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Unrealistic expectations prompting managerial instability?

It’s not even December yet, however, that has not stopped five Premier League clubs and their respective managers going separate ways. Frank De Boer, Ronald Koeman, Craig Shakespeare, Slaven Bilic, and most recently, engulfed in an air of both inevitability and mild shock, Tony Pulis, have all been relieved of their managerial positions.

Looking at the reasons for the same, one could understand the circumstances which brought about said clubs to tread down this path, but I believe a closer look at the situation would provide a better insight into why such drastic changes needed to be made still relatively early in the season. three and half months may be considered relatively early, for I believe that just like champions can’t be crowned at the very least till February, the same holds true for a club at the diametrically opposite end of the spectrum.

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Phil Neville, over the weekend, revealed that when he was working towards attaining his coaching licence, he was educated on something known as a ‘5 year plan’ over the course of which he would implement in its entirety, his vision for the club. However, when he next spoke to Tony Pulis on the same subject, Pulis rubbished the idea, and said the only thing that really matters is the ‘6 month plan’. Very simply put, if you fail to get the first 6 months right, you’d be out of a job before you can finish saying ‘5 year plan’. And based on current evidence, it is extremely hard to say anything against what Pulis narrated. Crystal Palace’s Frank De Boer arrived at the helm from a foreign nation with a very respectable reputation and a good tactical approach to a game.

One game in, Wilfrid Zaha suffered an injury which mandated a lengthy spell away from the football field. De Boer, trying to get his side to play a more ‘wholesome’ brand of football, built his team around Zaha, in the absence of whom, a vital cog was missing from the engine. De Boer paid for that with his job, 77 days after his appointment. Ronald Koeman spent lavishly during the summer, a sort of Déjà vu of the season in which Bale departed Tottenham and Villas Boas was in charge of reinforcing the squad. Koeman signed the big names but struggled to find balance, his ideal starting XI and Sigurdsson’s natural position. Consequently, he was out a job 6 days after Craig Shakespeare suffered the same setback.

The period between mid-November till the second week of January is easily the most brutal period of the season for any Premier League clubs. Take the next few weeks for instance. A game over the weekend that just passed, one on Thursday, then at the weekend once more, the cycle repeated the next week, and then fixtures on 23rd, 26th, New Year’s eve, and New Year’s day (Or 3rd Jan). When the board wields the axe on a PL manager, especially close to December, it is generally for a string of bad fixtures leaving the particular club dangling tantalisingly close to the drop zone. It is absolutely crazy to expect that a new manager would be able to understand his squad, get them out of the playing style of the previous coach, and into his own. Language and communication too can be a huge issue. Very often, when fixtures are separated by 2-3 days each, training cannot be held between match days, for obvious reasons. This makes it extremely unlikely that the incoming gaffer would be able to steer the ship to calmer waters in the period of an insanely hectic month, which begs the question, why wield the axe in the first place?

Sacking a manager well in advance of this torrid December period too, is quite strange, for having just splashed the cash and made the signings to shape the squad in the summer, it gives him no time to work with the new players he’s brought in. And at such a tender age into the season (Talking close to start of November), one doesn’t even bother looking at the league table, for it is obvious that it doesn’t reflect the reality of the situation, which will become evident closer to March and Feb.

The Premier League’s TV deals brings in a huge amount of revenue to every single club, proven how Sunderland received a higher sum for being relegated that Monaco, Bayern and Juventus did for winning their respective leagues. That is incentive enough to remain in the PL, but clubs always aim for more. The business side of football is becoming increasingly evident, and the fact that the total sum received by a club is in direct proportion to their finish in the league table is a huge factor. Add to that the lucratively of European football and the glamour and revenue that brings, and it’s extremely clear why every club aims to secure a berth much higher than what is realistic. For the very same reason, a club that would have been quite happy to secure Premier League status for another season, wants to crack that Top 10 which it was credibly able to do last season (Yes West Brom, it’s you). It’s why Everton, who wanted instant success after giving Koeman all the authority to spend in the summer, showed him the door early on. Bluntly said, they had the squad of a Top 8 club, but the aspirations of a Top 4 one. In the case of West Ham and Slaven Bilic, the latter became a victim of his own success. His first in charge was revolutionary, with the Hammers embarrassing the Top 4 regularly, and playing an incredibly attractive brand of football whilst doing that. Being measured against that one stellar season, Bilic’s side have indeed slipped up quite a bit, but then again, shouldn’t a man who brought such success to the club be trusted to steer them out the perilous situation he put them in?

The longest serving current PL managers, in order are – Arsene Wenger (21 years), Eddie Howe (5 years), Sean Dyche (5 years), Mark Hughes (4 years), and Mauricio Pochettino (3 years). Excluding Wenger from this list, 2 of the 4 remainders are from recently promoted clubs. For them, the goal is very clear – Survival. Anything other than that can be considered an added bonus. Of the 2 that remain, both Hughes and Pochettino took over sides in decline, and had to spend considerable time and effort ironing out the frailties, and making the sides a force to be reckoned with, and not just mere pushovers. However, the key factor being that both were afforded time at the helm. Pochettino was seen as the ideal man by Danial Levy to topple Arsenal and Chelsea’s dominance in London, and he’s come remarkably close to doing exactly that. It took him a considerable while to rebuild Tottenham, but facing the Lilywhites now is a very daunting task for any club, which is a huge measure of his success, and also shows how Levy’s faith was repaid.

Aiming for an unrealistic finish at the start of the season, seeing the team’s incapability of matching those high expectations, giving the man in charge a pink slip for failing to achieve those high targets, and then bringing another one in just to secure the status of a PL club for another season seems to be a very unproductive, and rather volatile cycle to me. Even when a manager is brought in, not to secure top flight status but to build from scratch, it shows inefficiency and a lack of patience by the club’s hierarchy in the man they considered was the best to achieve that very same task a brief while ago. To that respect, will it be reasonable to comment that newly and recently promoted clubs are better run than the established mid table Premier League clubs?

If you were West Brom, and had sacked any other manager in the world, and were looking to fill that vacancy knowing Pulis was on the market, would you look any further?

Chris Coleman took the Sunderland job very recently, instead of waiting another week for the seemingly inevitable departure of Pulis from West Brom. Under the circumstances, can taking a job at a recently relegated club instead of an established top flight one be considered a good move?

Written by Ayush Verma.

Ayush Verma

20. Student at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. Manchester City correspondent for 90MAAT

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