The recent sacking of Marco Silva by Watford and the subsequent appointment of Javi Gracia is the most recent example of the unforgiving nature of many Premier League football clubs.
Silva was thought of as one of the world’s most promising managers as recently as November, following his impressive stint at Hull City last season and Watford’s brilliant start this term. Fast-forward two months and the Portuguese is now out of a job, with the Hornets having won just once in the league since the end of November. After their flying start to the season, Watford find themselves in freefall and are just four points off the drop zone.
The Watford board have been heavily criticised by many following their decision to sack Silva. Gary Lineker declared it as an “absurd decision” and Gary Neville strongly disapproved of the sacking, demanding a rule change to be introduced where no manager could be fired midway through their first season in the job. The board cited the unwarranted approach by Everton for Silva back in November as the catalyst for the team’s demise.
The names of Pardew, Allardyce, Hughes and Hodgson are all synonymous with the managerial merry-go-round. Perhaps it is surprising that Watford did not turn to one of the tried and tested old boys as their replacement for Silva. However, Watford have never followed the norm when it comes to appointing managers. At the end of their last three seasons, the club has parted company with their manager each time, even when they won promotion to the Premier League in 2015. For a club with limited resources like Watford, to avoid relegation from the top flight is a considerable achievement. However, the club have had reasonable success in recent years using this policy, so why change it now?
There have been many examples of new managers having a galvanising effect on a struggling team. This season, Roy Hodgson has transformed the fortunes of Crystal Palace (who sacked their previous manager, Frank de Boer, after just four league games) and they now have a great chance of staying up. Sam Allardyce, David Moyes and Claude Puel have all lifted their respective teams out of trouble too. Just this weekend, Paul Lambert won his first game as Stoke City boss to boost their chances of survival. Going back in time, Paul Clement came in to pull Swansea City out of the bottom three last season, and Tony Pulis has earned the reputation of being a ‘survival specialist’ following his exploits at Crystal Palace and West Bromwich Albion.
Research carried out by the 21st Club, a sports consultancy firm based in London, shows that teams in Europe’s top 5 leagues average 0.8 points per game in the eight games pre-managerial sacking, but average 1.2 points per game in the eight games post-sacking; the potential difference between a team staying up or going down. The 21st Club believes this is mostly down to luck however, and not improved performances; but surely this is becoming too much of a common occurrence, particularly in England, for the ‘new manager bounce’ phenomenon to be described as overrated.
The frequent cycle of hiring and firing is becoming the blueprint for more and more clubs throughout England, not just in the top tier. With such colossal financial incentives available for clubs in the Premier League, the prospect of relegation could be disastrous for many. Where would Everton be if David Unsworth remained in charge for the rest of the season? The same question could be asked of West Ham with Slaven Bilic or Crystal Palace with Frank de Boer. It is inconceivable to think that all three of these clubs would be moving clear of relegation by backing their previous managers for the rest of the season.
Admittedly, the ruthless approach does not always bear fruit. Perhaps in the long-term, teams would be better off sticking rather than twisting. All teams go through good and bad patches of form, even the best ones. However, nowadays football is a fickle sport and money is taking over the game. There is a strong correlation between money and success, with the latter being defined by results and leaving little room for sentiment. There is a fine line between a sensible sacking and an irrational one. Having said that, if Watford, West Brom and Swansea all stay up this season following the cutthroat choices made by their respective boards, then they will prove to have been logical business decisions. Let us remember however, that football is an illogical sport with unpredictable outcomes, and that’s why we love it.
Written by Dan Walker.