Warnock the latest victim in Premier League revolving door
Football is a tough business and managers are always first in the line of fire when results are not going the way fans, the board or the owners expect. However, the sacking of Neil Warnock is yet another classic example of owners lacking both patience and perspective, threatening to destabilise a club which had adjusted relatively well to the demands of Premier League football.
Whilst an 8-match winless run is enough to put any manager under intense pressure, perhaps it is events at Sunderland which have caught the eye of chairman Tony Fernandes, where within a month of taking charge Martin O’Neill has turned around the fortunes of a club which was languishing towards the foot of the table. 13 points from a possible 18 has resurrected Sunderland’s season that was threatening to become a fierce struggle against relegation and clearly there are hopes that a new manager may have the same effect at Loftus Road.
The problem is that there are not too many managers of the calibre of Martin O’Neill with his Premier League experience and a proven record at improving teams, and one could argue Sunderland were in a slightly false position given the quality of their squad. Indeed the speed of the turnaround may say just as much about Steve Bruce’s management as Martin O’Neill’s. Mark Hughes is expected to take over at QPR, but is he really a big enough improvement on Neil Warnock to justify such action?
Warnock with the Championship trophy he won last season. Source: hammersmithandfulham
Statistics do not settle the debate either. On the one hand, Premier League statistics from 2005-11 show that new managers earn around three more points and improve a club’s league position by one place on average in their first 10 leagues games in charge compared with their predecessors final 10 matches. Come the end of the season, those three points could be crucial. However, as the League Managers Association so frequently points out whenever a manager’s tenure is cut short, this focus on short-term gains rarely lead to long-term success and stability.
More tellingly, last season the Premier League was the only one of the top five European leagues and lower English leagues where on average managers were sacked despite improving their clubs’ position. Too many managers are sacked when they are doing a relatively good job or have the capability of turning round a difficult spell. Such are the fiscal pressures and chronic short-termist outlook of modern football; this has become a recurring feature of the past few seasons.
Given time, could Martin Jol have turned Tottenham into the force they currently are without the need for the catastrophic tenure of Juande Ramos. Would Blackburn be in the situation they currently find themselves if Blackburn’s new owners gave Sam Allardyce a fair chance? Who is to say that Chris Hughton could not have taken Newcastle into the top 7 after it was he who settled a club that was veering from one crisis to the next? Warnock is another audition to this roll call of poorly treated managers.
Hughton was harshly dismissed by Newcastle last season. Source: mikebrown59
Yet there are some signs that clubs are beginning to realise that the success of the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal during the Premier League era has been down to continued faith in managers and their subsequent longevity. Owen Coyle could have been dismissed when Bolton slumped to the foot of the table last month, but if anything their chairman Phil Gartside was Coyle’s most vocal supporter. Wolves and Wigan could sack Mick McCarthy or Roberto Martinez as they continue to flirt with relegation for yet another season. Even Blackburn have resisted absurd levels of criticism and abuse of their faith in Steve Kean, which began to be rewarded with 4 points from away matches with Liverpool and Manchester United over the Christmas period. Arsene Wenger and David Moyes have had their positions questioned this season, but both provide compelling cases for what a measure of managerial durability can do for club stability. Warnock himself had just become the first QPR manager in six years to complete a full season, a strategy which had clearly reaped significant dividends.
QPR have in fact adjusted relatively well to life in the Premier League. The club sat 9th in mid-November, and are only a few wins from returning to mid-table comfort. Some of Warnock’s summer signings (Bothroyd, Wright-Phillips, DJ Campbell) have flattered to deceive, but as he has often pointed out, was not able to sign the players he had pinpointed due to the club’s ownership situation in the summer. QPR are certainly not favourites for the drop, with Wigan, Blackburn, Bolton and Wolves with as many problems, and perhaps even Norwich or Swansea could slump into trouble if their bubbles burst in a similar way to Blackpool or Hull in recent seasons.
Wenger, a testament to longevity. Source: gordonflood
Warnock had turned round a club that was languishing in 20th place in the Championship when he arrived and enjoyed astonishing success in returning them to the Premier League after a lengthy absence, all on a shoestring budget. There was little, if no dissent from the terraces. Many fans are angry at the decision to dispense with his services. For all his ability to rile opposition players and fans or the authorities, he displayed remarkable diplomatic skills to get the best out of the mercurial Adel Taraabt and even Joey Barton was showing increased levels of calm. At the very least he deserved the whole season to keep QPR in the Premier League. On a personal level he also had a fair amount of unfinished business and a point to prove after relegation with Sheffield United in acrimonious circumstances surrounding Carlos Tevez.
Yet in the haste to establish QPR as a Premier League team and presumably raise its profile in Asia, Tony Fernandes has taken a risky and harsh decision. The chairman has admitted he will be culpable if the new manager cannot keep QPR in the Premier League. But Neil Warnock is now just another statistic in the annals of Premier League history and the tendency to unceremoniously dump a manager as a solution to any prolonged dip in form.