“To sack or not to sack? That is the question.” – Hamlet (probably)
When should a club sack its manager? In the coaching carousel of today’s “modern football,” this has become the multi-million-dollar question (quite literally). This question impacts the bottom line for clubs in a way that seems to be glossed over by many fans.
After seven matches into the 2019-20 Serie A campaign, AC Milan has sacked Marco Giampaolo after a 3-0-4 start, adding up to just a nine point total. This marked the shortest tenure in AC Milan history (111 days).
The ink was hardly dry on the two year deal he signed in June, which saw him making over $2 million a year, the seventh highest in Serie A, when he was let go. Fans of today’s game rarely exhibit patience. After all, it’s a results-oriented business, process be damned. Club executives display even less restraint when it comes to pulling the plug on a man with a whistle.
While sacking a manager may see immediate results, it often ties up a club’s finances, handcuffing a club’s ability to make the types of long term moves that can positively alter a club’s trajectory. In Italy, clubs are required to keep a fired manager on their books until their contract expires or another club buys them out.
Giampaolo, a victim of this carousel, was the eighth Milan coach fired in five years. At this point, Milan may as well keep a line in their yearly budget to pay managers not to coach them. Perhaps Milan will see a bump in short term results; but the reality is, another coaching change simply puts a reset on what seems to be a new project every year.
Milan are simply the latest in this trend that seems to grow worse every year. Chelsea are on manager number 10 in eight years. Real Madrid are on their sixth manager in six years, currently on go around number two with Zinedine Zidane.
In May of 2015, Real Madrid infamously sacked Carlo Ancelotti less than a year after winning the Champions League and UEFA Super Cup. How can the man nominated as one of three finalists for the 2014 FIFA World Coach of the Year become so dispensable in a matter of months?
So, when should a club effectively move on from their manager? I’ve struggled with this question lately with my own club, Lazio. Inconsistency can be the shortest road to a fan’s failed heart; and Lazio are usually reason number one for any strain on my life sustaining organ. But at what point should I give up on Simone Inzaghi? The answer to this complicated question can’t be limited to three simple responses, but I’m going to do just that.
Do the players still play for their manager?
At the end of the day, Calcio is a player’s game. It’s an 11 v 11 tactical game that is played on the field. The beauty of the game comes with 11 individuals rowing in the same direction in order to accomplish the same result. The number one function of a manager is to motivate and mould these talented individuals to see out results. Before sacking a manager, the question must be asked, “Do our players still buy into the Coach and are they motivated to move forward?”
Are there signs of progress?
Results are the outcome of hundreds of hours of rigorous work and carefully sculpted processes. Think Donatello’s famous bronze statue of David. Unfortunately, in today’s modern era of quick fixes and cheap results, we’ve ignored process. The result is less Donatello’s David and more Emanuel Santos’ bronze Cristiano Ronaldo. Before sacking a manager, the question must be asked “Is the manager, his players, and his system evolving and growing? Against the winds of negative results, is there progress on the pitch?”
Who is the replacement?
As David Amoyal, Calcio writer and host of Calcioland Pod, always says, “It’s easy to fire a coach. It’s much harder to find his replacement.” The grass is always greener on the other side…until it’s not. Before sacking a manager, the question must be asked, “Is there an adequate replacement available?”
In truth, there is no clear-cut answer to when a club should sever ties with their coach. Every club has unique ambitions, relationships with supporters, and ownership structures. I’d simply urge fans and club executives to exercise a little patience, or, at the very least, ask themselves these three simple questions before taking a ride on the coaching carousel.