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December is about to arrive, however, the icy winds of managerial change have already passed at many clubs, so is it time to implement a managerial transfer window in football? Richard Pike gives us his answer.
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” That is what singer Andy Williams remarked in his famous song in 1963. December is on the horizon and for many, the most wonderful time of the year is in the process of arriving as Christmas and the celebration of a New Year approaches. However, historically, it can be argued that there is a very prominent exception to this rule, that exception of course is a football manager. Yes, rather than being a month to look onwards and upwards, it is often a time to fear for managers. At this point in the season, a third of the league season will have passed and it is often a time for the chairmen/owners of football clubs to assess the season so far for their club. This coupled with a desire to not get cut adrift in the relegation zone if your team has started the season appallingly badly, to get too far behind the league leaders if you are a pre-season title contender and the upcoming January transfer window for a new manager to recruit new players sees many chairmen/owners make the fateful and sometimes difficult decision to make a managerial change.
Historically for the reasons outlined above, December was the month that under-pressure managers feared, however, it is not just December now where such managers start to fear for their futures. The last 5/6 seasons have seen an incredible upsurge in the amount of clubs who terminate the contracts of the manager they started the season with in October or even September. The first managerial sacking amongst the 92 clubs in the English Football League this season occurred on the 26th September, when after just 9 games of their League Two campaign, Leyton Orient sacked manager Andy Hessenthaler and replaced him with Italian Alberto Cavasin. Even by modern standards, 9 games is ludicrously early for a managerial departure, but Hessenthaler’s departure started a snowball effect and in the time between this date and 20th November, a further 16 managerial changes have occurred across English Football League clubs. Of these 17 changes, 2 of them were managers leaving one club for another, Mickey Mellon leaving League One Shrewsbury Town to move to National League club Tranmere Rovers and Paul Hurst moving to Shrewsbury to replace Mellon and departing his role at League Two Grimsby Town in the process. The other 15 managerial changes are all the result of a chairman who has lost patience with the man he backed at the start of a season to bring success to his club. These early pre-December managerial departures highlight just how much more difficult and pressurised football management has become recently. A modern world where cameras air either live matches or highlights packages in all the top 3 or 4 divisions of a country’s footballing pyramid, a growing impetuousness from modern football fans who crave instant success and the ever increasing use of media for frustrated, revolting fans to air their opinions such as after-game radio football phone-ins, football club message boards and social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram offer no respite for an under-pressure manager nowadays.
I can understand why a club changes manager in December. After 15-20 games of a club season, a manager, whether a new one that was appointed during the summer months or an experienced one who has been at a club for several years will have had a transfer window to get in the players he needs, will have had time to get his preferred tactics, style of play and formation imposed on the team and will have had a run of games to try and turn things around should he have had a bad start to a season/an unlucky run of fixtures where he has not had the necessary luck that his sides performances have merited. After 3/4 months, it is understandable why a chairman/owner of a club may be willing to make a change if he feels that the current incumbent is showing no signs of achieving his pre-season objective. However, to be making managerial changes in either September or October and sometimes after less than 10 games into a season is often a sign of a club behaving rashly and I do believe that managers at least deserve a 3 to 4 month period at a club between the start of the club season in August and the beginning of December to be given a chance to prove they can be a success at a club. So, in the light of the expression of my opinion in the last sentence, it is time to provoke a debate, is it now time to implement a managerial transfer window to ensure managers are given a fair chance?
The first thing to consider when discussing the implementation of a managerial transfer window is that if we have a transfer window for players, then logically we should also have one for managers as well. The player transfer window had its critics when it was first introduced in time for the 2001/02 season, however, over time we have grown to accept it and one thing it does offer both players and clubs is stability. Before the player transfer window, players were free to move unopposed between clubs at any stage of the season between the opening of the new season in July and the end of March. It is easy to see why many during this period campaigned for a transfer window, players could simply transfer at any one point between clubs and in some cases there were examples of players who made a transfer to a club (perhaps rushed having not properly thought things over before making the decision) and then upon arrival at their new employers, they did not like what they saw, suddenly realised that they were missing their family or had too long a commute from their home to their new club. One of the most famous examples of this is former England and Everton defender David Unsworth who left Everton, the club where he had started his career for Birmingham club Aston Villa in the summer of 1998 only to never make a first team appearance for Villa and swiftly move back to Everton just a month later citing a long commute from his North-West home. Transfers between clubs may not work out for players, but at least the transfer window does allow a player who moves clubs in the summer transfer window and then come January’s transfer window realises that for a variety of reasons that the move has not worked out a chance to settle in at his new surroundings.
