Managerial tenure in the Premier League and football as a business

If you’ve ever listened to the BBC’s 606 Football Phone-In show after a manager has been sacked, then you’ve certainly heard the famous line uttered that “Football is a Business.” Of course, the Premier League is a business. The £3.018billion deal for domestic TV rights over a three year period is proof in the pudding, but the cliché is oft-used far beyond the commercial aspects of the game and into the fabric of management as well. And that’s where it doesn’t seem to make much sense.

If “football is a business,” shouldn’t owners want to operate their clubs like real, successful businesses? Hiring and then firing is not a smart move for businesses of any size – the switching costs, re-training, effect on morale, and need to start from scratch put a strain on organisations both inside and outside of football. So why do football clubs keep perpetuating this “football is a business” mentality with their rash “hiring and firing” policies.

Last week, Andre Villas-Boas was unveiled as Tottenham’s latest manager. What an amazing hire. This is the same man who was previously at Porto and led them to an undefeated season in the league, winning four trophies and becoming the youngest manager ever to win a European title in the process. Sure, he’s not as special as Jose Mourinho, but he only lasted 6 months at Chelsea.

According to the League Managers Association, the average duration of a manager across all four divisions (Premier League, npower Championship, League One and League Two) is 2.13 seasons. 2.13 seasons!

Imagine if Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Richard Branson or Mark Zuckerberg had only been given 2.13 seasons at the helm of their respective franchises? 2.13 seasons! Silly.

Only 4 Premier League managers (Sir Alex Ferguson, David Moyes, Tony Pulis, and Arsene Wenger) have been in their current jobs more than 3 seasons. Wow. The turnover is astonishing, and you have to think “what could have been” when you look at the hiring and firing policies of some recent Premier League clubs.

What could have been at Blackburn? Sam Allardyce was sacked, replaced with Steve Kean, and now the club find themselves in the second tier of British football. Meanwhile, Allardyce regrouped, took over at West Ham, and earned promotion in his first season at the London club. Allardyce was sacked with Rovers in 13th position. The club will be at Bristol City and Derby County this season instead of playing at Liverpool and Manchester United.

As fantasy football pundits who comment on the ‘virtual’ Premier League and obsess over statistics and form, there’s not much we can do at Never Captain Nicky Butt when we hit a bad patch of form or when we win our mini-league amongst our office colleagues or friends from university. Year in and year out, we are the owner, the general manager, the technical director of football, and the managers. We can’t sack ourselves. We soldier on – and look for Fantasy Premier League success from our laptops, iPads, and mobile devices. And it seems like a much more organised way to compete. A better way. A more loyal way. Year in and year out, we build our teams up, and we fight, and we come back to do it again the next year.

We’re certainly not advocating that poor performance is rewarded. If you’re in the relegation places, or are underachieving with the transfer budget and funds you have been given, then of course your job should be in jeopardy. But all too often we see decent managers – even good managers – just not given enough time.

I must end how we began – with an emphasis on the 606 Call-In show. After all, just as managerial merry-go-rounds come and go, this story is a circle that starts and ends in the same place. In August of last season, less than one year ago, I heard Arsenal fans calling for Arsene Wenger’s head. Week after week. Game after game. Thankfully for Arsenal supporters, the board didn’t rashly sack Wenger. Despite the pressure, Wenger led his young team to 3rd place and a Champions League position – finishing above both Chelsea and Tottenham in the league.

Sure, it’s not that meaningful now, but it’s a story I don’t think we should forget. We are often too quick to judge and too quick to pull the trigger, in football terms, and in our own personal and business lives.

Sometimes patience pays off.

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