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The Madness Of Sacking Premier League Football Managers

Football - Blackburn Rovers v Newcastle United Barclays Premier League - Ewood Park - 17/1/09.Blackburn manager Sam Allardyce Photo via Newscom

It took a bit longer than usual but the sackings in the Premier League have commenced. Led by Newcastle and soon followed by Blackburn, the sackings have come from clubs that seem to be far from crisis level. These actions by the respective owners of Newcastle and Blackburn have been met with almost universal condemnation. The Newcastle story is viewed as an owner with no real grasp of what it takes to run a football club. An owner who is perceived to make decisions by the seat of his drunken arse regardless how it may offend a loyal fan base that he just fired the man responsible for getting Newcastle back into the top flight. The Blackburn situation is labeled as a new ownership group that may have the right to put the person they want in charge but at the same time may have let their best option leave because each he has differing views of where Blackburn belongs. Finally, there is West Ham that seems to want to sack their manager but is procrastinating.

Newcastle seems to be a club that wants perpetual turmoil. The sacking of Chris Hughton two weeks ago seemed to highlight and underline that fact. Owner Mike Ashley ended Hughton’s time with the Northeast side ten days ago after they lost 2-1 away to West Brom. That loss saw Newcastle take 2 points from their last 15 but surely Hughton deserved better.  The Irishman deserved better because he picked up the pieces following a 2008-09 Premier League that saw a pair of Geordie messiahs come and go and left the club relegated after it was all said and done.

Newcastle hero Kevin Keegan left the club early that season after he claimed he was not allowed to run the club as he saw fit. His departure immediately turned the Toon Army against club owner Ashley. His hiring of “colorful” Joe Kinnear did little to sway support in his favor and when Kinnear went down and eventually out due to heath concerns another Newcastle savior arrived to try and drag the club out of the relegation nightmare, enter Alan Shearer. Shearer however might have been better suited to pulling on the black and white stripes and naming himself for first team duty because his managing skills could not keep the club from going down on the last day of the season.

That season was a trying time for the Newcastle faithful but there was one constant, Chris Hughton. He took over as caretaker boss in a few instances that season and remained after the collapse to lead the club as it entered the Championship in ’09-‘10. He was there in part because owner Ashley had basically went into shut down mode during the season claiming to put the club up for sale in the face of enormous pressure form the home fans. Once relegation was confirmed and planning for the Championship should have begun he was nowhere to be found.

As the club inched closer to the start of their season in ’09-’10 confusion reigned as to who was in charge of the side, was Shearer still the boss in spite of his lack of coaching badges, was Kinnear coming back after successful heart surgery or was someone in else coming in? These questions seemed to go unanswered after the season actually began but there was a man on the touchline and it was Chris Hughton. Shearer could not come to terms with Ashley and went back to the sofa at the BBC, Kinnear was not heard from and it appeared Ashley was stuck with Hughton as he still tried to offload the club albeit as his asking price.

Fast forward through the Championship season and Hughton guided Newcastle to the title with 102 points and promotion was gained with ease. It seemed Newcastle had a manager to bring stability to the club and it was not in the form of a local superhero. As this season started though the clouds began forming over Hughton as it appeared Ashley wanted him out and his sacking was only delayed by a fantastic 5-1 thrashing of Sunderland in the Northeast Derby and then a 1-0 away result at the Emirates against a title challenging Arsenal side.

Those results could not save Hughton though as Ashley had made the decision in advanced by all appearances and simply waited for a bad run of form to drop the axe. This decision coming from an owner who increasingly does not look like he is interested in selling the club, especially when it seems like it is going to remain in the lucrative top flight for next season, thereby adding more value to his asset thanks to Hughton for getting the club back up and to mid-table halfway through the season.

Blackburn entered the sack race this past Monday as the Indian company Venky’s, owners of Blackburn gave Sam Allardyce his marching orders. All Big Sam had done was to get Blackburn out of relegation danger in the ’08-’09 season and then followed that up by leading Blackburn to a mid-table 10th place finish the following season. Blackburn currently sit 13th on 21 points. They are 5 points clear of the relegation zone but a win away from possibly going into 8th position.

