The 2018/19 Premier League season is just four games old, yet there is already huge speculation about which of the 20 clubs will be first to dismiss their manager.
Enigmatic Jose Mourinho and understated Manuel Pellegrini are those currently in the firing line, with their respective clubs lying 10th and 20th in the table.
In this feature, 90MAAT looks at some historical trends of sackings in the Premier League era and considers who is most likely to become the first Premier League managerial casualty of 2018/19.
Throughout this article, we will only consider sackings which occurred mid-season; i.e. after the first league match and before the last. There have been several that have occurred in the off-season, though these will not be discussed. We also do not include resignations.
There have been well over a hundred sackings since the start of the Premier League era in 1992. Though many consider modern day to be a “Golden Age” of sackings, it has been more common throughout the last 26 years than you might think.
Indeed, there has been at least one manager or head coach sacked in every season since the Premier League’s inception.
The first casualty was the late Ian Porterfield. In the inaugural Premier League season, Porterfield’s Chelsea had been 2nd in the table in early December, but a disastrous 11 game winless run saw them slide down into relegation trouble and Chelsea duly acted.
The blues retained their Premier League status comfortably in the end, with many agreeing that it was the correct decision.
The following season three managers were given the chop, the first of those Manchester City’s Peter Reid after only four games.
1994/95 then proved to be the purple patch of sackings in the 1990s as six managers were given marching orders during the campaign. Spurs’ Argentinian legend Ossie Ardiles the first to fall.
But the increases did not continue. For the rest of the decade there would only be one season where more than two managers were sacked (four in 1998/99).
The turn of the millennium brought about an instant sustained increase however. Since the start of 2000/01, on only two occasions have less than four managers been giving marching orders midway through the season.
Many blamed the transfer window for this perceived rise. The window was first implemented in 2002/03 and placed extra pressure on managers to get transfer business right as they could no longer chop and change players as they saw necessary.
The first manager to suffer under the new windowed Premier League was Peter Reid (the same Peter Reid that was the first manager sacked at the start of 1993/94, he remains the only manager to have been sacked first in two different seasons). On this occasion, it was Sunderland who gave the former England international his marching orders.
Incredibly however, Sunderland were also responsible for the second top-flight sacking of the season, dismissing Reid’s successor Howard Wilkinson in March. The Black Cats endured a miserable season and were relegated with just 19 points.
In the nine years that followed, the number of sackings ranged from two to six. It remained fairly constant, with an average of almost exactly four over the whole time from 2000 to 2013.
2013 – Present
2013/14 was a record-breaking campaign, with eight managers relieved of their duties over the course of the season, and a further two left by mutual consent.
The unforgettable Paolo Di Canio was first to go, and was joined by Martin Jol, Steve Clarke, Malky Mackay, Michael Laudrup, Rene Meulensteen, Chris Hughton and David Moyes before May (huge respect if you can remember who Rene Meulensteen managed without looking it up!).
The following three seasons calmed down again, with four, six and five sackings in chronological order.
Last season was another record-breaker however, as nine managers were shown the door.
And that leads us to now. 2018/19 has begun in exciting fashion. After four rounds of fixtures there are still three teams with 100% records, and one team with a 0% record.
The media is already circling their targets, and we all know who they are. Who will be first?
What the bookies say
Below are the five managers considered favourite to be the first to leave their post. They are listed with the most commonly found odds at the time of writing (04/09/18):
- Jose Mourinho (Manchester United) – 3/1
- Manuel Pellegrini (West Ham United) – 3/1
- Mark Hughes (Southampton) – 6/1
- Neil Warnock (Cardiff City) – 6/1
- Rafa Benitez (Newcastle United) – 7/1
These five are considered among the favourites for different reasons of course.
The Special One has endured a difficult start to the season with United and continues to answer questions about rifts behind the closed doors of the club.
The media has gathered around Mourinho for much of his career, but there has been extra focus on the start of this season as his “third-season syndrome” is due to hit this term. Indeed, Mourinho has failed to make it to a fourth season in all but one of his managerial positions so far (first spell at Chelsea).
A 2-0 win at Burnley has calmed the storm that would surely have engulfed Mourinho had United lost, but the vultures above will continue to lick their lips if Manchester United reside in mid-table or worse.
On the surface it seems any of three things could contribute to a premature departure for the Portuguese; a serious possibility of missing out on the top four, a Champions League Group Stage exit or a player revolt.
The calm-mannered Chilean spent big money in the summer to ensure the Hammers were fighting at the right end of the table. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked.
Saturday’s last gasp home defeat by Wolves means the Hammers are pointless after four games, with only two goals scored and ten conceded.
They face Everton, Chelsea and Manchester United in their next three fixtures, and the longer the hammers continue to be without a league point the more the pressure will build up against Pellegrini.
Fans can find solace in Crystal Palace’s start to last season. Pointless and goalless after four games, the Eagles dismissed Frank De Boer and brought in Roy Hodgson. The upturn in form was not instant, but survival was reached in relative ease come May.
Manuel Pellegrini cannot take solace from this.
It seems like everyone has sacked Mark Hughes. Having been sacked by eventually relegated Stoke City last season, the Welshman was snapped up by Southampton, who he narrowly led to safety.
Yet here we are again; the former Manchester United striker is equal third favourite with most bookies to be the first manager sacked this term. The Saints have four points from their first four games but are buoyed by an impressive victory over Crystal Palace in their last outing.
