five games in charge of the London club. West Ham United boss Slaven Bilic remains in his position but faces speculation over his future on a daily basis and with Stoke City in 17th place, Mark Hughes will be expecting rumours of his job status to heat up.
But does a change of leadership during a season really increase the likelihood of a turnaround in fortunes for a club? The evidence is mixed but suggests that while a short-term boost can often occur with change, clubs tend to benefit from managerial stability.
A detailed study of the football industry by Nottingham University Business School in 2009 concluded: “Some form of ‘shock effect’ appears to influence the short-term performance of the organization yet the efficacy of a dismissal strategy for short-term recovery remains poor”.
In other words – a club can get a ‘bounce’ from a new face at the top but stability tends to bring better results in the longer term.
But longer term appears not to feature high on the list of priorities for clubs worried about the potential impact of relegation and the trend in England is towards the kind of high turnover that was once more typical of Italian and Spanish football.
Last season Palace replaced Alan Pardew with Sam Allardyce and the experienced manager pulled the team away from the relegation zone and ensured survival. Likewise, Swansea City replaced American Bob Bradley with Paul Clement and they also retained top-flight status.
Hull City fired Mike Phelan and brought in Portuguese boss Marco Silva but despite some improved results they ended up going down.
Most controversially of all, in February, Leicester City sacked Claudio Ranieri, the Italian who had guided them to their shock title win the previous season.
The decision was slammed by many pundits as the ultimate lack of loyalty, patience and decency but his replacement, assistant Shakespeare, took them from the drop zone to a final position of 12th in the league.
Loyalty was shown by Sunderland, who stuck with David Moyes in contrast to previous seasons when changes of management had brought late revivals – but the Black Cats went down.
Middlesbrough stuck with Spaniard Aitor Karanka until March and ended up being relegated with his replacement Steve Agnew not providing the necessary “bounce”. That boost that a new manager can bring is often put down to a fresh, optimistic message bringing new enthusiasm from players and a different pair of eyes spotting potential that might have been over-looked.
But the flip-side is that the new manager has to work with a squad he hasn’t assembled, wasn’t designed for his tactics and which hasn’t gone through the pre-season regime that many managers believe is essential for creating the foundation for success.
Another key aspect that the men in charge at West Ham will be considering is – can we really bring in someone better? One pundit joked that Koeman’s support from Everton fans had been boosted by a media report linking the club with their former manager David Moyes.
No doubt Bilic would benefit from any suggestion that former West Ham boss Allardyce, unpopular with the club’s fans, might return to that club. And while fans dream of a high-profile, out of work manager like Carlo Ancelotti taking over their club, the reality is there are few top quality coaches who are without a club.
One idea floated last season by former Manchester United captain Gary Neville is to outlaw the sacking of managers during the season, forcing clubs to stand by their decision.
After all, in any other business the idea of sacking a senior manager just weeks after giving them millions to invest, would be viewed as madness. But football’s fear of relegation, combined with the impatience of the modern fans, can drive otherwise intelligent and strategic financiers to the kind of impulsive decisions they would never countenance in their “normal” business.