Football’s revolving door
Eddie Howe; Simone Inzaghi; Diego Simeone; Stephane Moulin; and Christian Streich. The link between the five is that they’re the longest-serving active managers in each of Europe’s biggest leagues. But their longevity is the exception rather than the rule. The typical manager in these leagues has been in post for just 29 games. And fewer than half of head coaches setting out at this level will make it to 40 games.
Are managers hard-done-by or do performances merit this merry-go-round?
For starters, there are big differences across leagues. Championship managers have the toughest job in English football. Fewer than half (45%) remain in their job for the equivalent of a full season. Their counterparts in Italy’s Serie A face even harsher critics: only 35% of managers in the Italian top flight last more than one season in the dugout. If it’s job security you’re looking for, MLS seems to be a more attractive proposition.
So what’s going wrong? Are the managers at Italian clubs doing a poorer job than coaches in the US? Or are MLS teams too tolerant of poor performances?
There is little evidence that MLS managers are given more leniency when faced with the sack. The average drop in performance during the tenure of managers sacked within their first 30 games was very similar across leagues. So MLS managers did not have to do worse than their counterparts elsewhere in order to lose their jobs. Championship clubs did appear to be the most trigger-happy though: the average Championship manager fired within their first 20 games had a close-to-neutral impact on performances, suggesting clubs were perhaps too keen to show them the door.
After 40 games, 38% of MLS managers had managed to improve their teams, the highest rate across the five leagues considered. This was largely due to the league’s far lower rate of firing managers, which was less than half that of Serie A’s by this stage. But if MLS clubs were mistakenly employing coaches for too long, you’d expect the proportion of managers overseeing a drop in performances to be much higher than in other leagues. Instead, MLS managers were no more likely to have overseen performance declines than those in the Championship, but far more likely to have made an improvement. It seems patience does sometimes pay.
Perhaps the most critical question when deciding when to stick or twist though are our options for the replacement hire. Only around 40% of managers improve performances at their clubs. So there is little point incurring the expense and upheaval of firing a manager to simply spin the roulette wheel in the hope of landing on a better one. The smarter approach is to regularly update a shortlist of candidates for the role so that we’re prepared to act when the time is right.