Written by Mark Docherty

 

On Wednesday Leicester parted company with their manager, Claudio Ranieri, who carried them to their first ever Premier League title less than one year ago.  There have long been complaints about the sacking culture in modern football but, for many, this was the final straw.  This manager led his side to one of the greatest footballing miracles in modern times and has now been rewarded with his P45, causing many people to become disillusioned with what was once called the beautiful game.

Image courtesy of Sky Sports

The sacking has caused outrage around the football world, with big names such as Gary Lineker and even José Mourinho speaking out against the decision of the Leicester board.  However, this is hardly the first case of a manager being harshly sacked in the last couple of years, with Gary Rowett, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, and even Ranieri’s predecessor, Nigel Pearson all losing their jobs harshly.  There was mild uproar when each of these were sacked, but this particular instance was so unfair that there have been some cases where people feel that football has passed the point of no return.

The sacking culture in football is down to a number of reasons nowadays: firstly the unrealistic expectations of board members and also the economic consequences of failure in the modern game.  The example of Leicester recently is perfect for the former reason.  The taste of success went to the heads of those in charge at Leicester when they won the title last year, and suddenly they got the idea that they could expect to enjoy that level of performance on a regular basis.  This led to them believing that Ranieri was underachieving to an unacceptable level, when really he was struggling with a very average group of players who he had worked miracles with the season before.  If that doesn’t buy him the benefit of the doubt from the board, I don’t know what would.

image courtesy of Birmingham Mail

The other reason is better exemplified by Rowett, as Birmingham had clearly budgeted for winning promotion to the Premier League and the board were getting twitchy about whether or not they would make the cut.  At the time of Rowett’s sacking the club sat just outside the playoff places and were generally exceeding the expectations of most pundits.  However, the board knew that the financial stability of the club would be in danger if they did not make the promotion places and the pressure got to them, causing them to sack Rowett.  Even though their manager was doing a very good job, the board felt that the financial incentives of Premier League football were so great that it was worth taking a gamble with Rowett’s career in order to make a push.  Unfortunately for Birmingham, that gamble seems to have failed.

This is an interesting point: does sacking managers actually work?  In many cases, the answer is definitely no, whereas in others the team’s fortunes are turned around.  Take Wolves in 2011-12, for instance.  They found themselves in a relegation battle in early February and parted company with Mick McCarthy.  They appointed Terry Connor but he failed to win any of his 13 games in charge.  Wolves were relegated, finishing bottom of the league and twelve points from safety, and the gamble of sacking McCarthy was widely regarded as the main reason for this.  On the other hand, look at Sunderland’s campaign in 2013-14 (although any of their last five campaigns would make a similar point).  The Black Cats were dead and buried in September when they sacked Paolo Di Canio, but Gus Poyet took over in October and managed to make a great escape by stringing together five matches unbeaten at the end of the season to steer them clear of the drop – thus justifying the board’s decision.

Image courtesy of the Daily Mail

I am of the belief that consistency can only be a help to teams, and that problems will often sort themselves out in the end if the board put their faith in the manager rather than chopping and changing all the time.  If the men in charge can get the appointment right then a change of manager can provide a short-term boost, but eventually the same problems will show through under the new manager and the whole process will start again.  The example I used of Gus Poyet taking over and saving Sunderland from relegation sounds like a positive thing, but he was gone by March 2015 and the same old problems still remain today in the Sunderland camp.  Therefore I feel that the sacking culture currently present in football is not only harmful to the game’s reputation, but harmful to the clubs themselves.

The reaction to Ranieri’s sacking has been one of absolute outrage from most people and hopefully this will cause the top men at football clubs to consider their options more carefully before they choose to sack their manager.  However, unfortunately I feel the sacking culture has reached the point of no return.  When a team can sack a manager who has brought them their best ever league finish and has made them the success story of world football, you have to wonder whether there is any way back for morality in football.  The sad fact is that there is just so much money in the game nowadays and owners are so overly optimistic in their expectations that it is unlikely that managers will ever be fairly treated.

It is no surprise to me that so many players are choosing to go into media nowadays rather than trying their hand at management because the game is so unforgiving that it is almost impossible for young managers to learn on the job as they are always one run of poor results away from being sacked.  The sacking culture is, in my view, a big reason for the lack of top class British managers at the moment as young managers are put off by the way their more experienced peers are treated.  If English football can sort itself out and be more reasonable in the way it treats young managers, trying to build for long-term success rather than a temporary upturn in results straight away, then the future of the game in this country will look a whole lot brighter.  Unfortunately, though, there is no current indication that clubs are going to improve their treatment of managers, so we will just have to wait and see if clubs will become more reasonable, or if the sacking culture has reached the point of no return.