5 Steps to Sacking a Football Manager: A Checklist for Premier League Fans

There is a lot of ardent disagreement right now regarding Arséne Wenger. As a fervent Wengerist, I dismissed the calls for his sacking as the siren call of narrow-sighted supporters.  But as the losses pile together and the hopeless future becomes a depressing present, I cannot disregard the demands for Wenger’s release as easily as before.

A manager’s job description is both infuriatingly straightforward and condemningly complex. On the surface, it’s absurdly simple to explain what managers do: their success and failure is measured only in championships. But, detailing what steps a manager ought to take to achieve that championship is where the disagreement begins, and differing opinions can often be construed against the manager.

For some clubs, tossing their managers into the parking lot isn’t a big deal. Either their tenure was short-lived, their successes few and far between, or a combination of the two. Arséne Wenger’s scenario is the precise opposite; he’s been with the club for fifteen years and experienced unparalleled triumphs.

The term “sacking” has always sounded to me like putting the manager in a bag and pretending he was never there in the first place, an attempt to erase a manager from the club’s history. This would be impossible with Wenger. I remember — jokingly — when I first became an Arsenal fan wondering if Arséne changed his name (since it’s so close to the word Arsenal) to bind himself with the club for eternity.

For many clubs and managers—but particularly for Wenger—it’s difficult to know when the time for a sacking is upon them. So, for this conflicted Gooner, I compiled the Sacking Checklist, a set of logical progressions that, if affirmed, allow a supporter to feel at peace firing a longtime—and previously successful—manager. This list will hold for any manager of any sport, but I will use Wenger as an example. If all the conditions are fulfilled, firing the manager is justified. If they’re not, then you’re creating a scapegoat.


1. What has changed since the more successful times?

In North London, the shift has been seismic. Everyone has their own analysis, but personally I believe Arsenal is no longer on the same financial plane as the top clubs of the league, and therefore can’t afford to retain their best players long enough to build a consistent roster. There are tradeoffs to remaining financially stable, and most of those tradeoffs seem to be exemplified on the pitch.

Some believe the cause of Arsenal’s rapid decline also includes Wenger’s refusal to modify his tactics. He still insists on passing continuously around the box, waiting for the perfect pass, which more often than not results in a miscue.

2. Are these changes the manager’s fault?

If you place the blame on the shifting financial climate in the EPL, then you must draw a link between the financial climate and Wenger’s faults within that reality. Financial stability is an admirable goal, but considerably less so when it isn’t accompanied with silverware. Ultimately, if a club is going to declare an oath to financial stability, they must find a way to make it mold with the goal of winning championships, since that’s the fundamental function of the modern sports team.

However, if you believe Wenger is tactically stubborn, and his frugality is nothing less than penny-pinching, then you’re more likely to place the blame squarely on Wenger’s sinking shoulders.

3. Does it seem highly unlikely things won’t improve soon?

When you’re with a club as long as Wenger, there necessarily will be ebbs and flows in the business cycle of competition. The manager must be given an adequate opportunity to effectively countermeasure.

No matter where you place the blame for the current situation, the manager—especially Wenger—has a lot of say in the youth system. Wenger sold experienced stars at a high premium, this we know. But does the youth system have promise? I think with Arsenal we can answer in the affirmative, or at the very least acknowledge Wenger has earned the benefit of the doubt in this area. Despite the dismal present, the future likely holds promise for Arsenal.

4. Would another manager do better?

The ultimate purpose of sacking a manager is to replace him with someone who will do a better job. If you don’t think someone else will do a better job, then sacking is completely pointless. As owner Stan Kroenke recently detailed, it’s hard to argue anyone can do a better job than Arséne Wenger. But, things can get worse, and if they do, that argument will become ever easier.

5. If someone else could do better, who could the team hire?

With any managerial crisis, the media always floats possible successors. This round, we’ve heard names like Carlo Ancelotti and Dennis Bergkamp as possibilities. I’m certainly biased due to my affection for Wenger, but I cannot envision Ancelotti finding equal—or greater—success at Arsenal where his payroll has a ceiling. As for Bergkamp, he has no managerial experience—his initial foray into top-flight managing is currently in its first year as an assistant for Ajax—so it’s hard to envision he could equal Wenger’s expertise, despite his intimacy with the North London club.


