COS contributor Ross Joannides ponders whether it is acceptable or otherwise to sack a manager within the first month of a new season.
Farcical, nonsensical and ludicrous are just three words of many that have described the actions made by those despicable entrepreneurial invaders that choose to run our football clubs. These actions are of course in relation to their decision to sack a manager before he has made either a startling success or woeful mess of his job. But why does an owner, chairman or chief executive have to wait until we have a dramatic conclusion one way or the other? Particularly when the risks are so inconceivably high – they are always high. There is no doubting that in the majority of cases managers are let go hastily and without a sufficient opportunity to carry out a plan. But in some instants, just some, the stakes are so lofty that people running football clubs get scared and anxious. This is where we bring in Dave Whelan –creator of Wigan Athletic’s spectacular rise to the Premier League, and Roberto Martinez – a former Wigan player and current manager. Having lost their opening two league games of the season 4-0 and 6-0 respectively (both at home), it is expected that Whelan despite the standard vote of confidence may be about to consider Martinez’s position – cue the hysteria.
But really, who is to tell Whelan, a gentleman who goes against the stereotypical notions of an egotistic power hungry owner, he is wrong or foolish should he decide to fire Martinez. It is easy from the outside to wax lyrical about how much time a manager should be approved but there is no exact science. No measurement to how long a manager must hold his position before we can universally join and take him to task. The Wigan owner has taken the Lancastrians from the bottom tier of English football to the Premier League, and while loyalty is both admirable and often rewarding, Whelan has to let the safety of the football club take precedent. If he doesn’t then he may see his treasured football team face the same destiny as Middlesbrough and West Bromwich Albion did two seasons ago. They each showed loyal faith to their respective managers before suffering the fate of relegation that had been staring them in the face all season. Both promising young managers, Tony Mowbray and Gareth Southgate were dismissed at the end of the year leaving supporters to ponder on what might have been had they gone six months prior.
Incidentally in that 2008-2009 campaign two clubs that did decide to wield the axe with less than half a season gone were Blackburn Rovers and Tottenham Hotspur, who have since gone on to experience upturns in fortune. With both comfortably staying up after hitting the foot of the table at various points of the season, they are each indebted to their managers who were brought in thanks to their record of keeping clubs alive in the Premier League. In the following season Sam Allardyce went onto finish an impressive 10th with his Blackburn side, while Harry Redknapp’s Tottenham clinched a Champions League place with their highest finish in twenty years. Make no mistake however; these appointments were issued because of the fear racing through both clubs. Paul Ince had only been at Blackburn for six months and Juande Ramos at Tottenham for exactly a year, but such was the frightening severity of the situation both clubs were forced to act. Neither took any pride in terminating the contracts of relatively new coaches with the Blackburn chairman, John Williams stating, “The board, having selected Paul back in June, were desperate for him to succeed and wanted to give him as much time as possible in the unforgiving environment of Premier League management, where time is such a precious commodity.” Naturally we can note Fulham, Lawrie Sanchez and Roy Hodgson from the season before with identical conditions, albeit as more of a lastminute.com.
Martinez might be able to turn it around early, and of course two games are extreme in the context of a 38 match season. Furthermore bringing in a new manager has not always guaranteed survival, although this is often down to clubs reacting too late, appointing Ian Dowie, or in some miserable cases both. Wigan can’t afford to not consider an unpopular early change should things fail to improve. If Whelan believes that it is within the clubs best interest to part company with the Spaniard, then he must put loyalty to one side and take action. Indeed why is sacking a manager so bad if the team ultimately achieves by avoiding relegation. Particularly Wigan, a club still struggling to increase in stature and grossly overshadowed by the towns successful Rugby League side. A number of clubs significantly larger than Wigan have not seen the Premier League light of day since relegation, and the Latics cannot afford to take the risk of Championship football. There is a likelihood they might not return for an exceedingly long time.
In essence it should not necessarily be treated as a career defining judgement on Martinez should he get the chop. Juande Ramos was and still is a very good manager, and Paul Ince could still become one, but these were dangerous times for their employers. Blackburn and Tottenham couldn’t wait, and now the question is, how long will Wigan should their horrific form continue? As we, the jury lie in wait for Whelan’s possible offence we must first consider the devastating ramifications facing his beloved Wigan before asking, how soon is too soon for Martinez? Well, as long as it is not too late for Wigan, it shouldn’t matter.