Why giving managers time is a myth

A flurry of managerial changes have really got the League Managers’ Association’s knickers in a twist of late.

Richard Bevan, Chief Executive of the LMA has written an open letter to clubs lecturing them on short-termism with regard to managerial changes.

It’s what you would expect a union to do – stick up for its members. Bevan suggests the adoption of good practice from the corporate world re: objective setting, performance monitoring and appraisal. However, he doesn’t seem to wish to introduce corporate style redundancy packages, which would have seen Roy Keane, the 30th managerial casualty of the season leave with three week’s pay, not the reported 6 month’s salary.

Bevan argues, “The statistics show that a club is likely to end up worse off when they sack their manager, they have less points (sic) and are often significantly out of pocket due to monies spent on compensation and paying up contracts.”

What the LMA won’t tell you is that there never was a golden period of football when managers were given years and years to turn failing and faltering clubs around.

We are constantly reminded that Sir Alex Ferguson’s first few seasons at Manchester United did not bring any silverware, which is true but in his first full season he did finish runners up in the League for the first time since 1980. It wasn’t as if there was no evidence of his impact and the team’s improvement.

Other managers were given plenty of rope, and others at least managed to tie themselves in knots, if not hang themselves.

Take any manager who had long term success at a club that you like and chances are there was immediate success. Believe me I know, when I began researching this blog I was searching for evidence to back up Bevan’s assertions. I too wanted to believe that managers would succeed if board’s had patience. I wilfully ignored by own experience supporting Birmingham City under Trevor Francis for the purposes of this delusion.

Bill Shankly

Shankly replaced Phil Taylor as Liverpool manager in December 1959, after Taylor had four seasons trying to get Liverpool promoted back to the First Division. He finished 3rd in the Second Division in his first full season in charge, and was promoted in 1961-62. It then took him just two attempts to give Liverpool their first title since 1949, the rest as they say is history.

Bill Nicholson

Tottenham were just above the relegation zone when Nicholson took over mid way through the 1958-59 season. They survived and next season finished third, before doing the double in the 1960-61 campaign.

Graham Taylor

Led Watford from Fourth Division to the First in just five seasons, before taking them to the Cup Final and 2nd place in the League. Does anyone think that if Watford had just persevered with Mike Keen for another (fifth) season he’d have eventually taken them to Wembley?

Ron Saunders

Aston Villa were promoted from the Second Division and won the League Cup in his first season in charge. A tenure that brought a League Championship and European Cup glory.

Sir Alf Ramsey

Sir Alf made a creditable start with Ipswich Town claiming 3rd spot in the Third Division South in his first campaign, before subsequently getting promoted the following year. He then succeeded in establishing Town as a mid table Second Division side before gaining promotion to the top flight, winning the title at his first attempt and then the minor task of managing the England National Team to a World Cup victory.

Jose Mourinho

It’s difficult to judge his tenure at Benfica that last 9 games due to a dispute with the newly elected President, but what is known is that he had immediate success at every club he has ever been since. Leira (5th – highest ever finish), Porto (UEFA Cup, followed by European Cup), Chelsea (2 Premier League titles), Inter (3 Scudettos and a Champions League) and with Real Madrid – who knows.

It is not to say that every great manager will be successful at every club they go to. Sometimes it is just not the right fit.

Joe Mercer

Mercer was definitely not the right fit for Sheffield United, and his time at Aston Villa inauspicious he instantly had success at Manchester City. He was the right man for the times and the club. The Second Division Championship (1966) came in his first season; the League Title (1968) in his third; the FA Cup (1969) in his fourth; and the twin prizes of the League Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup (1970) in his fifth.

Dario Gradi

Success is a relative concept, if you were to take over a club perennially at the bottom of the Football League pyramid, only saved from non-league football by an archaic election system on more than one occasion and rise them from 23rd to 16th in your first season, 10th the season after that; promotion out of the division for the first time in 25 years in your sixth season; and 13 years after your appointment get Crewe Alexandra into the second tier for the only time in their history – you have succeeded.

Highlighting Gradi is important, because proponents of the long tenured manager often cite his example as a case in their favour, but Crewe were treated to relative success early on, which was a harbinger of things to come.

Gradi was not a mediocre manager chugging along – who suddenly after 10 years in the job stumbled across a winning formula. He improved the fortunes of Crewe from day one.

It may be unpleasant – and I’m not saying that an average tenure of 16 months is desirable – but if a manager has demonstrated their ceiling at a particular club – why should a third and a fourth season of hopes, dreams and money be invested in them, when the vast body of evidence shows that long term success follows on from short term gains.

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