If the club get embroiled in a relegation battle once again, Hughes could very conceivably get the chop.
Cardiff boss Neil Warnock has had a long and successful managerial career, but questions still remain about his ability at Premier League level.
He has failed to keep any of his promoted sides (or was sacked before given the chance) in the Premier League, and Cardiff’s uninspiring start to 2018/19 has fanned the flames of another early exit.
Cardiff would perhaps be reluctant to depart with the Yorkshireman, knowing that even if they do suffer relegation, his record suggests he can bring them back again.
This one is firmly on a knife edge. If Cardiff fall adrift of safety, the Bluebirds’ board will have a very big decision to make.
It seems odd to consider Rafa in the context of this article, offensive almost.
The Spaniard is surely only fifth favourite to leave his post because of rumours that he will resign. It seems utterly ridiculous that the Magpies would willingly sack him.
Benitez has won the Champions League with Liverpool, La Liga with Valencia and even proved himself in the Championship with Newcastle.
I am certain that fans would rather see Benitez given funds to spend than such funds be spent on his pay-off. I can’t see this one ending in a sacking.
When should a club sack their manager?
This section won’t go into the nitty gritty of every act that would cause a club to dismiss their manager, rather it analyses the time in the season when clubs historically have done and what the results were.
Since 1992, three managers have been sacked in August. Each of those (Peter Reid – Manchester City 1993/94, Kenny Dalglish – Newcastle United 1998/99 and Bobby Robson – Newcastle United 2004/05) suffered from disappointing starts to the season, with respect to their club’s ambitions.
In all three of these situations, the football was poor, and the senior management acted early to make the changes necessary to turn their club’s fortunes around.
None of these clubs were relegated however, suggesting that making such a decision early did have a positive bearing on the season.
A further five of the first sackings occurred in September. Again however, none of these clubs were relegated. The argument for sacking early is stacking up suddenly.
There was also another manager sacked in September during this period, who happened to not be the first of that season. But again, the sacking of Christian Gross by Tottenham Hotspur in September 1998 ultimately proved successful in keeping the club up.
Seven of the first managers to be sacked were sacked in October. Of those, this time two were relegated.
A further four have been sacked in October but were not the first in the whole league. Derby County’s sacking of Jim Smith in 2001 is the only of those four to result in relegation.
We’re getting into bigger numbers now. In total 19 managers have been sacked during the month of November.
Of those, six were the first to be sacked in the league that season. Only two of those six clubs were relegated (Charlton – 2006/07 and Portsmouth 2009-10).
Of the other 13 managers to be sacked in the eleventh month, seven of their clubs were relegated. This is an alarming statistic indeed.
It seems very plausible from these numbers that if a club holds on to a failing manager for longer than other clubs, they are more likely to go down. Surely December will echo this trend.
In fact, it’s difficult to analyse this trend beyond November, as only five managers have been the first to be sacked in the months after, with no more than two of those in the same month.
So to answer the question of when a club should sack their manager, it seems that if relegation is the cause for concern, clubs should go early and try to be their first in the league.
What conclusions can be drawn?
Little with any certainty, but the trends suggest several factors which may prove to be present when the first manager is inevitably sacked this season.
Firstly, in only two seasons in Premier League history has the first club to sack their manager not been in any genuine threat of relegation. Those two were Chelsea in 2012/13 (Roberto Di Matteo) and Liverpool in 2015/16 (Brendan Rodgers).
In Chelsea’s situation, league form was poor (though they still sat 3rd) and a group stage Champions’ League exit was looming. Liverpool had begun sluggishly, and Rodgers hadn’t managed to steer them to a top four finish the season before.
With respect to the sack race of this season, this suggests that Jose Mourinho is very likely to be given more time than managers involved at the other end of the table, at least until the Champions’ League group stage begins. Perhaps also importantly, The Special One has only left a club mid-season twice (both Chelsea).
Another thing to consider, is that only six clubs to make the first dismissal were ultimately relegated. That is six of 26. History suggests that if you go first, you are likely to stay up.
In fact, in the last 12 years the only club to be relegated after making the first sacking of the season was Portsmouth in 2009/10, who were hampered by a dire financial situation and eventually a points deduction.
Perhaps this statistic’s underlying conveyance is that it is a productive venture to give a new manager more time to settle and change the side than your opponents who choose to sack later in the season, or not sack at all.
My final and in my opinion most important statistic is that not a single club who has sacked their manager in August or September has been relegated. This is not something Manuel Pellegrini will be excited about at all, and he may well be aware already.
This suggests that West Ham have every right to be considering pressing the panic button if they are genuinely concerned for survival. No points from four games was enough to see off Frank De Boer last year and is certainly a desperate situation.
That being said, football is far from predictable and no game or indeed season has ever been won on statistics from the past.
Considering history, I believe September holds the key to who will be sacked first. Potentially even a specific week.
In the weekend of the 15th and 16th of September, Manchester United play Watford away and West Ham visit Everton. The following Tuesday, United travel to Switzerland to face Young Boys in the Champions League.
If Manchester United lose to Watford, and fail to beat Young Boys, Mourinho will go first.
If those results do not happen, and West Ham lose to Everton and again to Chelsea the next weekend I believe Manuel Pellegrini will be the first manager to be sacked this season.
I think it is only between these two at this stage. If both of their clubs find form then of course it won’t be but given the evidence we’ve got, these two are in the firing line.
Football is a very confusing game as we know, go and stick a tenner on Pep Guardiola instead.