Football Managers: Do Teams get a form boost from appointing a new manager or is it a fallacy?

jurgen klopp with european cupOver the last few years, the football manager market has been one of the most buoyant in sports betting and it can have a considerable effect on a football club and the odds that bookmakers generally assign to them.

One of the biggest changes in football over the last 20 years has been that football club owners and chairmen are becoming increasingly impatient for success. Compared to the eighties and nineties when football clubs would generally stick with a manager for a number of years regardless of a lack of progress, in the modern game, it has almost become solely about results.

The biggest reason to replace a manager is to boost the fortunes of a team, either in the pursuit of honours or to avoid relegation.  It costs club owners a fortune to pay off an old manager and install a new one, let alone the fact they will want to spend a lot of money on their own players, something that can often back-fire if it doesn't work.  Therefore, just how good a strategy is it to replace a manager, do teams actually do better under new mangers and ultimately is it worth it?

In The Past Football Managers Were Given Time

alex fergusonGreat managers in the modern game (though going back as early as the nineties), would very rarely hit the ground running and start getting immediate results. Success after all, takes time. Case in point; Sir Alex Ferguson - when Manchester United appointed the Scotsman in 1986, he was an unproven commodity, especially in what would be considered a highly competitive environment.

It took six years for Ferguson to win his first league title as manager of the Old Trafford side, who had previously been overshadowed by fierce rivals Liverpool; it proves the adage that success, takes time.

There followed arguably one of the greatest periods of dominance in Premier League history and love him or hate him, Ferguson firmly established himself as one of the most revered managers in history.

Throughout the nineties, very few managers came and went with much frequency; at Newcastle United, the late, great Sir Bobby Robson reigned at the northeast side, despite having little domestic success though the Magpies consistently pushed the biggest clubs on a regular basis.

arsene wengerIn 1996, Arsenal hired Arsene Wenger who came into the Premier League equipped with at the time, was considered to be many new and innovative ideas about football and a wealth of knowledge, highlighted by his game changing philosophies about diet and fitness.

For at least eight years, both he and Ferguson went toe-to-toe every year for each domestic honour in what was one of the most fiercest rivalries in modern day English football.

The changing of the guard at football clubs was infrequent, to say the least; even at the lowest level.

Financial Revolution, Billionaires & Changing Landscape

chelsea fanThen, in 2003, a little known Russian oligarch by the name of Roman Abramovich rolled into the leafy, well-to-do area of Chelsea and got the ball rolling. With almost perpetually deep pockets, the businessman transformed a club who was always there or thereabouts into a side of superstars and played a major part in raising the level.

A year later, Abramovich appointed Jose Mourinho as manager; who had just achieved what was considered to be the impossible, winning the Champions League with European minnows (comparatively speaking) FC Porto. Declaring himself ‘The Special One’, he took his swagger to the next level and announced that Chelsea would win the Premier League that season.

This was at a time when online gambling was becoming increasingly popular; odds changed faster as trading teams at bookmakers were able to react more quickly to industry events and alter odds accordingly. Needless to say, combined with Mourinho’s appointment, his bold press conference and number of strong signings, aided by Abramovich’s surplus of millions, the Blues’ odds for the Premier League title plummeted.

Considering that the previous season, Wenger’s Arsenal had become the first team to go unbeaten in a Premier League campaign and lift the trophy, this was some feat. While there had been a major improvement from Chelsea following their new cash injection, the season previously, Mourinho’s arrival changed things dramatically.

fa cup winners chelsea 2007Great managers get the best out of average players and we saw the likes of homegrown stars such as John Terry and Frank Lampard improve significantly; over time, this boosted most of the squad and ultimately had a major effect on Chelsea’s chances in the betting markets.

For two years, Chelsea dominated the Premier League, Wenger’s Arsenal were beginning to fade, though ultimately, envious eyes were being cast south by a sleeping giant; Ferguson’s Manchester United.

At a similar time that Abramovich bought Chelsea, United were the subject of a much-maligned cash injection from a family of American investors, led by Malcolm Glazer. It appeared harmless at the time, though over the next couple of years, his minority shares turned into a full takeover, causing substantial opposition from supporters.

However, the cash that followed enabled United to be able to compete once more in the transfer market. Having invested in a young and unproven Portuguese teenager, by the name of Cristiano Ronaldo plus a medley of quality supporting cast, in the years that ensued, bookmakers would provide even more competitive odds for the northwest side.

Eventually, Mourinho’s reign at Chelsea would come to an end in 2007, despite guiding the club to three Premier League titles, three League Cups and an FA Cup and Community Shield apiece. With Brazilian World Cup winning manager Luiz Felipe Scolari taking the reins, things looked positive for Chelsea once more; their odds stayed competitive, key players were attracted to the club (Deco) and everything seemed promising.

Then, midway through the 2008/2009 season, Scolari who had become known as ‘Big Phil’ to English football fans was sacked after a trophyless season, with progress prohibitive. In came Dutchman Guus Hiddink; Abramovich was setting a precedent.

