Article by Rupert Bateman
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Steve McClaren only took charge of Nottingham Forest in the Summer after Billy Davies was relieved of his duties, but earlier this month, there were already rumours circulating that he was on the verge of resigning. In any other league this would come as a surprise, but such is the way of the Championship, very few people battered an eyelid.
So McClaren is still in charge of Forest, but, seven games down the line, the Championship has it’s first managerial casualty. Sean O’Driscoll, who got Doncaster Rovers into the Championship, has been placed on the dreaded ‘gardening leave’. After a poor start to the season, picking up just one point so far, Doncaster have taken the decision to draft in Dean Saunders in a bid to avoid relegation. But why, after just seven games, does a club decide to release a manager that has been so successful for them? The answer: they’re a Championship club.
The Football League Championship is one of the most exciting and unpredictable leagues in the world. Every team goes into each game with realistic hopes of picking up all three points. This was perfectly exemplified earlier this season when relegation threatened Bristol City travelled to promotion favourites Leicester City and snatched a 1-2 victory (their first and only one of the season so far).
Dating between the beginning of the 2010/11 season and the beginning of the current one, there were 17 managerial casualties for one reason or another at clubs which began the 2010/11 campaign in the Championship.
The managers to have left their former employers since August last year are as follows; Dave Jones (Cardiff), Billy Davies (Nottingham Forest), Brian Laws (Burnley), Paulo Sousa (Leicester), Gordon Strachan (Middlesbrough), Roy Keane (Ipswich), Steve Coppell (Bristol City), Mark Robins (Barnsley), Aidy Boothroyd (Coventry), Malky Mackay (Watford), George Burley (Crystal Palace), Darren Ferguson (Preston), Kevin Blackwell, Gary Speed, Micky Adams (all Sheffield United), Nigel Adkins and Ian Baraclough (both Scunthorpe United).
It is no surprise that 12 out of the 17 changes have come at clubs finishing in the bottom half. But what is surprising is that two of three losing play-off teams have also sacked their manager. Both Nottingham Forest and Cardiff City sacked their managers’ after play-off failure, but if either of those teams had produced a slightly better performance to the one they gave on the night (out of the manager’s hands) and had gone onto win the play-offs, their manager would have been hailed a hero and a genius rather than a failure.
The main reason behind this stat is the huge prize for succeeding in the Championship. For most teams in the division, reaching the Premiership is the ultimate short-term goal. The finances, publicity and quality of opposition make it such a huge target, that every time a team fails to meet that goal, questions about the manager are going to be asked.
It is such an unpredictable league that around 15/24 clubs set a minimum target each season of reaching the play-offs. Comparing that to The Premiership, where apart from the top six or seven clubs, most are happy just to remain in the league.
The high expectations at clubs are reiterated when you consider what was said by Bristol City’s Chairman Colin Sexstone, when discussing how costly managerial changes are to a club:
“My experience of football clubs is that they tend to start spending whenever they change manager. We had three in the space of a few months last year and that is a very expensive business. It cost us a lot of money and made us realise that continuity is all important.”
This shows how desperate some clubs are to achieve their goal of reaching the Premiership. They are willing to spend large amounts of money, money which sometimes would only be covered by promotion, in hope that their new manager will be able to bring something different to the club which will give them a that edge over the previous regime.
There are a number of managers that will already be fearing for their jobs in the Championship. Steven McClaren is one who would hope to be in the top three rather than bottom three. In the relegation zone with him is Bristol City’s Keith Millen who needs a change in fortune if is to remain in charge of the Robins. Chris Hughton has had a slow start at Birmingham, where expectations are always high. There is also Sven-Göran Eriksson, who requires promotion this season if he is to keep his job after spending so much in the Summer.
It was only a matter of time before there was a managerial casualty in a league which is so fiercely competitive, and don’t be surprised if it is followed by a flurry of sackings which reaches double figures before the season is over.