In a statement released by the Venky’s Group after Allardyce’s termination, they mentioned how ownership and the manager had differing views as to the future of the club. That seems like code for Big Sam sees a mid-table finish as a good season for a club the size of Blackburn while his owners look at a list of past winners of the Premier League and see Blackburn ’94-’95 and think that is where we belong.

The managerial fraternity seemed to be stunned, as voiced by Sir Alex Ferguson. Taking time out from his post-match interview following United’s big 1-0 result over Arsenal Monday night, Ferguson stated, “I’ve never heard such a stupid decision in all my life. It’s absolutely ridiculous. I wouldn’t like to follow him.”

Blackburn’s new owners have every right to put the person in charge they think can best meet their vision of where the club should be. That evaluation though needs to be based in some context and reality and getting there cannot be achieved overnight. Sir Alex was spot on however. Who does want this job? Surely there will be candidates from the lower leagues and even an assistant is going to get a shot in the interim, but can these new owners think they can find someone for this club better than what they just had? They say they know where Blackburn should be going forward, but going forward may mean Blackburn going backward and eventually down.

News broke yesterday of another club on the verge of sacking their manager. Dan Roan stated on the BBC Sport website that West Ham owners David Gold and David Sullivan have given Avram Grant the next three matches to secure 3 points or hit the unemployment line. Here is a situation in which no one would blame these guys for showing Grant the door. Grant himself looks like a man who wants out. His side is rooted to the bottom of the table and has played some atrocious football at times this season.

Instead of sacking Grant and replacing him immediately with someone that may spark a turnaround and get them to safety, Gold and Sullivan are going to toy with Grant who is likely to get fired anyways. They should go all out and give him “the vote of confidence”. Gold and Sullivan are throwbacks though to the pre-Premier League era (think Doug Ellis although they amassed their fortunes in differing ways, look it up). They are stingy which keeps the club out of debt but makes decisions like cutting loose a manager that will have to be bought out the more difficult in a situation like West Ham face.

It will be intriguing to see how these three situations play out in the second half of this season particularly Newcastle and Blackburn who have gone made a story where there was none. Should one or both of these teams get to March and be fighting a relegation battle, observers and supporters alike will be looking to December as a crucial time. West Ham really has nothing to lose at this point other than money by firing Grant.

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  1. James C.

    December 17, 2010 at 10:19 am

    The situation at each club is different and sometimes it is justified to fire a manager. With Hughton it was obvious that he was doing a good job and he was not at odds with management so his firing came as a total surprise. It has come to light that Pardew is a close friend on the owner and a board member and that once Pardew was fired from his previous post Ashley moved to bring him in immediately. At Blackburn Allardyce was at odds with the new owners about funds available to him during the January transfer window. Since Allardyce was not hired by the new owners and there was disagreement between owners and manager it is justified to sack the manager and bring in someone they can work with. By the way, one should view Fergie’s comments in the context that he and Allardyce are very close friends.

  2. Steve.O

    December 17, 2010 at 3:45 am

    Fellow Liverpool fans are embarrassing me with this right now. How they believe have 3 managers in 1 year could be positive is beyond me. They seem completely oblivious to the fact that LFC must cleanup finances before making a charge forward. Changing managers will help this none at all and having someone solid like Roy for this period is actually the right thing. Impatience will be their death.

    • Dave C

      December 17, 2010 at 11:32 am

      “three managers in one year” is a bit of a misleading term, because it implies that the club will have had a series of very short-term appointments. But in reality, it just means that the club had one long-term appointee who left his position, a replacement who turned out to be garbage and was fired in less than one year, and a subsequent replacement who will hopefully also be long-term appointee.

      In general, I think if a club is persistently hiring and firing short-term appointees (as Real Madrid and Newcastle often have done), then it indicates that something is seriously wrong in the board’s approach to hiring or its expectations. On the other hand, in Liverpool’s case, I don’t think there’s any shame in realizing their mistake in hiring Hodgson, and acting quickly to fix the situation.

  3. Sir Guy

    December 16, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    It happens in all sports all the time, with differing degrees of rationality. However, it gives us something to write about and bitch about. What more could we want? 😉

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