Same old faces: Premier League manager merry go round
Ahhh, the old Premier League manager merry-go round, struggling to keep track of who works where when the same old faces show up in new places? You may not be alone. The Premier League is once again in full swing and just as interesting as the results, it would seem, is the speculation around which manager will lose their job first. Before the poor fellow is even out of a job people are already excitedly debating who should replace them.
It can’t have escaped the attention of anyone that Premier League football clubs replace their managers at an alarmingly high, and costly, rate. In fact the 2017/2018 season saw 22 manager changes! For 20 teams! I am sure that many have noticed that the same old faces pop up time and again as the managerial of any one of the (usually bottom 15) clubs. One would think that logic dictates that being sacked for inadequate performance from one job would be grounds for low probability of obtaining the next job. It would seem very odd if an accountant, for example, were sacked for inadequate performance at one business only to be swiftly hired by another business in exactly the same role without serious investigation into the circumstances surrounding their sacking. Football seems relatively unique in doing this on a regular basis. Get sacked for poor performance at one club, return in the near future to another club. Football, I presume, also has no shortage of willing candidates for top managerial positions either. So what is different about football and why is it always the same old faces aboard the managerial merry-go round?
There are likely a few reasons for this quirk. Some of the more influential may be the perception that there is no time to learn on the job, the high level of player power and the small margins between success and failure. Clearly the sense that there is little time to learn on the job is somewhat self-perpetuating. Chairmen and owners sack managers quicker than ever, meaning they feel they must employ an individual that knows how to get on with the job quickly. This breeds conservatism in that taking a risk, e.g. by employing someone that takes 5 or 6 games to learn their role, could just as likely lead to the team being relegated as it could lead to a future upswing in performance. Needing someone ready and taking a conservative choice go hand in hand. The perception may be it is better to employ someone that might just make the few points difference and keep the team up than employ someone who might move them ten points up, but is untested.
The high level of player power is another critical factor. Players know if they dislike their manager it is easily within their power to play more poorly or to agitate to move clubs, meaning the manager will likely be replaced. The club owners likely appreciate this player power and realise respect from the current players is critical to acceptance of the manager. This respect is generated in one of two ways, the first is the manager having a reputation as someone who has previously managed at a high level, the ultimate conservative choice, and the second is being a former player of high calibre, also a type of conservative choice. If former players seem too much of a risk, owners will likely select managers who have been or are currently managing at another Premier League club. At least the people who have been on the merry-go round already have experienced dealing with the high level of player power and have a chance of being respected by players.
The small margins between success and failure may also be part of the issue. Naturally in elite sport individuals and clubs are always searching for improvement. You might think in employing someone who has failed, or more likely not considered to have succeeded enough, at another club is therefore somewhat of a paradox. It is almost certainly a paradox. A problem now exists however, that it is impossible to predict if leaving someone in a job will lead to an improved performance. The risk of not acting when players start to lose belief in a manager, or start questioning and doubting their future at the club is too great when just a few points can separate relegation from survival. Better to eliminate the doubt, enable the players to focus again (perhaps only for a few months) and take the smaller financial hit of sacking the manager than being relegated.
Ultimately it may be best to allow someone to see out the contract you employed them on in the first place. But the risk of being passive and allowing players to take control, or start to leave leading to a negative spiral at the club is perhaps not worth taking. Just make a change, move one old face out and bring another old face in.