Words by Joe Roberts
Football management is one of the most high-risk and unstable employments possible. Managers can get sacked just a few games into their tenure if results aren’t going their way, if the fans are unhappy or if the players are unhappy. Many fans and pundits see this short-termism as unjust; ‘it doesn’t feel right’ says Jamie Carragher following Nuno Espirito Santo’s recent sacking from Spurs. However, he goes on to say that he ‘doesn’t feel like it was a bad sacking, I feel like it was a bad appointment’. This begs the question – if it becomes obvious very quickly that a manager just does not fit a club then should they not be sacked?
One of Premier League history’s most recent and pitiful managerial stints was that of Frank de Boer at Crystal Palace in 2017. After a shocking and dreadful 3-0 defeat on the opening day of the season against newly-promoted Huddersfield, things looked bleak in South London. The following three games saw no goals and no points and no hope for Palace, resulting in de Boer’s inevitable sacking. The style of play that de Boer attempted to implement at Selhurst Park was in hindsight far too ambitious, attempting to ‘play offensive […] and dominating football’ de Boer states in an early interview at Palace. Attempting to play tiki-taka Dutch Cruyff-ball with the likes of Scott Dann and Joel Ward seems to oppose the ‘naivety’ de Boer tried to reject. De Boer also noted after his sacking that ‘when you go from kick and rush to another style of football it takes time. You don’t go from A-Z overnight. You will have some setbacks.’ While he’s not wrong, this seemed like too much of a gamble for Palace to take at the time. Most pundits had Palace favourites for relegation, and more than likely Palace would have faced the drop if their board, chiefly Chairman Steve Parish didn’t act fast. ‘Results weren’t good’ notes Parish after his sacking of the former Dutch and Barcelona star. ‘We could have gone on longer, but if that produced the outcomes I thought it was going to then that makes me negligent’. De Boer reportedly earned a £2 million pay off from Palace and continued his managerial career (albeit with limited success) with the likes of Atlanta in the MLS and the Dutch national team. Most at the time were sympathetic to de Boer with many thinking Palace had acted too quickly and too rashly in their sacking. The Eagles however very much turned things around that season with the appointment of disgraced ex England manager Roy Hodgson who finished the season in a very respectable 11th position with 44 points; Parish’s decision seemingly very well justified in hindsight. ‘I thought they were relegated’ notes Paul Merson at the end of the 2017/18 season, ‘you have to praise Roy Hodgson’. Palace seemingly made the right call at the right time.
Frank de Boer at Palace very much fits Carragher’s sentiment– not a bad sacking just a bad appointment. If a club makes an error in judgement on a manager, then they have to act in the best interests of the club. There can be very little room for sentiment in football sometimes, which while unfortunate has to be necessary sometimes for a club’s stability and safety.
Words by Darius Ostovar
The notion of a ‘bad appointment’ is crucial in judging the performance of a manager. The case of Nuno Espirito Santo epitomises this. A man who created a Wolves squad from the ground up with players that were cultivated to play his style of football yet is expected to take a fragmented Spurs side to the summit of the English game. A feat that even Mourinho didn’t come close to achieving with Spurs.
This argument can be applied to the appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjær as manager of Manchester United. With very little experience behind him, the Norwegian was given the gargantuan task of implementing a sense of cohesion within a star-studded United squad including the likes of Ronaldo, Pogba and Bruno Fernandes. Yet, even the most respected football commentators like former United legend, Gary Neville, have argued that the appointment of hiring decorated managers like Mourinho and Van Gaal have simply not worked and therefore a new approach is required. This was after Liverpool’s 5-0 capitulation of United at Old Trafford. With criticism coming from every angle, the task of changing the system of a given squad will be heavily scrutinised.
When looking at managers in recent history who have utilised the time given to them effectively, Jürgen Klopp is the embodiment of this. Klopp, who inherited a depleted Liverpool squad with the likes of Moreno, Lucas, Sakho and Benteke, only mustered an 8th place finish in his first season (2015/16). It wasn’t until his 4th season that the club were able to challenge for the title, achieving 97 points with Klopp’s ‘heavy metal’ style of football. In that season, the perseverance paid off with the club winning the UEFA Champions League and the League title the season after for the first time in 30 years.
Going further back, former Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, revolutionised the work ethic of footballers in the English game. The Frenchman implemented incredibly intense training sessions as well as a strict diet for the players, who were outwardly against his methods at first (including captain Tony Adams). However, the results eventually paid off and after two years in the job, Wenger was able to guide the club to the league title in 1997/98. Given the influence of players in the modern-day, it’s not difficult to see how Wenger’s approach may have cost him his job early into his premiership. Huge financial investment into star players has led to clubs having to prioritise the accommodation of players over managers. A problem that has begun to manifest within the past few seasons.
The constant criticism given to managers to instantly produce results would arguably have led to the early dismissal of legends like Sir Alex Ferguson. Therefore, clubs should properly evaluate the appointment of managers or be prepared for periods of uncertainty for their approach to become effective. The lack of sentiment has become a part of the beautiful game. But this has created a lack of job security for managers who will, therefore, not only be incapable to enforce their methods but also will be less incentivised to take risks. Therefore, leading to an inevitable sacking. A narrative that has become all too common in Europe’s top leagues.