Furthermore, the current transfer window also means both clubs and players have a greater chance to ensure that the transfer of a player is in the best interests of both parties. It makes the player being transferred have a long, hard think before he commits himself to another club where he may have to move both himself and his family to a new home to avoid a lengthy commute because once he signs on the dotted line, he has to accept his situation until January and cannot instantly within a month demand a release from his contract. This is only fair on the buying club, they have made an investment in a player which they hope impacts positively on their fortunes, therefore, they want a player who is committed to this new challenge and won’t want to feel that their time is being wasted if a player fails instantly to adapt to his new surroundings and weeks upon joining wants out. This principle should also apply to managers too, let’s take Leeds United last season, they appointed Darko Milanic as their new manager on 23rd September 2015, then just 32 days into his job and after only six games, Milanic was sacked by the club. The guy probably had only just moved his family over to Leeds to start his new job and could well have been living in a hotel for the first month of his time at the club whilst house hunting and within the blink of an eye he has to pack up his things and move both himself and his family again.
Another reason for the implementation of a player transfer window back at the turn of the millennium was to protect smaller teams from having their best players poached by larger clubs at any time. Under the current transfer window system, there is a lot of speculation and players are subject constantly to all types of stories about them moving clubs, but at least between September to the end of December and the beginning of February to May, the speculation can be shelved and we can concentrate on the games and the football rather than individuals. If we went back to the previous system, the constant gossip and stories would become unbearable and would lead to some ugly episodes where clubs could both accuse other clubs and report them to the authorities for tapping up and unsettling their players throughout a season, which is a situation that both myself and many other fans do not want to see. Furthermore, what the current transfer window system does is makes sure that smaller clubs can keep their best players for a decent period of time and it also prevents a large, wealthy club who are struggling in the lower reaches of the table from wreaking havoc at a small club who are over-performing with minimal resources by taking their best players at any point in the season. The larger club had a full summer transfer window to recruit the players that they wanted, their poor performances should not give them an excuse to unjustly affect the performances of a smaller over-performing club who have done their due diligence and recruitment property and are feeling the benefits of such a policy by taking their best two players in September/October.
This argument should also stand up for managers as well. One rule I would like to see introduced into football is that should a club decide to replace the manager that they had at the start of a club season, they can only then recruit a manager who is unemployed as a replacement. In addition, I would like to see this rule backed up with another rule stating that managers/head coaches are only allowed to manage one club in a country over the course of a season. This second rule would strengthen the first and would stop clubs using a loophole to get around the first rule like the current manager of Club A resigning just days after being linked with the vacant managerial position at Club B and technically being classed as unemployed before then a week later being appointed as the new manager of Club B. Even if a manager resigns from a club, the same rule should apply that the manager-less club can only approach unemployed managers.
This season in September after a defeat against Preston, Championship club Aston Villa sacked Roberto di Matteo, the manager they appointed in the summer after their relegation from the Premier League last season. At this time the club were struggling in the bottom eight of the Championship and were briefly linked with Huddersfield Town’s German manager David Wagner who was previously Borussia Dortmund’s reserve team manager to replace di Matteo before they appointed former Hull City manager Steve Bruce as di Matteo’s replacement. At this point of the season Huddersfield were enjoying their best start to a club season in many a year and were sitting unbeaten at the top of the Championship in a promotion place. Factoring into account wealth and size of club, Aston Villa wins hands down over Huddersfield, so it is understandable why Aston Villa would display an interest in employing Wagner to replace di Matteo, however, it is my belief that this would have been grossly unfair on a smaller team like Huddersfield who like many other smaller teams in the modern era face a constant battle against the odds of the wealthy, elite clubs. Huddersfield took a gamble last season in appointing Wagner, a manager who had never coached outside of Germany before and had gone from reserve coaching where the primary emphasis is on the development of young players so that they can go on and feature for the first team into coaching at a first team level where results is the only criteria which an individual is judged on. The move has been a resounding success so far, so why should Huddersfield who have stumbled across the greatest manager in their modern history potentially have to lose his services to a larger and wealthier club who made a poor move by appointing di Matteo in the summer when they had a wealth of candidates who they could have employed instead who might have done a better job?
People might argue that Huddersfield would have received compensation for Wagner to go out and recruit a good candidate to replace him, but sadly, in many cases for smaller clubs, once you lose a talented manager it takes several managerial appointments before you find someone equally as talented (ask Nottingham Forest fans, they have suffered for many a season after the late, great Brian Clough’s departure from their club in 1993). The major argument here though is that why should a smaller club be penalised for being successful in their choice of manager? Villa made a poor decision to appoint di Matteo and because they were impatient by sacking him after such a short time at the club, they should have to face the punishment of only having a narrower amount of candidates to replace him.
