The world of football involves excited news of managerial appointments (link) and managerial removal (link). Appointments and removal are political decisions. One hopes that clubs undertake due diligence when they appoint mangers and make decisions about removal very carefully. Managers live in an outcome world and a team’s results become the hallmark of a coach’s tenure. Losing heavily, particularly at home, triggers the political decision making process.
The most recent A League removal involves Markus Babbel (link) at West Sydney Wanderers.
Richard Parkin (link) has wtitten in The Guardian about the sackings of three A League managers this season. The most recent was Markus Babbel at West Sydney Wanderers. He observed “when a coach falls, the unescapable spotlight of failure should shine upon those that made the appointment as well”. He added “the appointment of a foreign coach always comes with an air of the unknown – but there is increasingly more and more evidence to reduce the risk and eliminate the guesswork”.
Richard concludes his post with these points “whether a club goes local or overseas in appointing a head coach, due diligence still remains key in such a critical appointment” (my emphasis). He argues “a detailed appraisal of whether said coach is an appropriate fit for said club – then it’s club management that should be in the limelight, not the coaches they dismiss” (my emphasis).
When Markus was appointed in May 2018, a report of his appointment (link) said “the Wanderers have pulled off a coup, securing Babbel for three years after a month hunting for a successor to sacked coach Josep Gombau”. It was noted “Babbel’s decorated playing career and managerial pedigree will command the respect of a still somewhat fractured dressing room”.
In another post about Markus’s appointment, the Wanderers’ chairman Paul Lederer said “today we have made a statement about our future and I am very proud to announce Markus Babbel as our new head coach. In the next 18 months we will have our new training facility finished, our new stadium open and our club ready to take another giant step. Having a coach like Markus involved with this club will make us a force in this league as we strive to win trophies, return to the AFC Champions League and make a statement not only in Australia but internationally as a football club (my empahses)”.
In the news of Markus’s sacking, it was reported that Paul Lederer said “it is unfortunate that we have needed to take this course of action because we have a great relationship with Markus. However, we firmly believe that we have a great squad and the results are most definitely not reflective of the ability of the players at this club and certainly do not reflect the aspirations of the Western Sydney Wanderers Football Club. We have total faith in the group of players here at the Wanderers and look forward to pushing on with renewed vigour towards the finals series”.
In his analysis of Markus’s sacking, Stuart Thomas (link) notes “managing a football team that lacks the quality needed to appease those who employed you and deliver the wins and trophies that the fans demand could be the most difficult job of all”. He added “for every Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho, Jurgen Klopp or Pep Guardiola – there are hundreds of Markus Babbels attempting to craft quality artefacts from materials just not up to the required standard”.
Stuart observed “any credit accumulated by a manager thanks to a well-respected and long playing career at the highest level dries up pretty quickly when results turn against them. Babbel had 355 games in the bank before stepping into a managerial role” (my emphasis). He concludes “watching Markus’s downfall over the last few months has urged me to always remember that the machine of world football consists mostly of talented, well-meaning and decent people, some of whom succeed but many of whom receive the sack when their performance demands it”.
In their analysis of twelve years of Dutch football, Allard Bruinshoofd and Bas ter Weel (2003) conclude “that sacking a manager seems to be neither effective nor efficient in terms of improving team performance” (link). Chris Hope (2003) (link) looks at a club’s strategy in managerial appointments. This includes: “the length of the honeymoon period during which it will not consider sacking a new manager, the level of the performance trapdoor below which the manager get the sack, and the weight that it will give to more recent games compared to earlier ones”. His data from the English Premier League suggest “the best strategy appears to have only a short honeymoon period of eight games, to set the trapdoor at 0.74 points per game, and to put 47% of the weight on the last five games”.
Birgit Schyns, Sarah Gilmore, and Graham Dietz (2016) (link) observe that employment in football is “highly volatile” with “what is called a ‘merry-go-round’ of managers sacked for poor performance at their club and reemployed by another club. Not only does this practice often not increase performance but it is also very costly”.
Vanessa Ratten and her colleagues (2016) (link) explore the ethical issues associated with managerial sackings. In their study of the English Premier League, they note “the instability of EPL management evident today appears to have taken away the rights of an employee”. They observe “with rising revenues come rising costs for player recruitment and salaries and an increase in pressure to deliver results with a degree of immediacy” (my emphasis).
Robert Wilson, Robert Plumley and Stuart Flint (2019) (link) attempt to make sense of managerial change. They note their findings “do not infer direct cause and effect here and any board decision should consider additional factors other than sporting performance before deciding to sack their manager” (my emphasis).
Robert Wilson, Robert Plumley and Stuart Flint (2019) observe “in professional team sports such as football, pressure falls mostly on one person, which is most often the manager. Indeed, it is widely regarded that the role of the football manager is one of chronic insecurity (my emphasis). One of my professional interests is in trying to understand why managers are dismissed and the impact their dismissal has on performance.
Richard Audas, Stephen Dobson and John Goddard (2008) (link) note “poor recent form drives many managerial terminations”. They propose “managerial change appears to have a harmful effect on team performance immediately following a managerial termination”.
In their discussion of the removal of a manager, Robert Wilson, Robert Plumley and Stuart Flint (2019) consider three theories:
Scapegoating when managers are replaced as a ritual to signal that boards of directors have taken action to address poor performance.
Vicious circle theory when manager change continually damages performance because replacement events disrupt already established processes and bring with it instabilities and tensions that can further deteriorate performance.
Tenure and life-cycle theories suggest that “a new manager develops new processes, a new team and a fresh strategy that will improve long-term performance through continual learning and identifying where adaptations are necessary”.
It is this tenure approach that particularly interests me. It is a key issue for Sports Wizard®’s programs particularly the Organics™ program that aims to offer pathways and to achieve integrated, strategic and sustained success (link).
I believe the due diligence that must occur before a managerial appointment must look at the tenure and life-cycle issues. A club can then be in a position to make long term plans that have the political will to overcome short-term performance issues.
Unfortunately managerial removal often takes place in clubs where there is regular change in manager. Markus is the fourth manager at West Sydney since 2017 and was in charge for 41 games (link). The two managers that preceded him were there for 5 and 22 games respectively. Jean-Paul de Marigny (link) has become the fifth Wanderers coach.
This cycle of appointment and removal needs to be a whole of club issue not solely a cult of the personality of the manager. The focus on tenure and life cycle pre-appointment seems vital to me and requires each club to develop the skills necessary for the support and monitoring of long term vision. We have enough data to scan the world for appointments and to take our time in making any appointment.
The data from the A league linked to Manager Change is:
Photo by Ian Higbee on Unsplash
Markus Babbel (Wikipedia)
Photo by Peter Glaser on Unsplash