The Leicester City problem
Last week’s sacking of Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri evoked an understandably fervent response. Many felt that having won the league, the Italian deserved the opportunity to continue his tenureship, while others simply felt that in a results business he had failed to assure the club that he was still the right man for the job.
From a boardroom perspective, it’s important to properly weigh up the emotional and objective sides of the decision. While acknowledging that a huge amount of thought would have gone into the club’s decision, there are a few reflections from Leicester’s situation that we can take when making our own major choices:
- Consider the long-term impact. Some clubs – like Southampton, or Monaco – have actually benefited from a crisis of results, as it allowed them to review the effectiveness of internal processes. Whisper it, but sometimes it may even be better to accept short-term failure for long-term gain.
- Treat every decision as a prediction. In making a change, there is an implicit prediction that a new manager would win more points than Ranieri over the final run of games. By writing down exactly how many more we expect, and its projected impact on relegation risk, can better ground the decision in rationalised subjectivity, and be balanced against the enormity of the decision. Better still, find historical benchmarks of similar teams in similar situations to help make the call (though clearly this was a challenge for Leicester).
- Understand the reasons for success and failure. Leicester’s title run was fuelled in large part by unsustainable factors, including conversion rates at both ends, penalties won, and distribution of goals. Quantifying to what extent these variables were unsustainable, and the expected drop off in 2016-17, would have given a better set of expectations than the one set by the league table.
- Rationalise the softer factors, too. In the heat of the season, it’s quite easy to get caught up in the mood of events. For example, there has been a lot of talk of Ranieri ‘losing the dressing room’ – but what does that actually mean in terms of relegation chances? Does it affect it by 5%? 20%?
- Stay on the lookout. Regardless of how long a manager has been at a club, statistics show that he is on average less than 18 months away from losing his job, so even in the good times there’s no reason not to be aware of possible replacements.
The debate over Leicester City’s decision shows how, at the time of making a choice, there is often never a right or wrong option. There is, however, a framework for thinking that can reduce the emotion and give us the best chance of being less wrong more of the time.