One thing that the introduction of a manager transfer window and the two aforementioned rules would do is force football clubs who are manager-less going into the summer months after their previous manager left at the end of the previous season to think long and hard in the summer months over a replacement. I read an article last year which was written upon the conclusion of the 2014-15 season which explored the reasons why 47 managers across 92 English football league clubs had either been sacked or resigned from their posts. One part of the article focused on one football club which in recent times has made numerous managerial changes, current League 2 side Notts County. In the article, their chairman Ray Trew made a very interesting observation about the point brought up above on forcing clubs to look as long and as hard as they can before appointing a new manager to a job. In the article, Trew states “You have to plough through every CV because there may be one outstanding candidate you might not have considered” and “If they are doing their football club justice they would look at all the candidates and consider them all equally”. I think Trew has a point here when clubs either look to recruit a manager before the start of a new season or look to find a replacement for a sacked manager mid-season. A lot of appointments in my opinion have the element of “a rushed, panicked appointment” about them. Because we currently have a system in place where managerial hirings and firings are unlimited, clubs could easily just appoint someone who they think will simply just bring instant success to their club based on a past reputation knowing full well that if the club is struggling after a few months under the new manager they can employ a scattergun approach and simply just change the manager again. I fear clubs are doing this too often without actually stopping for a moment when trying to find a replacement manager and considering whether the manager they are about to hire fits said club’s philosophies on tactics, style of play, transfers and many other things. On the 19th November edition of Football on Five, the UK’s Football League highlights programme, former Charlton Athletic manager Alan Curbishley mentioned this very point when criticising his former club’s policy of hiring and firing managers taking into account that they are now looking for their 8th manager in just under 3 seasons after Russell Slade was recently sacked by the club.
No one can really say with any kind of certainty that clubs do rush their managerial appointments without properly considering all candidates in the recruitment process, the only people who would be able to tell us that for certain are the chairmen/owners of clubs who go through the recruitment process. However, I do believe that as the article above states that too much poor and ill-thought out hiring leads to too much firing, especially at certain clubs. If we had a managerial transfer window, clubs would be stuck with their managers, no matter who they were, no matter what kind of relationship they had with the fans, no matter how well the individual got on with the board of directors, no matter what style of football and tactics said individual likes to play and no matter how poor a club’s summer recruitment under said individual until the 1st of December before they could replace them with another manager. If this system is in place, I believe it would put an end to rushed appointments, would encourage more consideration of the person as a character and his beliefs as opposed to how good his track record was with previous clubs and would ensure that as broad a base of individuals can apply and get a serious interview and consideration for managerial jobs as possible. Surely all of the aforementioned things can only be for the benefit of football clubs and managers?
My final argument in favour of a managerial transfer window is that it would give a little more protection to the most vulnerable of all managers in both English and other European football league clubs, young managers who are embarking on their first job. I recently read an article in the Daily Telegraph by journalist Sam Wallace and I found amongst it one statistic that is particularly damning, out of 14 first-time managers who were sacked by any one of the 92 English football league clubs during the 2015-16 season, only 3, Garry Monk at Leeds United, Graham Alexander at Scunthorpe and Gary Bowyer at Blackpool have managed to find employment at a new club for the 2016-17 season. If you are a young manager embarking on your first managerial job, there will be a time when things are not going well and you are going to make mistakes. It is no different in the working world to any individual who starts their first job after leaving either college or university or even a young player brought into the first team of a club straight from youth or reserve football. However, crucially, there also has to be an understanding from chairman and owners that young managers are going to make mistakes early doors and should look to back a young and inexperienced manager who is in his first full-time managerial role after a difficult first 7/8 games of the new club season come the beginning of October rather than pressing the panic button by sacking him.
In the aforementioned article, Wallace references my club, Wigan Athletic, who in the last week of October following a 1-0 home defeat against Brighton sacked manager Gary Caldwell who was in his first managerial role at our club and had the previous season guided us to the League One title and promotion to the Championship in his first full season in football management. I personally believe Caldwell’s sacking was harsh, too quick and he should have been given more time, up until Caldwell’s sacking, all of our defeats so far in the new season had come by just a solitary goal. We had not been getting beaten by 3 or 4 goal score-lines and we had been in games that we had lost right until the final whistle. Yes, the football we had been playing was poor, results had not been good, but we were not cut adrift at the bottom of the league table and were only a few points from escaping the relegation zone, which for a newly promoted club in any division should be their minimum objective for a new season. Caldwell had his faults, but I accepted this as he was a young manager still learning his trade in a difficult environment in the English Championship where according to information from this article in the Guardian the average tenure for managers the 2014-15 season was just 0.86 years. You do also wonder how long it will take him to get back into the game now as a result of his dismissal, given only 3 out of 14 sacked first time managers managed to find employment the previous season as illustrated above, will clubs now be hesitant to take a chance on Caldwell either before the end of this current season or at the start of next season? I personally hope that this is not the case and that he does get another opportunity.
