The Football League Paper - - INSIDE: - By Chris Dunlavy

HOWARD Wilkin­son was man­ag­ing Leeds when he de­liv­ered one of the game’s most mem­o­rable lines.

“There are just two types of man­ager,” he said. “Those who have been sacked. And those who will be sacked in the fu­ture.”

The num­bers in the first cat­e­gory are ris­ing all the time.

Ac­cord­ing to League Man­agers As­so­ci­a­tion fig­ures, the av­er­age ten­ure of dis­missed man­agers in the Cham­pi­onship last sea­son was 1.19 years – and that was up from a record low of 0.86 years in 2014-15!

Al­ready this sea­son, the di­vi­sion has wheeled out seven ca­su­al­ties.

Among them, Rob­bie Di Mat­teo lasted 124 days at Villa, Alan Stubbs 141 at Rother­ham. Nigel Pear­son man­aged 134 at the helm of Derby. All three out­lasted Wal­ter Zenga, whose Wolves ca­reer was ter­mi­nated af­ter 87.

Arsene Wenger once said that be­ing a man­ager was like liv­ing on a vol­cano. You never know which day will be your last. You do now: it will be some time in the next cou­ple of months.

Sta­tis­ti­cally, there has never been any ev­i­dence to sug­gest flip­ping man­agers yields re­sults.

In the 2015-16 sea­son, 18 Cham­pi­onship clubs jet­ti­soned the man in the dugout – and with lim­ited suc­cess.

Most of the time, we see a ‘re­gres­sion to the mean’. In other words, a short-term bounce fol­lowed by a re­turn to nor­mal.

This sea­son, Coven­try are a per­fect case study. Af­ter a run of one de­feat in nine, when Mark Venus re­placed Tony Mow­bray, the Sky Blues have now lost four of their last five. So why the con­tin­ued blood­shed? Why are the lessons never learned?


“Fear – that’s the is­sue,” says Ben Robin­son, the Bur­ton Al­bion owner who last year cel­e­brated 40 years at the club.

“Yes, there are fi­nan­cial con­cerns. Every­body wants that Pre­mier League pot. But, in my ex­pe­ri­ence, it’s that fear of los­ing, of be­ing seen to fail. Peo­ple who own foot­ball clubs aren’t used to that.”

Robin­son is widely re­garded as the gold stan­dard among EFL own­ers. In 18 years, the Bur­ton supremo has em­ployed four dif­fer­ent man­agers and sacked only one, Paul Peschisolido, in 2012.

In that same pe­riod, he has seen his side climb from the Dr Martens Pre­mier Di­vi­sion to the Cham­pi­onship. Un­like most, he un­der­stands the re­gres­sion to the mean.

“Ev­ery man­ager goes through a lean spell and that’s pre­cisely when you need to demon­strate your be­lief in them,” he ex­plains. “Do that and, nine times out of ten, they’ll get through it.

“Many years ago, we had a spell when we weren’t win­ning matches. Nigel Clough came to me and said ‘Look, if you think it’s time for me to move on, I’ll un­der­stand’.

“I said ‘No, you’re a good man­ager, stick to it and I’m sure things will turn’. They did and look where we are now. Sadly, that en­cour­age­ment and sup­port doesn’t hap­pen enough.”

That theme is taken up by Dougie Freed­man, the Scot who led Crys­tal Palace to the brink of pro­mo­tion be­fore be­ing sacked by first Bolton and Not­ting­ham Forest amid in­ter­nal tur­moil.

“Take Alex Neil at Nor­wich,” says the 42-year-old.

“By and large, he’s done a fan­tas­tic job. Un­for­tu­nately, they’ve lost a few games and it’s panic from the fans.

“What he needs is a strong board who say ‘Lis­ten, we know what he’s do­ing, we see his work on the train­ing ground, we’re stick­ing by our man’. In any busi­ness, that kind of sup­port will bear fruit.”

