The Christmas period saw three struggling Premier League clubs part company with their manager. Alan Pardew, Bob Bradley and Mike Phelan were all sacked. On top of that Gary Rowett, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Gary Caldwell and Walter Zenga were also relieved of their duties in the Championship. This is a topic that often crops up around this time of year.
While pre-season is the most common time for managerial departures in English football, performing well in the first half of the season seems key to hanging on to a managerial post. Failing to perform in earlier rounds of the football calendar appears to create panic for owners.
The timing of a sacking appears important to owners for two general reasons. On the pitch, a replacement manager needs time to turn things around and put his stamp on a new team in terms of playing style and strategy. Off the pitch, owners face the difficult decision of trusting an apparently under-performing manager through the January transfer window. If owners are investing significant resources in playing talent during the January window, in an effort to avoid relegation, they may not have faith in the incumbent. They may prefer to give a fresh face the resources if they believe the current set-up squandered a transfer kitty in the previous window(s).
Looking at the last number of seasons, six out of the nine managers sacked during the 2013/14 campaign (‘mutual consent’ is considered sacking) were released between 1st of December and the 14th of February. Five out of six sackings occurred between the 27th of December and the 11th of February in the 2014/15 season. Last season was somewhat different with only Gary Monk and Jose Mourinho sacked in December. Newcastle and Aston Villa let Steve McLaren and Remi Garde go in March but it proved too late. This season Francesco Guidolin only reached the 3rd of October, while Pardew, Bradley and Phelan were all let go in December and January respectively.
But does changing the manager matter? Some of the most recent evidence suggests that firing a coach can generate improved performances but that the effects differ across leagues. Sacking may not be as trivial as the media suggests. A slight increase in points can be accrued, whether this is enough to avoid relegation is another matter.