Season of the long knives leaves managers watching their backs

When Swindon boss Paolo Di Canio fell on his sword, he brought the number of managerial changes in the top four divisions in England to 41 for the season. Given that we’ve still another two and half months of the season to run, it looks inevitable that over half of the 92 league will have changed their manager by May. 

Mark Robins tries to remember which club he's at this week

Whilst we’re all caught up following our own clubs, we can perhaps miss the scale of the carnage across the wider football landscape. And when you start looking in to it, the rate of managerial attrition is staggering.

A quick study of the League Manager’s Association website shows that barely half – 48 – of current managers have been in their jobs for 12 months or less. Nigel Clough is currently the 10th longest serving manager just by making it through to his fourth season in charge of the Rams.

While the fact managers are being given less time is not a new observation, I would never have guessed the turnover would have been as high as this. Clearly, as the pressure for results has increased so the patience for them has declined.

But while you might assume that this demand would be most sharply felt in the Premier League – where the rewards for success and failure are so acute – it’s actually in the Football League who the bulk of the casualties have taken place. Of the 40 managerial changes this season, just 3 have been in the Premier League (QPR, Southampton and Chelsea).

That means if you support one of the remaining 72 football league clubs, there’s a 50% chance you’ve already changed your manager this season (even with the revolving doors at Blackburn and Blackpool partially skewing the average).

But the statistics tell us something interesting about the changing expectations in the Football League. Clubs no longer seem willing to accept their current status – whether that’s in League 1 or 2 – even if history tells us that is where many of them have spent the majority of their existence.

It now takes substantially less to push a chairman to remove their manager. The giant-killing of Liverpool wasn’t enough to save Paul Dickov, and Keith Curle was axed after a year in charge despite being safe and secure in mid-table. Chairmen are expecting more – and for it to be delivered quicker.

In this intensified climate you have to wonder whether certain managers would have survived in the past. Leicester fans were calling for Martin O’Neill to go only months his appointment – the board stuck with him and he went on to become one of their most successful managers. It took Neil Warnock 6 years at Bramall Lane to get Sheffield United promoted to the Premiership, during which there were numerous opportunities for him to be moved on.

Chairmen it seems want managers who can wave a magic wand and turn their ugly lower division frog into a handsome Premier League prince. And if they can’t cast that spell immediately they can start looking for another job. It’s an approach that’s unproductive and unsustainable and desperately needs to change.

Written by James Albion


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