The League Managers’ Association leader, Richard Bevan, expressed on Wednesday that the recent sackings in English football have left him “embarrassed”. From fallen Premier League winners and contentious European Champions right down to the depths of League Two, there have been some frankly outrageous decisions made by nearly one hundred clubs this season with regard to the termination of their managers’ contracts.
Roberto Di Matteo’s dismissal by Chelsea in late November is probably the example that most aptly underlines a concerning predicament in the culture of hiring and firing coaches. The Italian, who had been a loyal servant to the Blues as a player, was given just eight months in charge at Stamford Bridge despite winning the most improbable of Champions League titles and an FA Cup trophy to boot. Incredulous though Chelsea fans were and indeed remain, many other managers, if not quite as shockingly, have been forced out in a similar vein across the country.
While the Premier League has seen just three further managerial casualties to Di Matteo (Mark Hughes from QPR, Nigel Adkins from Southampton and Brian McDermott from Reading), these are just drops in an ocean of 103 sackings across the four professional English leagues.
Of course, the attitude of a certain Russian oil billionaire is likely to have a significant impact on public opinion given his financial impact on the world’s most lucrative division. However, the Blackburn Rovers ownership has caused a stir all of its own making since the takeover in 2010. With promise of riches and a reversion to distant triumphs for the Lancashire side, Indian company VH Group has overseen a capitulation quite contrary to those ambitions that saw even the great Ronaldinho linked with a move to Ewood Park. Rovers fans have been enraged since their relegation from the Premier League last year and the circus continues with Michael Appleton becoming the third coach to exit the club this term.
Perhaps the super-rich owners who care little for loyalty and greatly for immediate returns on their investments are to blame for this perverse brutality when it comes to managerial careers. Whatever the cause, it is disgraceful and certainly embarrassing. Nevertheless, clubs of all levels seem to be adopting these severely strict and often unreasonable policies, in acts that suggest these professional coaches are as dispensable as the money with which the top clubs compete. The real question is one that is hard to fathom – why do so many clubs opt to fire during the on-going hardships of a competitive season? While a new manager can bring short reprieve through the famous (or infamous) “honeymoon period”, very rarely does a change of leadership formulate the desired result. In short, it is better to fight and wait until the end of the season at least.
Certainly this is and has been the case for Aston Villa and Randy Lerner. It’s a sad indictment of the situation when you find yourself in a position of pleasant surprise because your manager has not been shown the door despite an exceptionally challenging campaign. This is not due to Lerner’s record, which is simply lacking in terms of dismissals mid-season. And yet, that is how many Aston Villa fans must feel, particularly given the itinerant nature of the numerous head coaches to have come and gone over the past few years, not to mention the precarious state of affairs on the pitch at Villa Park.
Paul Lambert has come under pressure, of that there is little doubt. What is of paramount importance and, though it is regrettable to admit in light of this disposable culture, to the credit of Randy Lerner is the fact that he has maintained the Scotsman’s position at the club and trusted him to do the job set out upon his arrival. With two vital wins against Reading and Wigan under their belt in recent weeks, Lambert’s Villa now have a real chance of surviving the drop that Blackburn and many others now mourn so ruefully.
Randy Lerner has had a tumultuous tenure at Aston Villa Football Club and many people, this author included, have strongly criticised his capacity to direct, particularly this season when irresponsible overspending in prior seasons has become rather blatant and detrimental to on-going purposes. That said, his continued and principled operation with regard to his managers has been nothing short of exemplary, especially in mind of his arrival in 2006 as just another foreign investor with an interest in this great football league.
Martin O’Neill, after four successful but expensive years as Villa boss, parted company with the club in August of 2010 citing a conflict of ambitions as his reason for departure. Between that time and Paul Lambert’s appointment in June 2012, Gérard Houllier and Alex McLeish shared the responsibility of keeping the side afloat, let alone aspirational. Although this was not the most prosperous of claret and blue periods in history, Lerner never rocked the team by ridding of a manager prior to the end of a season.
Many others this season (103, to be exact) have faltered and given into the whimsical and impatient decision-making that the ever-emerging pressures of modern football seem capable of creating. Lerner, on the other hand, has allowed Lambert to develop his team, albeit a weak team, and this has given the club a far better chance of survival than say, Reading, or indeed than any alteration could possibly have done for Villa. This is a virtuous trait the American chairman has in his possession and while the rest of the League Managers’ Association will be embarrassed by recent turbulence in the profession, Aston Villa and Randy Lerner ought to be rather proud of their managerial policy.