To sack or not sack? Asking the right questions 0

Will Quinn discusses the recent flurry of terminations in the Premier League…


The sackings of Steve Clarke and Andre Villas-Boas have directed a lot of this week’s football discussion towards when the right time is for a chairman to fire a manager. Both decisions have been quite controversial, and thus generated a lot of heat. I’m not sure whether the chairmen in question came to the right decision in either case, but it’s arguably more important to ask the right questions, and this is where I think some of the commentary has lacked a bit of perspective.

Firstly, a lot of fans and pundits still seem to feel that giving a manager time to settle is a virtue in itself. This was best summed up by Gary Neville favourably mentioning United’s decision to stick by Tommy Docherty and Ron Atkinson, as if that was somehow a good thing. Alex Ferguson is the classic example of when sticking by a manager paid off, but it’s only the right decision if they’re the right man for the job. If they’re not, then it’s best that the chairman gets rid of them sooner rather than later.

Secondly, a lot of the discussion uses the current league position of a club as the determining factor in whether a sacking was ‘harsh’ or not. This doesn’t really make sense for clubs like Spurs and West Brom, where the manager’s role is increasingly specialised. In the case of Villas-Boas, his job broadly consisted of tactics, man-motivation and training. Their recent performances don’t suggest that he was doing either of the first two especially well, and none of the noises coming from the club are very complementary about his training sessions either.

To use a business metaphor, a large company doesn’t assess one member of staff by looking at the performance of the entire company. The team could be performing well in spite of a good manager, especially if his control over transfers is limited. I’m not saying that sacking AVB was necessarily the right decision- we would need to know a lot more about the internal workings of the club to tell for sure. But the fact that Spurs have a good record under him isn’t sufficient to say that it was the wrong one either.

Finally, and most importantly, much of the discussion doesn’t mention something huge: the identity of the replacement. Replacing AVB with Fabio Capello is a completely different proposition from replacing him with Glenn Hoddle or Tim Sherwood. Southampton sacking Adkins earlier this year would have been insane, but the fact that they had Pochettino lined up made it a fair decision. In general I don’t think United sacking Moyes should be anywhere near the agenda, but if Jurgen Klopp became available, they’d be foolish to hesitate in letting Moyes go.

Aside from the fact that the public don’t have a lot of relevant information, some of the analysis of the subject can be overly simplistic, often compounded by misplaced sympathy for a man leaving his job with a huge payoff and good future prospects. It’s a more complex decision than it sometimes gets credit for, and we generally can’t judge it at all until we know the replacement- and sometimes not even then.

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