With Newcastle United and Huddersfield Town unable to claim a single victory from their opening ten games and their fellow bottom-three resident Fulham having shipped in a staggering 28 goals already it is a small – and very welcome – wonder that the beleaguered trio have yet to resort to the sacking of their coach. After all, in the last ten years alone 13 Premier League managers have either resigned or received their proverbial P45 by this juncture of the campaign while October over that decade has the second highest managerial mortality rate of any calendar month bar those in the close season.
This makes sense when looked at dispassionately. In August excuses are made and half-accepted. In September the rot sets in. By the time the leaves start to fall panic buttons are being pressed in boardrooms across the land.
With that not happening on this occasion it suggests at first glance that lessons have finally been learned; that a collective shift in thinking now has it that knee-jerk dismissals in search of a ‘new manager bounce’ can all-too-often lead only to further disruption and instability. Instead – perhaps – old-fashioned values such as patience and loyalty are back to the fore? Let us hope that is true.
Yet before we start to believe that the days of trigger-happy chairman are behind us another look at the bottom three and a second surveying of history informs us that some caution is necessary on our optimism.
Firstly, the individual circumstances at Craven Cottage, St James’ Park and the Kirklees Stadium come into play here. Slavisa Jokanovic remains a popular figure at Fulham and there is still a great deal of gratitude for the manner in which he guided his side to promotion last term, not to mention admiration for his attacking ethos even if that is what is presently undermining their survival fight. In the north-east frankly Rafa Benitez is the most capable person connected to the club and surely even Mike Ashley acknowledges that, if privately. In west Yorkshire meanwhile Huddersfield chairman has dispensed with any guardedness by candidly stating that David Wagner will ‘100% be the manager next season’ even if the Terriers succumb to the drop.
If the above partly explains why no under-fire boss has yet been fired history sadly loads the gun with ammunition and hands out the blindfolds. In five of the last ten years managers have remained in situ until November only then, on each occasion, a spate of sackings occurred and unsurprisingly, more times than not, they involved clubs languishing near the foot of the table. In short we are now deep into the sacking season and if previous seasons teach us anything it’s that common sense rarely holds out for much longer.
This applies too of course for the entirety of the league. Presently we are in the pleasing position of having all twenty gaffers who began the season still warming their respective hot-seats but nobody is safe once patience wears thin and perceived crisis looms regardless of position or stature. In 2008/09 Alan Curbishley was the first to walk – voluntarily in his case – with his Hammers side elevated in fifth. A year later Mark Hughes was the second manager to fall with his employers at Manchester City not content with chugging along just outside of the top four. In 2012/13 the sacking season began in spectacularly silly fashion when Roberto Di Matteo was relieved of his duties at Stamford Bridge having failed to haul Chelsea from their Champion’s League group. He had guided them to their ultimate continental glory only five months earlier.
Overall from the seventy managers who have suddenly and prematurely departed the scene in the past decade 10% have been in charge of clubs seventh or higher at the time and what is most striking about these under-achieving high-achievers is that their dismissals lack any cohesive pattern. Some are forced out early. Others are fired late on. This is proof, if proof were needed, that at no stage in this extremely pressurised job does the pressure ease.
This naturally is true of every manager through any campaign but is particularly pertinent now in 2018 as November approaches. Because not only is the trend for making changes in the technical area sharply on the rise – with fours, fives and sixes from the early 2000s becoming nines and tens in number – but on the horizon is December, traditionally the zenith of sacking season; the time when patience erodes and a new direction is generally sought.
If October has successfully been navigated that is nothing to December, a month that ‘boasts’ nearly double the amount of casualties leaving their clubs ashen-faced and deemed a failure. If October is hazardous December is brutal. It spares no-one.
Which means even the popular Jokanovic, esteemed Benitez, and highly-regarded Wagner should be concerned and that when factoring in their current security. Especially if the Ls continue to rack up in earnest.
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