Why EPL clubs are quick to fire managers4 min read . Updated: 15 Nov 2019, 07:01 AM IST
The number of manager changes in the EPL is increasing. Part of the reason is the ‘bounce’ from a new appointment, which though is hard to sustain.
In a football season not even one-third through, German super-club Bayern Munich has effected a change at the top. Following a 5-1 dismantling by Eintracht Frankfurt, out went Niko Kovac, who led them to be the best in Germany last season. In came Hans-Dieter Flick, whose first league game saw Bayern rout arch rivals Borussia Dortmund 4-0. All in a week’s work.
The rumblings at the summit of the German league epitomise hiring and firing in top-flight football. Teams are quick to fire managers. Part of the reason they are loathe to persist is the ‘bounce’ that comes from a new appointment. Teams tend to improve under a new manager in the short term, but the bounce is difficult to sustain, shows data from the English Premier League (EPL) for the last 20 seasons.
We looked at managerial appointments for 10 clubs that have been in the EPL for the most seasons, if not all, since 2000-01. In this 20-year period, these 10 clubs have seen 74 managerial changes. On average, about four of these 10 clubs have seen a new manager every season. The kind of stints that Alex Ferguson put at Manchester United (26 years) or Arsene Wenger at Arsenal (21 years) are probably relics of a past era. Three years is now long. Anything above is usually an overstay, as is increasingly seeming for Mauricio Pochettino, who has elevated Tottenham into a fixture in the top six but now struggling to keep it going.
The most trigger-happy club is Chelsea, which has seen its Russian-Israeli owner Roman Abramovich effect 13 managerial changes in 16 years, including six mid-season. Three of those have come after Chelsea finished atop the EPL. Another six have come when it was second or third in the league. Such is life for Chelsea and Abramovich at the top.
Life in the middle or the bottom is not much different either. Consider Aston Villa, which has shuffled between trying to break out and trying to belong in the EPL. In that existential quest, it has relieved nine managers in 20 years, including one after a sixth-placed finish and another after a dead-last finish.
While the end result is the same, the bar of expectations is set differently for top-flight clubs and for middling clubs. The five top clubs (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United) tend to win, on average, 60-70% of the maximum points available in a season and their change threshold is when this figure drops to 50-60%. For the five clubs below them, the normal average in a season is about 45% and the change threshold is around 40%.
Compared to the period between 2000-01 and 2004-05, both sets of clubs have fired managers even at higher success levels in recent years. Increasingly, what used to be a normal year is being seen as a reason to change.
This is more so in the five lower-tier clubs, which have seen 44 managerial changes in this 20-year period, as compared to 30 changes for the five top-tier ones.
Over time, this number has only increased: against 13 manager changes in the 2000-01 to 2004-05 block, the 2010-11 to 2014-15 block saw 23 changes. By the time this season is out, chances are, the number of manager changes in the current five-year block will match, or exceed, the three blocks that preceded it. There’s another factor at a relative high: the ‘bounce’, or the improvement in a team’s results following a new appointment. We measured the average points per game recorded by a team in the first 10 matches under a new manager and compared it with the last 10 under the previous manager. In the latest five-year block, nearly 85% of new appointments resulted in a bounce.
Bounce is one thing. Maintaining that bounce, or ‘persistence’, is quite another. In 54 of the 74 changes in the 20-year period, the first 10 matches under a new manager saw a bounce in team performance. But in only 21 of these 54 instances was this bounce sustained or improved over the next 20 games. Thus, there are many managers who either experience a non-persistent bounce or no bounce at all but only a few can sustain a bounce.
A stellar example of this bounce and persistence is Antonio Conte at Chelsea in 2016-17, his first season there. Under him, Chelsea added an average of 1.1 points in his first 10 games (compared to the 10 games pre-Conte), and he built on this by adding another 0.25 points in the next 20 games and won the league. Conversely, there’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who added an average of 1 point in his first 10 games with Manchester United but shed 0.6 point in the next 20. Top clubs don’t have time for that.
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