What was once a steady market in football, managers started to fear for their jobs. Coupled with the fact that other businessmen were following Abramovich’s example, realising that the Premier League was a great, potential investment if they got it right, this became one of the most attractive pieces of ‘real estate’ in the business world to billionaires.

As the saying goes; ‘there is always a bigger bully in the playground’. While everyone thought that billionaire owners was the ‘new sexy’ and status quo for the Premier League elite, no one had thought to think bigger, something which Abramovich certainly didn’t anticipate.

When Manchester City got promoted to the English top flight, it seemed beyond comprehension that a nation state could own a football club. In stepped Sheikh Mansour (full name Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan bin Zayed bin Khalifa Al Nahyan) - a member of the Emirati royal family and deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates. City all of a sudden had a bottomless pit of cash and for all intents and purposes, on paper at least, seemed like they could become unbeatable.

Following a flurry of managers, who were significant upgrades and who had considerable lifts on the team, City were still unable to make a serious dent, despite major improvements on the pitch. They were certainly favourable with bookmakers and given generous odds for each trophy, which definitely spoke volumes.

The Manchester City effect

etihadIt wasn’t until the arrival of Italian Roberto Mancini, which sparked a feel good factor around the football club; all of a sudden, people sat up and began to take notice, though it took a couple of years for him to consolidate his position, with progress being key. Also, compared to Abramovich at Chelsea, whose approach and model was based around instant success, City had implemented a long term plan to eventually become sustainable.

Mancini, meanwhile, got to work and over the next couple of years, they almost became a bookies favourite; the Manchester rivalry was back and with considerable unrest occuring in the red half of the city with supporters fiercely opposing Glazer, while casting envious eyes towards their rivals, they adopted the nickname ‘noisy neighbours’. Soon, the din would be deafening.

In his second full season in charge, Mancini guided City to their first Premier League title in circumstances which could not have been anymore dramatic. It went down to the last two minutes, with both clubs needing wins at least, plus the other team to slip up in order to win.

While United drew away at Sunderland, they had to wait for City to play out injury time at the Etihad who were drawing 2-2 to QPR until Sergio Aguero’s last gasp goal caused scenes on a scale that hasn’t been repeated since.

There is no doubt that Mancini’s arrival at City had a considerable boost on the team; though this would not have been possible without their new found wealth. A year later, he would be replaced by Chilean manager Manuel Pellegrini and his impact was immediate, taking his new side to the Premier League title for the second time in three years, ironically the season before, United won it one last time under Ferguson who subsequently retired on a high.

However, with Abramovich growing impatient at a lack of domestic success, despite an unprecedented Champions League win by unproven manager and former fans favourite; Roberto di Matteo in 2012, the Russian realised once again that he needed to dispose of, yet again, another manager.

corner for man city

Mourinho, who had since won the treble with Inter Milan and led Real Madrid to La Liga glory was re-hired as manager and the effect on the dressing room was not only infectious but immediate. Bringing in just a handful of signings, he had a point to prove and he did just that, with Chelsea sweeping all aside and regaining top spot in English football, at a time when Arsenal were fading, United rebuilding and City regrouping.

Perhaps one of the biggest catalysts in terms of managerial appointments, which made the whole league sit up and take notice was when City announced the signing of Pep Guardiola as manager in 2016, who had won everything there was to win while in charge of Barcelona. Meanwhile, mere months earlier, Liverpool with a new source of investment (another billionaire owner in the Premier League, which had become the ‘norm’ by now) hired the highly charismatic Jurgen Klopp as manager.

Arguably, these two appointments inspire the most intrigue out of any other appointment in Premier League history. Neither of them made an impact immediately in terms of winning trophies, yet the status associated with their names, previous history and management style all had a major contribution to not only the two respective teams, but also how the bookmakers reacted.

liverpool playing in europeIn this instance, it depends how you would measure success, though if you follow the adage that it takes time, with both of these managers, they clearly had a blueprint for the long term which centered around the forming of an identity and gradual improvement. Their bosses were prepared to wait and believed in their philosophies, evidenced by strong track records.

Following the appointment of Guardiola, City rocketed to the head of the bookmaker’s favourites’ pile for every domestic trophy, though, despite going close, it would take another season before they won the Premier League with Guardiola following that up with a second on the bounce, after being pushed hard by an impressively rampant Liverpool team, in both seasons.

A new Premier League rivalry had been born. Liverpool’s inability to win the Premier League during those two seasons was certainly not seen as a failure; it was clear that the Klopp effect was taking place and arguably, not since Mourinho’s initial arrival at Chelsea had a manager had such an impact on his players.

Despite Liverpool reaching the Champions League final the season that Guardiola won his first Premier League title, with them eventually losing out the Real Madrid, Klopp regrouped his players added a couple more in the transfer window and the following season went one step further, while narrowly losing out by just one point to City for the league title.