If there was a managerial transfer window in place to prevent any kind of managerial changes until the 1st of December amongst clubs in a country’s football leagues, it would ensure that more young managers are properly given a chance by clubs by having a 15-20 game period to get their feet under the table. There is the age-old argument trotted out which runs along the lines of “Why should we feel sorry for these guys, they get the sack, get a million pound pay-off and then find another club to manage within a few months.” Well, evidently, as illustrated above, the point about them finding employment at another club within months is not always the case and regarding the point about “a million pound pay-off”, maybe this is the case at Premier League clubs, however, go further down the pyramid and this is far from true. The pay-off can sometimes be in just the single-digit thousands as opposed to the millions, which means that financially things are a lot more difficult initially for managers at League One and League Two level within a few weeks of their dismissal as opposed to managers who leave a Premier League club with either a million pounds or more. Furthermore, going back to the point about first-time managers who get the sack finding employment once more within a year, the tasks for young British managers to achieve this are much more difficult as we do tend to be a country who likes to write managers off after one poor managerial appointment as opposed to the European continent where failure at one club does not seem to hinder managers as much and whose managers regularly get opportunities to redeem themselves without having the “managerial failure” stigma attached to them after just one poor job.
To illustrate my point, let’s take the example of Newcastle United’s current manager, Spaniard Rafael Benitez who is currently bringing back a feel-good factor to the faithful at St James’s Park. Upon leaving his job as Real Madrid reserves manager aged 35 in 1995 to forge a career in first-team management, Benitez did not have a good start at all in first-team management, his first two managerial roles were at lower Spanish clubs Real Valladolid and Osasuna and in both spells he lasted a combined 32 matches and was sacked both times, his dismissal at Osasuna occurred when the club was at that particular time in the second tier of Spanish football. After his sacking by Osasuna, it would have been easy for other lower Spanish clubs to give up on Benitez and write his hopes of being a successful future manager off, but Extremadura and then Tenerife gave him managerial opportunities, he won promotion with both clubs to the top division and subsequently landed the Valencia job which catapulted him to stardom and made him at the time of his appointment by Liverpool in the summer of 2004 one of Europe’s most in-demand coaches. Compare and contrast this with the example of former England manager Graham Taylor who after resigning as England manager in the autumn of 1993 after failing to qualify England for the 1994 World Cup had to then endure heavy criticism after he took over the job at Wolverhampton Wanderers just months after the England disappointment. Taylor’s one bad spell as England manager seemed to be the only thing post-England that fans wanted to judge him on. They seemed to completely ignore that pre-England, Taylor had spent 10 successful years at Watford between 1977-1987 reaching an FA Cup final and achieving a second placed finish in the top division and three seasons between 1987-1990 at Aston Villa where he won them promotion back to the top division in his first season in charge and then in his third season at the club in 1989-90 finished second place once more in the top division with a second different club.
All of the above plus the abundance of well-paid punditry roles for television stations covering live football in England emphasis why young English managers need some kind of protection from knee-jerk early-season sackings by chairmen and owners. Some of the recently retired or at the latter end of a career members of England’s so-called “Golden Generation” like Rio Ferdinand, Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard may well harbour hopes of getting all of their coaching badges and eventually going into full-time management in the non-too-distant future. However, they take one look at leagues like the Championship where the average tenure of a manager is less than one year and it would be very easy for them with the wealth they have accumulated during their football careers not to mention the wide availability of punditry roles to say to themselves words along the lines of “Management?, Forget that!” You cannot exactly blame them either given all that I have described above.
So in conclusion, I believe that a managerial transfer window should be implemented in both English and other European and Global football leagues. In England and other European leagues. It would run between the 1st of December and would close on the first day after the closing of the winter player transfer window in each country (in the majority of European leagues, this is a date sometime in the first week of February). People might argue that a club should have no restrictions on when they can terminate the contract of a manager who is said to be underperforming and that the above proposals are difficult to police and adapt into the football calendar. However, a player transfer window has existed now for 15 seasons without any issue, so I do not see any reason why this cannot happen with managers. Furthermore, a managerial transfer window would ensure that wealthy clubs who underperform cannot simply poach an over-performing manager from a smaller, poorer club which could then have a negative impact on this smaller club’s performances to remedy their own club’s ill-thought decision-making. It would also ensure that prior to hiring a new manager as many different candidates as possible were interviewed for positions by chairmen and owners and that such individuals would take their time in order to make sure the right decision is made as they cannot then go for the quick-fix sacking as early in a season as September. It would protect first-time inexperienced managers from impetuous and impatient owners and fans must realise that young managers are going to make mistakes just the same way young players are expected to and finally, it would encourage as many recently retired professionals to take the time and the effort to do their coaching badges and apply for jobs as there would be more protection for them than the Wild, Wild West scenario that occurs at the moment.