If you cannot answer questions 2-4 in the affirmative—and provide a decent option for 5—but you still believe Wenger should be canned, then you’re simply after a scapegoat. You’ve been unable to determine the current state of affairs is the manager’s fault, or whether a viable option for improvement exists. This is the admission you are simply out of ideas.

Now, there’s inherent value in change. Sometimes, clubs stagnate if under the same regime for too long. As I’ve written on this site before, Wenger might be the victim of his own success to a degree, where his innovations have been replicated by many others in the unforgiving market for improvement. Still, turning a manager like Wenger—who has achieved so much and is so vital to the organization—into a scapegoat simply because we don’t know what else to do is not only patently unfair to Wenger, but more likely to result in further failures. As Andrey Arshavin has so often demonstrated on the pitch, running in the wrong direction is not preferred to standing still.

11 thoughts on “5 Steps to Sacking a Football Manager: A Checklist for Premier League Fans”

  1. This article was written with all the Wenger smugness we’ve come to expect from this great manager.

    Wenger buys the players, he picks the team, he trains the team. Team hasn’t won since 2005. Arsenal is half way through a decade of not winning. At one time Liverpool went five years without winning a title and that eventually will be 22 years if Liverpool don’t win it this year.

    It is possible to finish in the top four and not be a title contender as Arsenal have been for the some of the last six years.

    The team is dominated by pacey players who get hurt too much. There is no physical aspect to this team and with the riggers of the English competitions this is not ideal.

  2. Very thoughtfully-written article.

    I too am a “conflicted” Gooner. As much as I like and admire Wegner, you have to wonder what’s going on. Additionally, I am all for financial responsibility, but until there are some substantial consequences for acting otherwise, the growing number of financially-reckless teams are going to continue to poach our coming of age players, especially now that many of the vets are already gone… it would seem that not all teams are playing within the same financial framework, and that makes competition difficult if not realistic.

  3. I would like to smash-mouth Wenger in terms of not buying players as well, but I won’t. Simply because of the assumptions I have to make. One assumption is this: has he been given adequate finance to buy players?

    We all know Wenger is reluctant, but he might be saying that just to save the face of the board for all I know. The board might refuse to buy even if Wenger wants to. I have no idea what happens internally. He might be reluctant or he might just have been deprived of adequate cash to bring quality players so he is sticking to average players and Arsenal’s wage structure doesn’t help much either. I don’t know this, so I won’t criticize Wenger for not market-hunting.

    Therefore, I will stick to Emirate’s pitch and his formation of players on that pitch. For example, his constant willingness to stick to the 4-2-3-1 is mind-boggling. Why this formation when it simply hasn’t worked? You need exemplary quality mid-fielders to attack in this formation, and he doesn’t have it. A lone striker is most of the time a spectator if the mid-fielders don’t complement.

    With Aaron Ramsey at the helms of things, this DOES NOT WORK. He has been absolutely a train-wreck. I wouldn’t like to criticize a kid that came back from a horrific injury, however, since he has been back and in the middle of things for Arsenal, even a blind man can see he is no CM and has performed poorly and a big reason for Arsenal’s climb downhill.

    He has used players like Walcott and Arshavin very very poorly. Arshavin is a good quick thinking assist maker and he has had many assists even when he is played in the wings, which he DOES NOT like. Why not try Arshavin behind Van Persie. He will do a much better job than Ramsey in the central mid-field.

    Walcott has said he wants to play a central striker. RVP would be much better suited as a false no. 9 much like Messi for Barcelona. He may not be Messi, but his magnificent first touch could release Walcott time and time again. Bergkamp even said this today. Wenger persists with Walcott down the wings which hasn’t worked and he does not prefer. His pace could be so much helpful, yet he goes nowhere down the wings, instead of going straight at the keeper from the middle.

    I know he has had some player injuries, but he has not played according to the preference of the players, rather they are just out of position and cannot contribute according to their potential.

    With these reasons and his reluctance on continuing to purse with this rather ridiculous formation, putting players in difficult positions, is apparent that this has contributed even more than just buying players.

  4. Good article – well thought out and written.

    Your point of asking who would do a better job than Arsene Wenger is a very good one. I wrote (not as well I might add) something in the same vein about Hodgson being blamed for a whole slew of problems at Liverpool last season. The difference is that there was a good candidate in Kenny Dalglish for Liverpool while Arsenal can’t do too much better than a top manager like Wenger.

