Is Football’s Hire-Fire Culture Healthy?
THE 2015/16 season saw its 19th managerial casualty this week, after Championship side Blackburn Rovers parted company with boss Gary Bowyer. Eight of the 24 second-tier sides have changed manager already this season: obviously, not all of those sackings can be deemed ill-timed or premature, but relationships between managers and owners are increasingly characterised by a recklessness, short-term outlook.
Sackings will always be divisive. Despite respectable finishes during his two years at the helm, the consensus at the top (in light of just three wins all year) was that Bowyer had run out of ideas. Only time will tell whether this is a regrettable decision, but the Football League is littered with cautionary tales – take a bow, Notts County.
Often, you just have to make those calls. League One’s Peterborough dismissed manager Dave Robertson after the opening six games of this campaign with the Posh languishing just a point above the drop, but their recent surge to tenth suggests this has paid dividends. For now, it looks as though they got that one right, even if it meant a hasty termination when Robertson conceivably could have steadied the ship himself.
Issues arise when the recklessness underlining football’s hire-and-fire culture – probably nowhere better concentrated than in Massimo Cellino’s Leeds United – undermines the search for meaningful, sustainable development. In the rush for progress, clubs become their own worst enemies.
Former Leeds boss Uwe Rösler always gave the impression of being the calm amidst the Elland Road maelstrom – the antithesis to Cellino’s freneticism. Speaking in October, Rösler said, “I said from day one promotion is not possible this season. Given the time, this team will end up where it belongs – the Premier League. We have to be realistic. We are not on parachute payments [the Premiership gives funds to clubs relegated from the top-flight in the last four years, to compensate for the financial ramifications of leaving the division]. We cannot pay astronomical wages. We try to recruit certain players who have their best years ahead of them.”
While Rösler’s frankness might have worked against him (deeming promotion beyond his reach isn’t a rallying cry for the ages) Cellino’s impatience cut short Rösler’s ambitions to build something that would stand for more than a season. At the time, of course, the Whites had yet to pick up a home win – but the point remains. Rösler’s long-term outlook clashed with Cellino’s more immediate aspirations. Sometimes, you have to be pragmatic – but that doesn’t vindicate irresponsibility.
This climate for instant success, while understandable, is erroneous in divisions as financially tight as the Championship and as open as the Football League. In League One, Wigan endured an indifferent August and September, and the opening month was disastrous for Bradford City – but both club’s willingness to bide their time and show faith in their managers was reimbursed handsomely. They are now mounting genuine promotion challenges – can the same be said for others?
For Blackburn and Leeds, and Huddersfield Town and Fulham – who sent bosses Chris Powell and Kit Symons respectively packing earlier this month – the gamble remains a huge one. With much of the budget spent over the summer, how much of a change can these new bosses deliver this season, realistically? Will they ultimately be given the time to implement a culture, an ethos?
For now, the focus will rightfully centre on turning round ailing form, but a conflation of the long and short-term will arise at some point. These gambles have to work – the alternative is unthinkable.
Featured image: The Guardian