In a report titled ‘The impact of a managerial change in the Premier League’, London Economics – a boutique policy and economics consultancy with no relation to the prestigious university of a similar name – claimed that, on average, changing your manager could mean an extra five points per 10 matches.
Which, if you’re a team struggling against relegation, would almost certainly be the difference between survival and relegation.
And, bearing in mind retaining Premier League status is worth upwards of £40 million, that makes the financial burden of paying off a boss a risk worth taking.
London Economics points to the example of Sunderland, who earned six extra points under Paolo Di Canio than Martin O’Neill had managed in his previous 10 matches. The Black Cats did indeed manage to stay up.
A closer look at their methodology – which compares the total number of points earned in the new manager’s first 10 matches relative to those earned by the previous boss’ final 10 games – reveals serious flaws.
Firstly, the report looked at teams who sacked their manager mid-season, while lying in 15th position or lower, over the past five years.
That gives just 13 instances to work with, a statistically insignificant sample size relative to the number of teams, leagues and managers in football. And it does not look at the wider issue of managerial change.
Secondly – and the report acknowledges this in its appendix – three of the managers did not manage 10 matches in their given season (Juande Ramos and Nigel Adkins both with eight, Di Canio with seven).
Thirdly – and this is once more acknowledged – the varying factors that impact on team performance are not considered. So the type of run they had, injuries, transfer activity and the quality of opposition.
The only attempt made to equalise these factors is a separate equation where the ‘value’ of each point is given a factor relative to quality of opposition and whether the match is at home or away. This appears to support their theory further, but obviously is irrelevant to teams chasing the magic 40-point mark.
A fourth point to raise is that, of the 13 discussed instances, six – or around half – ended up resulting in relegation, with two more of the clubs going down the season afterwards (that could well be three if Sunderland fall away this term).
And finally – the biggest flaw in this report – there is no relative study on teams who decided to keep their managers, or the long-term fate of such short-term thinking.
When a coach is dismissed it is usually after a poor run of games – enough coaches, when trusted, have turned things around to suggest that the likes of O’Neill, Roberto Di Matteo and Mick McCarthy may have kept Sunderland, West Brom and Wolves in the division.
Furthermore, the panic-sacking of O’Neill was followed by the appointment of a man so ill-suited to the job that Sunderland may be more harmed in the long run than if they had rebuilt under the Irishman.
But it makes for a nice piece of PR for the consultancy concerned, and – cynicism aside – there is something to be said for a managerial change at least temporarily boosting a team in free-fall.