    1. Not sure I agree with this assessment. If a manager hasn’t won anything in so long, can’t keep his best players (players that were played ahead of those that remain at the club) how do you expect the current squad to respect him. From the outside this club seems to be able to do nothing right at the moment. If their fans have no faith in their manager (although some clearly still do) then how are the “seconds” left at the club and panic buys supposed to?

  5. “but personally I believe Arsenal is no longer on the same financial plane as the top clubs of the league, and therefore can’t afford to retain their best players long enough to build a consistent roster.”

    According to Alex Fynn, courtesy of the podcast ‘Footballistically Arsenal’ and it’s second to last episode, “Fortress Wenger”, the idea that Arsenal doesn’t have the financial power needed to sustain a consistent team and to purchase at least a couple of world class players is a fallacy. Only that Wenger is, more or less, stubborn with his ways of managing and running the club. Hopefully Arsenal being where they are now will cause him to change his ways or cause him to bow out at season’s end. Who knows what will happen..

  6. Personally my only issue with the Professor is his equivocal risk management policy. When the club sells key players or has a string of injured players it seems like there is no back up plan. This was on display during the OT massacre and resonates frequently during other fixtures. He has been a great manager in the past, but recently I have felt that the game has been evolving at a faster rate than he can handle. However, I do not believe the club should cut ties with Wenger because he is a phenomenal asset for youth talent and sustainable club management. It’s better to consider transitioning him into an oversight or executive role where he can still guide the club forward. Till the issue is resolved I will still be a supporter and tolerate the abuse from my friends who are united fans.

  7. Great article. I, as a Gooner, am still a pro-Wenger Arsenal supporter. Wenger is so committed to Arsenal, and is concerned with the long-term future of the club. If someone like Ancelotti was appointed, I fear that he could use Arsenal as a stepping stone for a job at another club like AC Milan, Real Madrid, Italian national team, etc. At least we know that Wenger’s goal is to make Arsenal the best club in the world, and not just use our club as another line on his resume.

    Gunther Pleasureman, I am surprised that you think football is developing too quick for Wenger. Maybe the money (or oil) is flowing into the game, and that is affecting Wenger, but I would not say that Wenger is using out-of-date tactics. The best teams in England now are playing the passing game more than ever, in part because of Wenger’s influence on the Premier League.

    If Arsenal sack Wenger, Arsene will likely get a plethora of job offers. Pundits are already mentioning him as a possible successor to Fabio Capello. If Real Madrid stumble this season and fail to win major silverware, I’m sure that Real Madrid would not think twice about going after Wenger as their next boss.

  8. Samir Nasri said not to long ago that the reason why Arsenal haven’t been able to buy quality players is because of the building of the Emirates. They have to pay it off, but it’s not debt they are paying for it as they use it, for the lack of a better term. I doubt it’s Wengers fault. Why would a manager for a club like Arsenal deny the ability to buy great players, it would be moronic to say the least. I think everyone want to point the finger at all the wrong, simply because (even the people who right this article) don’t know how a manager or the power system in a club works. Unfortunately, Wenger brings in the money but does not have say on to what to do with it. Often times when clubs are screwing up the finger gets pointed at the manger and he has nothing to do with it. I do kind of think the 4-2-3-1 system is flawed for the current arsenal side. I often think that 4-4-2 is too over used and acquired, in football. Maybe a 4-3-3 may work give Gervinho more playing time and put him on the wing. Put Arshavin in midfield where he belongs, Song down the middle, and Arshavin and Arteta on either side, put Van Persie on the wing because notice he scores better when he comes off the left side, of course put Walcott down the middle. Also this would give song more room to go on the attack which has gotten better at as of late.

  9. The Arsenal situation reminds me a lot of the book “Money Ball” which is about a pioneer in baseball scouting. Wenger ( at least somewhat) revolutionized the system of buying and selling players in soccer, and this gave him a huge advantage when Wenger first started using this policy. However, now more teams are copying Wenger’s stats driven policy and closing the gap on Wenger and Arsenal’s competitive advantage they had. Now that other teams have caught up off the field, Arsenal must either be willing to spend more, expect less form their club, or try and create another off field advantage in scouting.

    1. Funny you should mention it. Billy Beane’s self-proclaimed hero is none other than…Arsene Wenger. Whatever conclusions one draws from that, well that’s another story. But the connection is certainly there.

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