The Sacking Epidemic: Is the Championship the new Premier League?

 | February 22 | 

6 mins read

stadium of light sunderland

Michael Beale’s exit from Sunderland this week after just 12 matches didn’t come as a surprise. The former Rangers boss had been unpopular from the moment he stepped into the Stadium of Light and, in truth, hadn’t done a lot to charm the locals. Ignoring Trai Hume as he was substituted was a bad look, and successive defeats to Huddersfield Town and Birmingham City were his last contributions in the north-east. 

The following day, Millwall also decided that they’d had enough of their manager, Joe Edwards. The Lions had lost six of their last seven matches and have slipped perilously close to the bottom three, which was enough for the board to rip up the long-term project they had planned with Edwards, and instead go back to club legend Neil Harris. 

Championship Relegation Odds

  • Birmingham City @ 12/1
  • Millwall @ 15/8
  • Huddersfield Town @ 2/1

Harris represents a safe pair of hands, and one who will give them a better chance of survival this year, but he is certainly not a manager known for his attractive football. Harris himself will have remarkably managed in League Two (with Gillingham), League One (Cambridge United), and now the Championship all in one season, but he is just a microcosm of the managerial chaos that is unfolding up and down the Football League. 

In the second tier in particular, there seems to be a real trend of bringing in managers who require time and patience to implement their long-term idea, and then sacking them within a couple of months when results aren’t quite going the right way. When Birmingham City replaced the popular John Eustace with Wayne Rooney, it was because they wanted a more possession-based style of play which they believed would give them a better chance of getting out of the division. 

Rooney later recalled that talks with the owners were incredibly positive when he joined, and they had the same footballing philosophy and plans for the future. A lot of those plans required the former England man bringing his own players in during the January transfer window. He was never given the chance. After just 15 matches, club CEO Garry Cook sacked the man he had put his neck on the line to appoint. 

The club had dropped from sixth to 17th, and he’d won just two of those 15 matches - but what’s the point in spouting the ‘long-term project’ nonsense if you aren’t going to stick with it? Rooney may not have produced, but if supporting him in the January transfer window is what the club promised when he arrived, surely they should have stuck to their word. 

Beale and Rooney share similarities in the fact that they replaced popular managers. It’s a strange situation to be in but neither set of fans didn’t truly give the respective bosses a chance, as the latter explained on The Overlap's 'Stick to Football'.

"Birmingham City fans didn't accept me from day one. I went in, but I knew straight away that I wasn't accepted by the fans. I think it was more because John Eustace had done well. They were in sixth place when he got sacked," Rooney said.

"If you're a Birmingham fan, the last 10 years they've had, and they are touching the play-offs - I know it was early in the season - and then the manager gets sacked... They had the situation with Gianfranco Zola a couple of years ago, and that comes back into the minds as well.” 

If fans are not on board, any hope of a new manager bounce evaporates. What is also apparent and sometimes overlooked when a popular manager departs, is the reaction of the players in the dressing room. They are always professional, and will always want to win games, but if they didn’t want change in the first place, it’s not going to be beneficial no matter who the incoming boss is. 

Millwalltoberelegatted

Edwards, Beale and Rooney’s quickfire sackings all mean that, staggeringly, four Championship clubs are already on their third manager of the season. Millwall, Sunderland, Birmingham City and struggling Huddersfield Town have now all pressed the panic button twice already this term, and yet none of them sit in the bottom three. 

The threat of relegation to League One must be considered in all of this. The financial disparity between the second and third tiers is growing, and as Rotherham United are finding out this term, that can often play out on the pitch. Ipswich Town are the complete anomaly, with one of the finest coaches in England in Kieran McKenna, a decent budget and a sensible transfer policy helping them contend for promotion. But by and large, those teams coming up will struggle.

Trying to avoid getting sucked into, and then stuck in, League One is paramount. Clubs like Sunderland and Sheffield United languished for years in the third tier, despite their enormous budgets. Portsmouth have been trying to get back into the Championship since their relegation in 2012, even dropping down to League Two during that time, while Derby County are striving to get back up as soon as possible. 

DerbytoWinL1

With the desperation to sack managers at relegation-threatened teams, the Championship is now what the Premier League used to be. This season in the top flight, only Sheffield United, Nottingham Forest and Crystal Palace have changed managers. Meanwhile, there have been 16 Championship sackings, and the length of time those in the dugout are actually lasting is genuinely staggering. 

Out of the 24 teams, only Coventry City’s Mark Robins has spent the last two full seasons in his current post. Elsewhere, McKenna and Ryan Lowe have just passed the two-year mark in their roles - and every other manager has barely had time to unpack their tactics board. As many as 16 of the 24 current Championship managers have been in their current post for less than 365 days. It’s an epidemic. 

As the Premier League seems to have calmed down, the second tier has gone mad. Perhaps it is because there is less to play for now for most Premier League teams. The top clubs are all settled and even relegation candidates Burnley and Luton Town are happy with the men that got them promoted. If you're mid-table in the Premier League, the status quo is fine. If you’re mid-table in the Championship, you’re two defeats away from a crisis. 

The financial riches of the Premier League are so great that it’s often worth chasing that new manager bounce to try to make a late run for the play-offs. But the burden of falling further away from the top six and potentially into the third tier is clearly a heavy one to bear for several owners. Don’t fall for the ‘long-term’ spiel, patience and sensibility doesn’t look like they will return to the Championship anytime soon. 

Check out our other Football Betting Tips here. 

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