From the Touchline: Does It Pay to Fire Your Manager Again and Again?

From the Touchline

Whilst scrolling through Twitter the other day, this Tweet from author/journalist John Cross struck me.

While the obvious fallacies of this statement were pointed out by Nate Smith, among others, the point is a decent one. In the modern football era, why do we hold on to the notion that a manager’s success at a club is tied to longevity alone. Superclubs like Real Madrid and Bayern churn through managers as soon as they hit a prolonged rough spot that for many clubs would be acceptable dips, and often these clubs are derided for so casually casting aside their managers. However, maybe they are instead progressive in their treatment of one of their most visible employees.

The irony is that managers should fear for their job security at a time when their profile is the highest. As people like Barney Ronay and others have written, football managers have gone from literal gameday logistics managers to icons, media personalities that get much of the credit when things go right and all the blame when things go wrong. Rightly or wrongly, the days of the manager simply doing their job away from the ire of media and fans is long past.

Statistics can be hard to definitively find, but the tenure of a manager now is eerily short. According to a 2015 article on Sky Sports, the average tenure of an FA manager is 1.23 years; managers in the second division this year had a tenure of on average less than a season. The result was of course success for some clubs and failure for others, but did the changes actually have an impact? A 2012 German study on the impact of managerial change actually studied the Bundesliga for keys on how changes of managers on business can be a positive influence on the workplace. The study used the Bundesliga because of the frequency of managerial changes and the ease of determining success – wins, loses, and draws. The conclusions of the study ere that managerial change can have an impact on a club, but only in cases where the club is “homogeneous”. In English, this means when a club generally has players at the same talent level, a change in manager inspires the players to perform harder to win playing time. If there is a gap in talent on the squad, the same desire to up performance is lacking, likely because these better players would not have the same incentive to play better.

If this study is to be believed, ultimately the success of a managerial change comes down to the players and their own incentives. Thus in many cases, a managerial change is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. It also may be why a manager who could not lead his club to more than a victory may be the man to lead Dortmund back to a Champions League spot this season, and why his former club may surge out of relegation danger well before the end of the season.