So with half the fixture list behind us, a quarter of the teams in the SPL find themselves without a long-term manager in place.
At the start of the season you’d have been given long odds on Craig Levein being the first out of his office, although after the Norway-Scotland game I’ve no doubt the odds came in a bit.
While Levein’s relationship with Stephen Thompson was solid, I do find it surprising that the United chairman didn’t have a plan B in his pocket for the day the call came from the SFA. “Succession planning” it’s called in corporate-speak, and if there’s one thing that football has picked up from the business world in the last 20 years, it’s a vocabulary of empty jargon and meaningless buzzwords.
It seems as if the attempt to bring over Pat Fenlon from the Northern Irish league has truly ended; maybe just as well because the last management transfer from Ulster, Stephen Kenny to Dunfermline, didn’t end too well – Fifers relegated, Irishman sacked. Although for Falkirk supporters, that was mission accomplished.
Motherwell’s separation from Jim Gannon was a surprise to me, if not to the Scottish press corps who seemed to take a certain pleasure in his departure – perhaps Gannon told them to “git tae” once too many times for their egos to handle.
The Steelmen at least appeared to have a contingency plan to turn to, with Craig Brown promptly installed as the interim manager; but who’s to say that, once his feet are established under the table, it won’t become a more permanent relationship? Though I’m not so sure the Fir Park faithful are looking forward to midfields packed with defenders, and an average age in the 40s. Might Christian Dailly be lured north from Charlton?
And just this week, the SPL’s longest-serving manager got the heave-ho. I mean, he mutually agreed with his chairman that Kilmarnock FC and he were better off apart. This one has an intriguing backstory… star striker (and Jefferies signing) Kevin Kyle claimed to have been asked by the chairman to criticise his manager’s tactics, and Kyle went to the press with this, much to his chairman’s displeasure – because the whole incident never happened, did it? I don’t doubt for a moment that it did.
However, that’s just fodder for the Daily Record. The truth of the matter is Killie fans are generally OK to see Jefferies gone, even if they do feel their chairman is a dobber. But yet again, no plan B in the drawer, so Michael Johnston puts his club in even more short-term peril; just two points off the bottom and Falkirk having a game in hand.
[Is Jimmy Calderwood the man for the job? “It has been horrible being out of the game and the longer it lasts the worse it gets, so I am willing to talk to anybody.” That sounds like a ringing endorsement of the Killie position, eh.]
The United change was out of Stephen Thompson’s control, but Motherwell and Killie had their destiny in their own hands. Jim Jefferies gamely repeated that old cliche: “Normally, when a new manager comes in it gives the players a lift.” But does it? And isn’t he just saying that because the terms of his payoff mean he can’t say what he really thinks (see my “chairman is a dobber” comment above).
Over the last twenty years, hordes of academic boffin-types have secured funding to “research” our beautiful game. What do they have to say on the topic of firing your manager?
A study of the English Premier League from 1992-2004: “Those Premiership clubs who retain the services of their manager for a longer period of time are more likely to have successful results.”
A Dutch study from 2001 : “Firing a manager does not improve results. Clubs would do better to change the players.”
Even more controversially, and taking these studies to their logical conclusion, a study of 40 English football clubs from 1978-1997 : “Managers could probably be replaced by stuffed teddy bears without their club’s league position changing.”
Prior to writing this column, while I was thinking about who these teams could bring in to replace their lost leadership, I looked back through recent managerial appointments and couldn’t see any clear pattern of success. For every believed-proven Irish manager (Pat Fenlon) there’s a record of failure (Stephen Kenny); for every promising-up-and-comer (Tony Mowbray at Hibs) there’s a was-promising-now-tarnished (Mixu Paatelainen); for every returning-messiah second spell (Walter Smith) there’s a spoil-the-memories second spell (Jock Wallace).
My conclusion was that you’d be as well rolling the dice. And when it comes to gambling, who are the experts? The bookies, of course. And what do they think? Well, Betfair provide an argument for why a roll of the dice might be the rational thing to do.
But then who said football chairman were rational?