With 9 mid-season managerial changes in the season so far, it’s about time someone figured out whether a change at the top really makes a difference to the results and morale; and if so, who should replace them? 

Why was Abbott axed? Why did Mowbray move on? Why was Laws let go?

There’s a few more of those, but they only go downhill from here. When looking at the teams’ performance as a whole, there’s a stat that we can’t escape. From the last 5 games of each of the 9 teams (45 in total), there’s 7 wins, 10 draws and 28 loses – that’s 31pts from a possible 135pt; less than 23%. Recent performance is clearly a factor to outing a manager – as the fans lose faith in the players, the players  lose faith in themselves and their manager: performance spirals down in a vicious cycle, and a factor is needed to turn the sinking ship around. This is more-often-than-not a change at the top. Another factor, only broken by 1 team, is that of position change. In 8 of the 9 cases this season, the team have been in a worse position than they ended up last year. A team like Middlesbrough were in the same place as they finished in the 2012/13 season, but Sheffield United were down 18 positions, as were Portsmouth, and Bury were down from bottom of League One to bottom of League Two. Whilst a sacking early in a season can scew the data, it’s worth noting that all League Two managers who were sacked were in League One last season. Relegation is sour for any fan unless a manager turns things around and plays well in an easier league. Hartlepool’s manager, Colin Cooper, joined the team in May 2013 when all was lost in League One. They now sit 14th in League Two, two places worse off than when Scunthorpe sacked their manager. Could Cooper be next for the chop and follow the pattern? Well no. Despite being half a league worse off than last year, they are striking good form, with 4/6 wins recently, and 8 goals scored to only 5 conceded. Hartlepool are, from the outside, a happy team. Easier company has been a bonus and bolstered the winning runs and good results. Martin Allen of Gillingham has had a rough ride though. Taking Gillingham into League One was no easy feat; after doing so, reaching mid-table of the league, he was fired. This is the only manager who is in a better position than at the end of last year that was sacked, and is the joint top point scorer from the last 5 games for all of those fired. Being up a league is hard, and with the territory brings poorer results than a top-of League Two teams are accustom to.  

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Does a new manager work?

Well, looking at the above table, 8/9 teams were equal or in deficit to their position at the end of last season. Since the change of manager, 8/9 team are now equal to last season, or better off. Maybe Middlesbrough’s sacking of Mowbray was a mistake, and Mowbray was possibly not the factor that required changing. A dutch study confirmed this theory with over 18 years of data – where a manager is sacked, performance increases the game after back to the strongest relative performance of the recent team. However, a study of the Eredivisie league between 1986-2004 showed that without a manager change, when performance dropped, something would trigger a comeback, and return to a normal standard at an astonishingly good comparative rate. It’s actually the poor performance that is extraordinary to the norm, not the comeback with an added factor.

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Manager: ex-player or fanatic?

So, you’ve decided (misguidedly or not) that it’s time for a change and a new manager is needed – who to pick? We often put articles up of 5 people that could be managers. Usually the top 3 in the market, the outsider, and a wildcard. But what makes a good manager? Clearly chairmen and boards don’t know themselves – if they did, there would be far fewer job openings for managers on Jobsite. A lot of manager that are appointed are ex-players of varying ability – it’s sometimes shortsighted to appoint a hero, or a winner of yesteryear – but other times, it’s the morale boost that’s needed. Economists a few years ago concluded a study showing that a player that had played for their county were more effective in their managerial careers than someone who had never made it to the top flight. A perfectly valid hypothesis, providing clubs steer clear of players who were instinctive at the game, and never had to try or to learn – intuition can’t be taught. But then, consider the most famous thing Arrigo Sacchi has ever said: “I never realised that in order to become a jockey you have to have been a horse first”. Could it be that a Football Manager 2013 qualification is truly a valid CV item?

So who is the model manager?

It’s still the question that I’ve been dodging. A board can’t have the foresight to see how the best candidate would fit into the team – maybe the worst qualified would be better in practice? There isn’t a set of conditions neutral enough to have a control manager in any experiment or comparison, so how can a club know if they’ll be the best manager until given the chance. So they’re given the chance. Brilliant. For how long? A month, two possibly. How can a manager turn a club around in 8 weeks! Often a manager will replace essential staff, changing coach month to month. How do you build up a team when there is job uncertainty? How do you manage a football team? How do you manage.

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