Steve Bruce falls victim to Premier League's managerial carousel
Martin O’Neill will take over the fired Steve Bruce as Sunderland manager
The English Premier League has a high turnover rate for changing managers
The LMA wants the transfer window to apply to managers as well as players
So Steve Bruce has won the annual Premier League sack race, making bookmakers a fortune off Blackburn's Steve Kean, whose odds at 7/5 had looked as safe as buying gold. But Bruce's firing is hardly a surprising result given that Sunderland (16th in the table when Bruce was given his pink slip and 17th after new manager Martin O'Neill watched them lose 2-1 at Molineux this weekend) had managed only three wins at the Stadium of Light since New Year's Day. And one of those was over Stoke City, who turned up dog-tired after a Europa League jaunt to Kiev.
Bruce's attempts to grab points had begun to resemble the final seconds in the Crystal Maze, a man in a tracksuit hopping about, trying to swipe shiny objects out of the air. It is telling that the League Managers Association (always, quite rightly, the first to condemn a rush of blood to the boardroom) was unmoved by the decision.
The LMA has been in the news this week, however, with demands that UEFA carries out the review of the transfer window system that president Michel Platini promised more than three years ago: clubs want longer to trade players. At the same time, there is talk that the transfer window system should also apply to managers.
"It would be ideal for managers if they could only lose their job at a certain time of the year," said chief cheerleader Neil Warnock, the Queens Park Rangers manager. "Managers should be like players: you should be able to change them in January if that's what is wanted, or at the end of the season."
Scoff all you like at Warnock's opening line (how nice for all of us, no matter how incompetent, if we could only be dismissed at a certain time of the year), but there is a growing sense that something must be done about the precariousness of the soccer manager's existence. According to LMA statistics, 510 managers in the British game lost their jobs between 2000 and 2010, more than double the figure fifty years earlier (213 in the 1950s). It was also an increase of 20 percent over the previous decade. Since it began in 1992, the Premier League has turned managers over at an astonishing rate of more than eight per season. During or immediately after the 2010-11 campaign, West Ham, Birmingham, Blackburn, Newcastle, West Brom, Aston Villa, Fulham, Liverpool and Chelsea all appointed a new man.
The culture is epitomized at Stamford Bridge, where owner Roman Abramovich has made his way through eight managers since 2003. (And still news organizations made more of Chelsea's summer approach for then-Porto manager Andre Villas-Boas than of the start of Wimbledon and Rory McIlroy's U.S. Open win.) It is ridiculous that just six months after Chelsea paid the Portuguese champions $23 million to remove Villas-Boras to West London (and another $78 million in transfer fees for the likes of Juan Mata and Oriol Romeu), Villas-Boas is considered to be living from one result to the next. Ridiculous, and entirely predictable.
Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson blames fans for the pressure on managers. "That's the kind of supporters we have nowadays, they have no patience," Ferguson said this week. Certainly, Warnock took great delight, having got Sheffield United promoted in 2006, in responding to the supporters who had written to him demanding his resignation that season. "I will say that I hope that they are looking forward to the Premiership," he quipped at the time.
Yet the crowd seems too convenient a scapegoat (and not just because Fergie of all people should remember that if the fans had gotten their way, he would have been booted out of Old Trafford midway through the 1989-90 season, five months before the victory in the FA Cup final). It is not as if chairmen and owners take the least bit of notice when fans say they want lower ticket prices, or stadiums with proper names, or even a decent center-half instead of another prancing 100-pound winger with glass ankles.
Kean's experience at Blackburn, where the crowd actually booed Yakubu celebrating a goal with his manager this weekend, demonstrates how difficult an atmosphere fans can create when they are unhappy -- but also that ultimately, it is the board that decides when time is up. One of the desired effects of a managerial transfer window, as well as shoring up a manager's position in the medium term, would be to ensure that clubs make more sensible appointments in the first place (though admittedly, nothing at Ewood Park suggests Venky's would have thought longer and harder about Kean's appointment had they had a limited period in which to sack him.)
The player transfer window offers some insight. Of the 212 deals involving Premier League clubs this summer, 31 (that's about 15 percent) went through on the last day of a 92-day window, comfortably more than were completed in the entire first week. Despite there being a full three months in which to do business (and let's not forget, deals can be agreed in principle even before that), the deadline sparks disaster movie panic-buying. You head out for canned food and before you know it, you've spent $16 million on Peter Crouch.
What's the chance there's more nous in the case of managers? (This is, after all, an industry in which Bruce has been out of work for less than eight months in more than 13 years, despite maintaining a win average that barely betters statistical probability. And he's not the only one.) What's the chance of prudence at a club heading vaguely in the direction of trouble if the coach must be sacked by a certain date or see out the rest of the season? A transfer window only guarantees sackings; in anxious minds it has the same but-if-I-don't-do-it-now factor as the age of consent. Like teen singletons, it's not deadlines chairmen need. It's a spot of relationship education.
B) Chelsea's David Luiz got away with the clumsiest piece of defending in living memory, being shown only a yellow card for flattening Newcastle striker Demba Ba as they both chased a through-ball on the edge of the area.
C) Sebastian Larsson tasted instant karma having dived over Wolverhampton Wanderers defender Jody Craddock with the subtlety of a pantomime dame. Within 25 seconds of missing the subsequent penalty, Larsson was watching Wolves celebrate a goal at the other end.
D) Saturday's comprehensive defeat of Wigan marks at least a calendar month since someone questioned the Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger's capabilities.
E) Spurs keep winning.
Pro Football Now: Thursday December 12, 2013
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