‘Managers more important in pandemic’

February 18, 2021
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(l to r) Slaven Bilic, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Jurgen Klopp and Frank Lampard
Slaven Bilic (far left) and Frank Lampard (far right) are the two Premier League managers to be sacked this season, but even Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Jurgen Klopp – in different contexts – have faced speculation about leaving their jobs

The importance of managers to clubs has increased during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the League Managers Association (LMA).

Just two Premier League bosses have lost their jobs this season, down from six at the same time last term.

LMA chief executive Richard Bevan said managers have taken on “greater responsibility” because of Covid.

The costs of sacking managers “also has an impact” in what are financially tough times for clubs, Bevan added.

He added that dismissing managers comes with a greater “long-term” price “if they fail to address systemic organisational issues, in the hope of a short-term fix”.

‘Recognising value of stability’

Two Premier League managers have lost their jobs this season – Frank Lampard at Chelsea and Slaven Bilic at West Bromwich Albion – although others have been seen to be under pressure.

For instance, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United and Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta have defended their positions publicly this season.

Even Premier League and Champions League-winning Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp – currently the second-longest-serving manager in the Premier League – has spoken about his future after a run of poor results, although that was in response to rumours that he might walk away from his job.

The average tenure of a Premier League manager is just over two-and-a-half years – long-term stability is not part of the job description.

Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson – whose side have lost four of their past six games – said “it’s just our time” when he was asked about being under pressure before Monday’s trip to Brighton.

“It’s very important that we as managers put things into perspective,” he said.

“Pep Guardiola [at Manchester City] and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and United were under pressure. We need to make sure that we are back into shape.”

Bevan at the LMA, which is the managers’ union, hopes “owners are now recognising that loyalty is the best recipe for success”.

“We believe that the manager’s importance to football clubs increased during the pandemic due to the greater responsibility taken on by them, in response to the changes to the day-to-day running of clubs both on and off the pitch and the wider challenges that the pandemic has caused the game,” he said.

In three of the previous four seasons, there were seven managerial dismissals in the Premier League.

However, there was a record 15 managerial changes in the Premier League in 2017-18.

In both the 2013-14 and 2015-16 seasons there were 12 managers sacked in the Premier League.

“There was a four-year spell between 2014-2018 in which manager dismissals were especially concerning,” Bevan said, adding that the rate of sackings has since “returned to a level more consistent” with the much of the previous decade.

Has absence of fans helped managers?

A reduction in sackings has coincided with games being played behind closed doors because of Covid-19 restrictions.

Without supporters in grounds, under pressure managers have been spared the very public calls for their dismissals during poor runs of form.

While Bevan said the LMA “is determined to address is the verbal abuse aimed towards managers”, he said the expectations have been unchanged.

“The pressure to deliver results is always there with or without fans, and owners shouldn’t make decisions based solely on the views of a loud minority,” he said.

‘Tireless work’

Across England’s top four leagues, there was a total of 25 managerial changes up to 15 February, compared with 27 a season earlier.

2020-21 2019-20
Premier League 2 6
Championship 9 6
League One 8 5
League Two 6 10
* Dismissals made up until 15 February each year. Dean Holden at Bristol City became the 10th Championship departure on 17 February

Leam Richardson, interim-boss of Wigan Athletic who remain in administration, told BBC Radio Manchesterexternal-link that he has “felt like I was chairman, chief exec, friend, agent, coach, manager, bus driver, the full hit” at times.

At Shrewsbury Town, Steve Cotterill was still trying to manage his side from hospital as he recovered from Covid.

Bevan said LMA members have spoken about how their jobs have changed and highlighted an emphasis on caring for the mental and physical wellbeing off players and staff around them.

“Above all, the managers are working tirelessly to support their teams and people to perform to the highest possible level,” Bevan added.