17 February, 2022 | Posted by Colm McDonnell

League of Ireland Footballer Insights: The Managerial Merry-Go-Round and How it Affects Teams

In January, Watford FC announced the sacking of Head Coach, Claudio Ranieri after a string of poor results, bookended by a 3-0 home defeat to fellow relegation candidates Norwich City.

It was an announcement met with some laughter and mockery from inside and outside the football community.

The official Specsavers Twitter account chimed in to say ‘if you’re wondering how often you should get your eyes tested, it’s usually once every four Watford managers’.

Ranieri was Watford’s second manager of the season already. He had succeeded Spanish coach, Xisco Muñoz just three months previously.

Muñoz had spent less than a year in the job.

Watford hasn’t had a manager who lasted more than a rotation around the sun since Javi Gracia who spent just over a year and a half at the club.

Their most recent appointment, the acclaimed Roy Hodgson, became the 16th person to be appointed to the job in the last decade.

Gone are the days, it seems, of a manager being shown any semblance of patience and trust if results are not going as expected.

What impact does this kind of regular disruption have on a team? League of Ireland footballer, Oscar Brennan explains it from a player’s perspective.

“Firstly, most players probably think from an individual perspective. I think most footballers are quite selfish, which is completely fair. So, your first thought is if I sign for a club, it’s that manager who signed me.

“If they are sacked, you’re thinking will the new manager like me? Are they going to play me? A bit of doubt creeps in.

“Performance in any industry, but particularly sport, is based around confidence in your ability and confidence in your position. A manager leaving immediately changes the environment. Even if you’re mentally strong, there’ll still be a bit of doubt there,” he said.

And going beyond an individual worry, it can cause doubt across the dressing room according to Oscar.

“For the group then, obviously you’ve been playing a certain way. You’ve been doing things a certain way. Everyone will be questioning their own position.

“Looking around the room thinking what system are we going to play? What position am I going to play? Who’s going to come in? Have I worked with them before? It creates that kind of doubt," he said.

Oscar spent the 2021 season in the sunny Southeast with Waterford FC who themselves saw the effect a managerial sacking can have.

Marc Bircham, who was a mid-season appointment, had quite a positive impact when he took the reins from Kevin Sheedy midway through the 2021 season.

A string of positive results including five wins in a row, not to mention an FAI cup semi-final berth, gave the Blues a renewed sense of hope. Bircham was even given a two-year contract extension that would see him in charge until the end of the 2023 season.

However, despite the best of efforts, Waterford was consigned to 9th at season end and thus had to play in a promotion/relegation playoff match against UCD, who had emerged from the First Division playoffs.

In the week leading up to what would be the biggest game of Bircham’s tenure, some unsettling reports began to emerge.

Reportedly, there was unrest between Bircham and Waterford owner, Richard Forrest.

In the aftermath, Bircham claimed his sacking came due to his unwillingness to pick Forrest’s son.

Regardless of the reason, Waterford found themselves without a manager and staring into a fixture that would decide what tier of Irish football they would be playing the following season.

And, after a disjointed performance, they lost the game 2-1 and were relegated.

Did the sacking have an impact on performance? Oscar says yes.

“The Marc Bircham sacking was absolutely bonkers. One million per cent that affected the players,” he said.

Ian Morris is now in charge of the Blues and that marks their third manager in the calendar year.

And reports suggest that a manager’s lifespan is only getting shorter.

A Sky Sports study published in May 2020 suggests that job security is at an all-time low in the top four tiers of English football.

It found that in the last year the average tenure stood at just 423 days (1.15 years).

That compares to an average of seven years in the years following the Second World War and three years during the 1992/93 season, when the Premiership rebrand came into effect.

Since then, the decline has been swift.

In fact, since that report was published, our case study, Watford has had five full-time managers who combine for an average of 158 days in charge.

Even if we’re fair and remove recent appointment Roy Hodgson, the four managers who preceded him had an average tenure of just 195 days, far below the already falling average.

For reference, it took Sir Alex Ferguson, widely regarded as one of the greatest managers of all time 1283 days to win his first trophy with Manchester United, an FA Cup in 1990.

It took him another three years to win his first league title.

And when asked whether we’d ever see a manager be given that kind of patience again, Oscar’s answer is clear.

“Sir Alex wouldn’t be given the same patience or time because football has moved on so much.

“Back then, I don’t think United were as wealthy as they are now. They had more of a dependency on their youth academy to produce players.

“Now you can just go buy someone. And because that you can spend a lot of money, have no success, and then get sacked. That’s the attitude now.

“Like a lot of stuff in football, you just have to get used to it and adapt. That’s how it is. Get with it or get lost,” he said.

So, what will that mean for players and dressing rooms moving forward?

Only time will tell.

Hopefully, Watford doesn’t have another new manager by the time you get to read this.

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