Football Management

Commentary on the management of over 160 English football clubs by Dr John Beech, winner of the FSF Writer of the Year Award 2009/10 Twitter: @JohnBeech Curator of! Football Finance

The fickle fate of football managers

Posted by John Beech on March 14, 2011

This morning’s announcement that Aidy Boothroyd has been sacked as manager of Coventry City (1) brings a local dimension for me on that increasingly common fate for a manager who does not bring success to their club.  There is a second very recent local case, that of Ian Sampson at Northampton Town (2), which I will turn to below.

In Boothroyd’s case his team had produced only one win in the last sixteen games, so it is pretty clear that some action by the board was justified.  In a general sense though, and I emphasise that I not focusing on recent form and events at Coventry, there are the unaddressed, and I suspect internally unasked by a Board of Directors, questions a) have we given this manager a chance to show his mettle beyond the short-term situation he inherited, b) have we given him the support he might reasonably expect, and c) are there any issues to do with his recruitment and appointment that we, the Board, have been in any way at fault with?  I doubt that in general the answers to these three questions are an unequivocal ‘Yes’, ‘Yes’, and ‘No’.

At Coventry there have been recent Board changes (3), so there may be at least an element of ‘new brushes’ and ‘sweeping clean’.  Nevertheless, as recently as five weeks ago, Chairman Ray Ranson (4), someone not exactly unversed in the vaguaries of the football sector, who has been chairman of Coventry City for just over three years, and who must accept the responsibility for Boothroyd’s appointment in May last year, said “There are no issues whatsoever with Aidy – we’re still very supportive of the manager” (5). Not, of course, that such statements of confidence in a manager are infrequently an omen of a sacking.

At Northampton Town at the beginning of this month Ian Sampson was sacked as manager (6), having failed to produce a win in the previous seven games. In this case, the three questions I have posed certainly need to be asked.  Sampson had been an employee of the club since 1994!  He had played 449 games for the club, then been promoted from youth team coach to first team coach, then caretaker manager, and finally manager in October 2009. He was given a fresh three-year contract in March 2010.

‘Seven failures to produce a win’ sets Sampson’s recent form in an unfairly poor light – six of the results had been draws.

Chairman David Cardoza defended the sacking of an employee with seventeen years service thus:

“The club must always come first but that doesn’t make this decision any easier.  I, my fellow directors, the staff and supporters all wanted Ian to succeed.  I really hoped Ian would prove a successful manager here, but I did not see enough signs that we were improving as a side. Ian had put together a decent squad, and in a way that made our league position all the more unacceptable, and we are at a crucial time of year.

“I wanted to make this change now to give us time to go through a detailed recruitment process and to give the new man time to assess the squad before the end of the season, to look at the budget for next season and have a full summer to recruit and make the changes they see fit.

“No-one is ruled in and no-one is ruled out as we begin our search for our next manager. I think this will be an attractive job.”

Ironic that you should think that, David.  Ian Sampson himself had said just before Christmas “I’m a fairly loyal person, I was happy with my work and the environment created by Northampton. When you’re happy, you don’t look to go anywhere else.”  Not of course unless you’re sacked that is.

If Sampson were guilty of incompetence, á la Peter Principle, would the decent thing not have been to have moved him sideways rather than that ultimate and brutal decision to sack him?

Wouldn’t it be rather fine if just once a Director put his hand up and said “I accept full responsibility for the appointment of this manager“, did the decent thing and resigned himself?

UPDATE – 28 MARCH 2011

A rather more reasonable approach is shown at Scarborough Athletic (A) .

4 Responses to “The fickle fate of football managers”

  1. John Beech said

    Well, there you go! Literally one minute after I posted the above, the BBC website announces from Bristol Rovers Chairman Nick Higgs: “Ultimately I take responsibility for the appointment of Dave Penney” (A). Not that he has gone any further than that mind.

    • Ian Ditchfield said

      Actually Rovers chairman Higgs does go a little further. The BBC quote goes on “If I’m called to resign I would resign, anything for the betterment of the club, but at this point in time we’re doing the best we can. I see nobody willing to come and take my job over. I’m always willing to talk to somebody who thinks they can do better or inject even more cash into this club.”

  2. I’m not sure where to start with this one. As a fan of Coventry City I have some sympathy with Ray Ranson.

    He is getting it totally in the neck from the supporters at the moment, and in a way rightly so. Boothroyd was his appointment, so he must accept responsibility if he fails.

    But it is also easy for the fans to forget that Ranson has a difficult job in providing stability on the football side and (maybe as we don’t know this) keeping SISU interested and on board.

    There are constant rumours that SISU have had enough and are set to pull out, if Coventry go down would that not make it all the more likely?

    Ranson could be conducting a delicate balancing act behind the scenes for all we know. He is not stupid, as a man with a football background he knows better, or as well as anyone, that chopping and changing managers isn’t a recipe for success.

    Thats why the more I think about this, the more I am convinced it isn’t simply a chairman panicking and sacking his manager.

    I don’t know if this is true John, you seem far more qualified than me in this field so maybe you could shed some light on this, but I heard today that the difference between the Championship and Division 1, TV deals is £4M – £100,000 respectively.

    If this is true and CCFC are struggling to survive as it is, then what chance does the club have if they get relegated?

    I think Ray Ranson was probably stuck between a rock and a hard place with this one.

    Where CCFC really let themselves down was in the reckless way they went through managers in the 2001-2006/7 period. Because of that every time they sack a manager, even if the manager had, or deserved to go, it just looks like another over reaction and the stat backs that theory up.

    Also if it is true that Boothroyd had lost the dressing room, then what choice did Ranson have?

  3. Iain O’Connell just been given his marching orders at Margate FC. I think that’s 10 managers since 2004 including Terry Yorath and Neville Southall

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