When New Managers Don't Work Out

you're firedOne of the hardest tasks for a football club is replacing a manager, who has either retired or been sacked due to bad results. Now, with so much money in the Premier League especially, the pressure for teams to perform in order to stay competitive and not fall behind is higher than it has ever been before.

Staying with tradition, Abramovich hired chain-smoking, ex-banker Maurizzio Sarri as Chelsea manager from Serie A side Napoli; an appointment which was met with mixed feelings and which certainly didn’t have much impact in terms of odds. After all, this was typically a deviation from the Russian’s rulebook, after previously only hiring managers with a strong track record who had won a major trophy (with the exception of Di Matteo).

However, the Italian considerably improved former club Napoli and much had been said about his methods, however these were in the grand scheme of things, perhaps a bit too much for this Chelsea team. Constantly changing his system and with peculiar training styles, it soon became obvious that under Sarri, the Blues weren’t up for the challenge of competing for the Premier League and despite beating Arsenal in the Europa League final (European football’s second club competition and a sign of how far they had fallen), Sarri was soon sacked after just one season at the club.

In 2018, Marco Silva arrived at Everton from Watford with a strong reputation as a manager who played attractive football, and with their new found wealth, for all intents and purposes it looked as though the Toffees might push on and realise their potential. While his appointment certainly inspired intrigue among the squad, it soon became clear that this was perhaps a step too far on the ladder for him.

It was evident that his ambitious playing ideas could not be implemented on the pitch and the team simply weren’t able to adjust to both his playing style and management approach. After just over a year in charge, Silva and Everton parted company with the Portuguese manager leaving them in worse shape than they were when he arrived on Merseyside.

Dutchman Frank de Boer, who as a player lit up the pitch, arrived at Crystal Palace in June 2017, following an impressive grounding at Ajax and a mixed experience at Inter Milan. For a side who were looking to push on further in the Premier League, this looked to be, on the face of it, an exciting appointment for the Eagles who needed some fresh impetus and ideas.

While the team were initially enthused by the appointment and keen to play the style of football that De Boer was trying to implement, it became evident, very quickly that cracks which existed already, were just being papered over. Although there was a sense of optimism at first among the team, especially during pre-season, the Dutchman was sacked after just five games in charge, becoming the manager with the shortest tenure at a club in Premier League history, with Palace failing to register a single goal in each of their four league matches.

Clubs That Recieved A Points Boost From A New Manager

ClubDeparted ManagerNew ManagerPoints first 5 PL matches
Leicester City Claudio Ranieri Craig Shakespeare 15
Manchester United Jose Mourinho Ole Gunnar Solskjaer 15
Manchester City Manuel Pellegrini Pep Guardiola 15
Everton Ronald Koeman Sam Allardyce 13 (Undefeated)
Tottenham Mauricio Pochettino Jose Mourinho 9
Chelsea Maurizio Sarri Frank Lampard 8 (Undefeated)
Liverpool Brendan Rodgers Jurgen Klopp 8
Arsenal Unai Emery Mikel Arteta 7 (Undefeated)
Southampton Nigel Adkins Mauricio Pochettino 6
Newcastle United Steve McClaren Rafael Benitez 1

*All statistics taken from Soccerbase

Based on the table above, there are some interesting stats when looking at the first five games based on the hiring of new managers. From the evidence of those clubs who went undefeated during that period suggests that the style of play changed significantly and in the majority of instances, each team tightened their defences.

Perhaps the most surprising is the data from Rafael Benitez’ first five matches in charge of Newcastle. While they were in fact relegated that season, they bounced straight back up the following campaign, winning the Championship at a canter and then had a very respectable first season back in the Premier League.

The same could perhaps be said of Mauricio Pochettino at Southampton - in fact he went on to become one of the most successful managers over the last couple of decades, bringing a brand of football to the south coast club that brought fans in their numbers, while making some shrewd signings.

The Jurgen Klopp Effect on Outgoing Managers

ClubManagerYear
Swansea Francesco Guidolin 2016
West Ham United Slaven Bilic 2017
Fulham Slavisa Jokanovic 2018
Manchester United Jose Mourinho 2018
Everton Marco Silva 2019

There is one manager who seems to carry a curse for Premier League bosses; in fact there are five who have been dismissed immediately after playing against Klopp’s Liverpool over the years.

Conclusion

football tacticsFootball management is a risky business, regardless of how big you are and it is certainly one of the most unstable jobs in sport. While there is the cushion of having a big payoff should you be sacked by a big club, there is still your reputation to consider and whether you will get a similar position again.

Bookmakers will always view the football manager market with intrigue and it is little surprise as to why the ‘sack race’ (the next manager to be sacked) market is so big, though conversely, the amount of traction that hiring a new manager creates, especially from the perspective of assigning odds for winning particular trophies is concerned.

On the evidence, it would be fair to suggest that overall, the majority of teams who hire a new manager do receive a boost, which is usually demonstrated in that team’s subsequent success on the football pitch and that, for at least the foreseeable future, is unlikely to change.