For England’s second tier managers, Halloween is consistently the scariest time of the year. Just two-and-a-half months into the season, Championship chairman like to start wielding the axe to stave off the nightmare of relegation or to keep alive their dream of promotion.
This season has been no exception to the norm. In a whirlwind past fortnight, Bolton sacked Owen Coyle and replaced him with Dougie Freedman from Crystal Palace, who themselves paid around £400,000 for Blackpool’s Ian Holloway.
Blackburn finally appointed Henning Berg after a month without a boss and Mick McCarthy replaced Paul Jewell to take over the league’s bottom club, Ipswich Town, while Burnley appointed Sean Dyche.
The fact that chairmen so consistently lose faith so soon into the season is baffling enough and shows the extent to which they are obsessed with the financial rewards of promotion and the fear of relegation.
Even more baffling is the fact that each of the newly appointed managers have all been given contracts of at least two-and-a-half years, despite the average tenure of a Championship boss currently standing at just 1.44 years. The longest serving current Championship manager is Derby’s Nigel Clough, and he’s only been there since January 2009.
The gap in revenues enjoyed by Premier League clubs compared to those in the Championship is a common explanation for this lack of patience among Championship chairman, and the new television deal for Premier League matches may account for the sequence of sackings in the Championship this term.
From next season, Premier League clubs will share annual revenues of £1bn for domestic TV coverage, an increase of 70 per cent on the current contract.
Deals for foreign coverage of the Premier League are also under negotiation, with Scandinavian countries having agreed a 35 per cent increase in their contract. If this rise is replicated elsewhere across the globe, the Premier League will receive well over £2bn from TV sales outside of the UK.
Considering this sharp rise in television revenue for Premier League clubs it is perhaps unsurprising that Championship clubs are even more desperate to get a bite of the cherry in 2013/14.
Last season’s play-off final between West Ham and Blackpool was valued at £90m so if we take even just the 70 per cent domestic increase in TV revenue, this will make promotion worth at least £150m.
Sacking your manager half-way through his contract and paying compensation to take another club’s manager may therefore seem like pennies compared to this £150m prize.
But if we return the focus from finance to football – the only means by which Championship clubs can achieve this multi-million pound jackpot, the perceived rationality of chopping and changing your manager is in fact an irrational way to seek promotion.
In a league that is famous for its unpredictability, instilling stability at the top is surely the best way to control your own team’s fate. Having a relatively stable and long-term vision from a single manager is the reason that Southampton and Norwich were able to achieve back-to-back promotions over the last three seasons.
The Championship’s second-longest serving manager, Gus Poyet, has enjoyed success with Brighton over the past three years and the long-term success of Manchester United, Everton and Arsenal has been built on solid long-term leadership from each of their managers.
So instead of criticising chairmen for offering managers contracts that are at least double the current average tenure of service – like Alan Pardew’s eight-year deal at Newcastle – we should be aiming our criticism at those who lose patience so quickly.
The best way to escape chaos is consistency so it would be refreshing to see more clubs buck the trend and honour the contracts they so willingly hand out to start with.
By backing managers with long-term deals – as Crystal Palace have done by handing a four-and-a-half year contract to Ian Holloway – managers are more likely to be loyal and in-turn be able to offer players stability at the club too.
Moving from Blackpool to Crystal Palace may have seemed like an odd career move (especially having only moved into a new house in Blackpool three weeks ago) but considering Holloway was only on a one-year rolling contract with the Tangerines, it becomes rather less surprising that he decided to opt for a more secure future in south-east London.
Championship clubs should therefore follow the example of Crystal Palace, rather than the strategy pursued by Blackpool, as an exit strategy from the country’s most competitive league.
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