Since leav­ing Forest in March, Freed­man – who is now ready to re­turn – has had plenty of time to pon­der the per­ilous­ness of his pro­fes­sion. For him, there is a dis­con­nect be­tween the re­al­ity of a man­ager’s role and the re­spon­si­bil­ity he bears. “It’s re­ally ridicu­lous that foot­ball clubs are dic­tated by re­sults,” he says. “The com­mer­cial side, the hospi­tal­ity, the fi­nances, the suc­cess or fail­ure of all that is on the man­ager’s shoul­ders when, quite of­ten, all he wants to do is coach. “Own­ers de­mand pro­mo­tion and change the man­ager be­cause they can’t see it. But have they given the man­ager the re­sources to achieve it? Or are they hang­ing him out to dry? “I’ve heard of man­agers who have no chief ex­ec­u­tive, no sec­re­tary, no chief scout, who have to do all the pa­per­work and con­tracts. Then there’s all the cor­po­rate stuff and me­dia on top.


“What clubs in this coun­try, and Cham­pi­onship clubs in par­tic­u­lar, des­per­ately need are sport­ing di­rec­tors, to set up scout­ing net­works, de­vel­op­ment pro­grammes, deal with the com­mer­cial side.

“Most per­ti­nently for this is­sue, they’d act as a buf­fer be­tween the owner and the man­ager, shar­ing some of that re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

Of course, the own­ers aren’t the only ones de­mand­ing re­sults. Six duff games and fans’ fo­rums blaze with bile, stoked in no small part by a 24hour me­dia ea­ger for clicks.

Any chair­man with a twit­ter ac­count can now hear hun­dreds of voices, of­ten urg­ing him to part with his man­ager.

“I do be­lieve so­cial me­dia has opened up a new av­enue for fans to voice their opin­ions,” said Freed­man. “And I be­lieve it is a very weak board that will lis­ten to them.

“I say that re­spect­fully. I know they pay their money, but the chair­man or owner has to keep in mind the big­ger pic- ture.” On this is­sue, Robin­son is in to­tal agree­ment.

“I’ve never let any sup­porter in­flu­ence my view of a man­ager,” in­sists the 71-year-old.

“I ap­pre­ci­ate their opin­ions and I value their sup­port, but they can’t pos­si­bly know ev­ery­thing that’s hap­pen­ing be­hind the scenes.

“They don’t know the fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion, they don’t see play­ers at close quar­ters like the man­ager. They don’t know some­one is car­ry­ing an in­jury.

“Re­mem­ber also that you only hear an ex­treme mi­nor­ity.

“Gen­er­ally speak­ing, the opin­ions you hear are when the team isn’t per­form­ing. When the team are do­ing well, the praise is less forth­com­ing.

“You have to be strong – at ev­ery level. Be­cause it doesn’t mat­ter if there are 40,000 opin­ions or 4,000. If you be­lieve in your man­ager, you be­lieve in your man­ager. Full stop.”

And Robin­son has one other golden rule when it comes to man­age­rial re­la­tions – an ab­sence of dead­lines.

“Peo­ple of­ten say to me ‘What’s your five-year plan?’,” he adds. “The an­swer is that I don’t have one. I’ve never said to a man­ager ‘We’re go­ing to spend X,Y, and Z but, by the way, we want you to win pro­mo­tion within three years’.

“For clubs that have in­vested multi-mil­lions, that’s the re­turn they are look­ing for.

Per­haps that’s the way those peo­ple have been suc­cess­ful be­fore. But, in foot­ball, ar­bi­trary tar­gets are dif­fi­cult to meet and cre­ate un­nec­es­sary ex­pec­ta­tions.”

Freed­man’s part­ing shot is more sim­ple. “There’s al­ways a time when you say ‘Enough is enough’,” he says. “But re­sults alone aren’t ‘enough’. Are you de­vel­op­ing play­ers? Is the en­vi­ron­ment good? Is the club sta­ble? Those should be the things that mat­ter. In to­day’s world, they aren’t.”

KEEP­ING THE FAITH: Bur­ton’s Ben Robin­son, right, and Nigel Clough

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images

RE­VOLV­ING DOOR: Sacked al­ready, Nigel Pear­son, Alan Stubbs, Wal­ter Zenga and Roberto Di Mat­teo, plus inset, Paul Trol­lope, Jimmy Floyd Has­sel­baink and Gary Cald­well MAK­ING HIS POINT: Dougie Freed­man, left, be­lieves there is a case for sport­ing di­rec­tors

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