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IN-DEPTH: Hiring and firing – does it work?

Stick or twist? It’s the question in the minds of chairmen up and down the country whose team’s have fell below expectations this season. Sacking season is already underway in the Championship with seven managers gone already.

We are at the halfway point of the season and for struggling clubs, the next few games will be crucial as it will provide a real indicator as to whether their team will turn the season around, or be stuck in a relegation dog-fight.

It was supposed to be a year where Millwall kicked on and pushed for a play-off place, but they sit just above relegation. Wigan had enjoyed a great start to the season, and were high in the table – but are now just four points above relegation. And fans of clubs in the bottom six will, rightly, be asking questions, as to whether it is the right time for a managerial change.

Football managers rarely get time to overturn a run of bad form. Even after just two consecutive defeats, the pressure is on. Previous experience is rarely taken into account when a side is struggling. And managers can be out before they have even had a chance to try something different. But is their method to the ‘hire-and-fire’ madness or would things turn out better if they kept faith in their manager?

Already – two chairmen with clubs in the bottom six have decided that appointing a new manager is the answer. But since these appointments, the team have got worse not better. Ipswich who sacked Paul Hurst had 9 points from 14 games. But since then they have managed just 6 points in 12 games.

Similarly with Reading, the new manager has gained fewer points on average per game than the man he replaced – admittedly, it is early days. But it certainly seeds doubt into the belief that a new manager gives your team an immediate lift.

Looking at the past five years in the Championship, out of those who were in the bottom six at the mid-way point, 73% changed their manager during the season – That’s 22 out of 30. However, just under half of the 22 were relegated. So sacking your manager mid-way through a season has mixed results.

Of those twelve that stayed up, just half of them were there at the end of the next season. So only 20% of appointments from struggling clubs were ever successful. Those include when Brighton found themselves 23rd at Christmas in the 14/15 season, but finished third the year after and got promoted the year after that. Other clubs such as Huddersfield and Cardiff were promoted a year after being in the bottom six at Christmas.

But, sticking with the manager doesn’t seem to be any more successful. Just eight teams kept their manager all the way through the season after being in the bottom six at the halfway point in the past five years, and only three of which stayed up. And two of those were relegated the year after.

This is perhaps not surprising as those who stick with their manager do so because they may not have the money to sack the current one and get an experienced manager in. For example those who kept their manager were: Burton, Bolton and Rotherham. The majority of those who did sack their manager and then went on to have success, spent at least £5m, and some around £10m.

Most clubs gained more points after they had sacked the manager. On average, clubs gained around one extra win for every ten matches. This, of course, can be the difference between relegation and staying up – but looking at the past five years, these mid-season appointments were merely a sticking plaster and old problems reoccurred.

This seems to suggest that a manager’s influence is limited, and that around 3/4 of the points collected are down to the players.

The fact that so many mid-season appointments are failures is again no surprise, as these are largely panic appointments and a quick-fix.

If a club after half of the season gone is looking to change managers, the chances of that appointment being successful is a slim one, but similarly if they keep their manager.

Perhaps teams should look for player reinforcements before they decide to sack their manager, as there is only so much one man can do.

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