In recent weeks, the managerial merry-go-round has starting spinning so quickly that it has become a blur. Blackburn Rovers will soon be onto – including caretakers – their sixth manager of the season and they are merely the worst of a bad bunch. Out of the ninety-two clubs in the Premier League and Football League, fifty-two have changed their manager at least once since the end of last season, and even though the resources available to managers to actually turn around the fortunes of their clubs are limited to the emergency loan window (which itself closes in eight days) and the strength of their own personalities there remains a chance that more will follow. It has, all things considered, given the whole of this season a somewhat hysterical soundtrack.
There may be several different reasons why this trigger-happy panic is occurring at this particular time. Everybody knows what’s coming this summer. A vast injection of money into the Premier League is due with its new television deals, and this will have ramifications for the whole of the English game which, it rather feels, have not been taken fully on board by that many people just yet. The gap between the richest and the rest is set to become an even greater chasm than it has been for the last two decades and, just Premier League television money is increasing exponentially, so the commercial revenues of clubs in the Football League are at best stagnating and at worse plummeting. At the time of writing, the Football League is without a sponsor for next season whilst its last television contract, which was signed in April 2011 and still has two years left to run on it, was worth a quarter less than the one that had preceded it.
This growing polarisation has had an inevitable effect on the foot of the Premier League and right the way through the Football League this season, with record numbers of managers feeling the effects of owners who still seem to believe that if they roll the dice enough times, they will eventually land on lucky seven and get somebody involved who will propel them up the league table as if powered by rocket fuel. On the whole, of course, this turns out not to happen, but these failures are casually tossed to one side as the merry-go-round spins faster and faster, while rare successes – which could be ascribed to a million other factors than the apparent totemic powers that a manager is believed to bring to a football club – are cited as proof definite that, even in a sport in which it is predefined that there will be more failures than successes, another roll of those dice will surely come up trumps this time around.
The temptation to paint managers solely as victims in this game of cat and mouse is strong, but they are hardly exempt from criticism either. How many times have we seen or heard a newly installed manager talk of ‘being here for the long haul,’ being ‘excited by a club’s potential,’ or ‘happy at the prospect of a new challenge’ signing a three, four or five year long contract, only to meet furtively with another club at a motorway service station in the manner of a middle-aged travelling salesman meeting up with a similarly disenfranchised paramour for a night of passion at the Holiday Inn, when the owner of another club waggles their cheque book in their general direction. Everybody concerned talks about this whole tawdry business as if we’re children, too, spewing out hackneyed clichés about ‘new challenges’ and the like, apparently blissfully unaware of the extent to which nobody for a second believes their blandishments.
In an environment in which nobody seems able to be trusted to “do the right thing,” perhaps regulation is necessary. Perhaps it is time for the managerial equivalent of a transfer window which means that a manager cannot be replaced – except, of course, for reasons of gross misconduct – during fixed periods throughout the course of the season. By the same token, and to prevent gaming of the system, managers who resigned their position could be prevented from taking over at another club until the start of the next window as well. Of course, it could be argued that clubs and managers should be allowed to engage in this pantomime as they wish to, and this argument carries considerable weight. However, a high turnover of managers can hardly be considered healthy for the game in a broad sense. Compensation packages to managers sacked in haste bleed money out of clubs, while clubs lucky enough to find themselves in possession of a manager who actually does know what they are doing can find their season turned upside down by the unscrupulous behaviour of other clubs as well as their own employees.
Clubs would almost certainly fight tooth and nail for the right to continue to hire and fire at will, and many managers might well feel the same way, even if their trade body, the League Managers Association, likely feels differently. The media, who can always rely on a good managerial sacking story to bring much-needed eyeballs to their publications, may also be unlikely to support an idea that will alter one aspect of the narrative of the normal football season. A managerial transfer window might, however, instill a degree of calm into an area of the football market-place which seems quite clearly to be overheating at present, and with that merry-go-round now spinning so quickly that it is threatening to take leave of its moorings altogether that might not be too much of a bad thing.
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