As I alluded to in last week’s blog, owners are more and more commonly imprinting their control on the club by sacking numerous managers. This week has seen Rafael Benitez sacked as manager of Real Madrid, continuing the increasingly popular procedure of sacking the most vulnerable and brave men in the business, the ‘gaffers’, after the slightest drop in form. With the ridiculous chopping and changing process in modern football, you have to ask yourself, are managers honestly given enough time in the job these days?
Benitez was the innocent victim of a murderous cull directed at managers these days by the media, who can often be the tipping point in the decision of impatient but ultimately money-dictated owners, such as the afore-mentioned Massimo Cellino. Even Florentino Perez, the President of arguably the biggest club in the world in the shape of Real Madrid, has an unbelievable record of 14 managers in 16 years, bold enough to sack some of the biggest managers in the world early, with Fabio Capello, Manuel Pellegrini and Benitez all given less than a year each. Success is hardly to be expected when star managers are not given enough time to stamp their authority on the squad with tactics and signings (although transfers were often planned by Perez himself anyway). Even before Perez, Real have been made infamous for their pursuit of success by sacking their managers, with 62 having made their way through the revolving door in the club’s 106 years with professional managers.
Surely all these managers can’t have been sacked just for results, though? Considering the impressive record of continual success at the world-famous club, results cannot have been the reasoning behind the board statements and the glum-looking faces trudging out of their former offices. Sure, some had resigned from their roles, but others have either had their relationships with the board deteriorate, lacked the support of the fans, some even having been sacked prematurely according to the statisticians. Excuses have been thrown around many times by clubs the world over, but managers face the reality of harsh sackings and uncertainty over their future as soon as they go into the job. The ones I personally don’t have sympathy for, though, are the individuals who work under notoriously impatient owners, Chairmen such as that man Cellino again, Vincent Tan, Roman Abramovich or Tony Fernandes.
The particular reason the Benitez story was shocking, at least on the level that a Real Madrid sacking can be, is that they were not even struggling. There were no signs of breaks in the squad, like there have been before at the club, as Ronaldo, Bale, Benzema and most top players were all on top form for the club. He surely hasn’t underachieved at this point of the season, standing 3rd in La Liga, and only four points behind rivals Athletico, having the best gal difference of +29, and qualifying top from a tough Champions League group with Paris St. Germain with 16 of a possible 19 points, and a G.D. of +16. They were knocked out of the Copa Del Rey, but through no fault of Benitez’s own, rather the administrative staff as Real were disqualified for fielding an (unknown to them) suspended Denis Cheryshev against Cadiz. At any club other than Madrid, Benitez would’ve been praised for his results (apart from the 4-0 thumping from Barcelona), rather than ungratefully sacked after a gutsy 2-2 10-man draw with a revitalised Valencia side. It is completely ridiculous act to dispose of somebody so well-respected and previously successful within about six months of his tenure. Even if he fell out with the board, surely they could’ve forgiven him and had faith in his ability to fulfil his promise of trophies, which I fully believe he would’ve done. Surely this will go down as one of the most unjustly premature reigns in the world of football.
Unfortunately, this issue isn’t singularly the reality to Real Madrid or Leeds United. A mere 22 of the total 92 clubs in the top four divisions in England, or 23.9%, have kept the same manager for 2 years or longer, with only 5 of those being in the Premier League. This only goes up to 45.6% when you consider managers who have been in the job for more than a year. This sad statistic is the result of the power of football fans, who are world-renowned as being fickle, and all too often as critical and impatient as the billionaire owners at the top of the club. They have a lot of power on Twitter to voice their opinions and criticisms of the every movement of Pellegrini, van Gaal, and Wenger et al. The media hear them and are furiously refreshing social media to pick out their favourite controversial comments, which are made into back-page headlines the next morning, putting more questions to the owners. Where would you see this in any other profession? People who don’t even know you calling for your head after a few below-par performances, it’s a ridiculous result of social media on a commercially-orientated sport.
Studies into the success of managers in accordance to their time in a job have been numerous, but the most in-depth analysis was carried out by Stefano d’Addona and Axel Kind of the University of Rome and the University of Basel respectively. Their studies showed that on average, there were 78.5 forced successions (sackings, not resignations) in the top four divisions of English football every year from 2000 to 2008, compared 24.7 from 1950 to 1959. Personally, I would lay the blame at the rise of the media, as rumours can spread quickly and a single result can immediately put the pressure on even the most successful manager. The average probability of a manager in the lowest performance quartile being sacked every season has risen dramatically as well, with 21.1% average from 1950-59 and 64.9% from 2000-08, showing that managers are far easier to fire these days as a result of increased pressure from impatient fans and the media. This statistic proved truthful from the recent sacking of Jose Mourinho from Chelsea, despite the fact he had won the Premier League only seven months earlier. This tells us that his sacking was simply based on the results from August to December, a four month period, which isn’t long enough to adapt to any job, and is barely enough time to get your feet under the desk.
To conclude, though, I would reiterate the old saying ‘patience is a virtue’, and honestly believe that more chairmen should heed this advice in their decisions. Unfortunately, money talks for owners and whilst immediate success is the ideal for any team, some have paid the price for pursuing it over stability, including Portsmouth, Fulham and Blackpool, who have been through a number of managers over the years following their setbacks in the Premier League. A lot can be learnt from the systems of Arsene Wenger or Sir Alex Ferguson, who have both shown that big clubs should support their current staff in the belief that success will come, rather than aimlessly fire and hire managers. After all, just admire the legacy and success of Giampaolo Mazza, the former San Marino international manager of 15 long years. Oh wait…
Author - Will Hugall
Now a BA Journalism student at Nottingham Trent University, I divide my time between my base in Radford and back home in East Sussex while watching as much football as I can!