What Is The Average Tenure Of A Football Manger?

alex fergusonThe idea of a football manager remaining in their jobs shouldn’t be as surprising as it is. Yet in the modern game the people at the top of most football clubs chop and change the person in the dugout almost as often as teams are given new kits to wear. There can be many reasons for a change of manager, but in most cases they’re not really well thought out.

Clubs that are succeeding don’t tend to sack their managers very often, meaning that it’s the sides that aren’t doing very well that decide to pull the plug. If the new manager also struggles it’s rare for clubs to do a root and branch investigation, instead just blaming the person in charge of the team, sacking them and getting another manager in in the belief that a new manager will boost their form.

Betting on when managers will be sacked has become one of the most popular special bets available for football.  Therefore we look here at how long managers last on average as well what leagues see the most dismissals.  We also look at the men that have lasted the longest in the English game and what made them special.

Average Manager 'Lifespan'

SeasonManagers SackedManagers ResignedSeason Average Dismissed#Season Average All*
2017-2018  54 11   1.18 Years  1.53 Years
2016-2017  44 19   1.16 Years  1.66 Years
2015-2016  58 15   1.29 Years  1.47 Years
2014-2015  47 17   1.23 Years  1.64 Years

Data from the League Managers Association statistics, covering all professional English Leagues

# Season average dismissed is the average tenure of all sacked managers

* Season average all is the average tenure of all current managers at the end of that season.

arsene wengeBack in the 1960's the average tenure for a top flight manager was an astonishing (by today's standards) four years.  As money has flooded into the game, however, and commercial pressure has mounted the average time a manager spends at professional clubs has decreased steadily over the decades with the average now being just over one and a half years.  When you then take out longest serving managers from those calculations it means the average manager can expect to be in their job for only around the length of one season.

Prior to the 2010's the Premier League actually had a longer average tenure for managers compared to lower league clubs.  This is partly due to the added promotion pressures in the lower leagues as well as managers moving from lower league to higher league clubs as they gain experience and reputation.  Interestingly around 2010 this began to change and since then all English leagues have a similar average tenure.  Again, taking out the longest serving managers (who typically all manage top clubs), means the Premier League tenure rate for the typical manager is now lower than most other English professional leagues.  Overall the Championship has the lowest average manager 'lifespan'.

Looking at the average lifespan for managers that are dismissed, rather than all managers, the average is much lower.  Showing that managers that are dismissed tend to have shorter tenures than those who resign, i.e. success breeds success.

In terms of clubs there are currently five clubs that have had more than 30 managers since the start of the 1992-93 season, the Premier League era.  These are Crystal Palace (35 managers), Oldham Athletic (33 managers), Coventry City, Nottingham Forest and Queens Park Rangers (all 32 managers).  There are only four clubs that have had less than 5 managers in that time; Salford City (3 managers) and Morcambe, Forest Green and Manchester United (all 5 managers).

Which Leagues Sack The Most Managers?

chart of football manager dismissals tenure by league

As shown in the chart above the total number of managers dismissed per season has been generally increasing from 2005 to 2018.  The total number of managers sacked in the 2005-06 season was 40, in 2017-18 that increased to 54, the biggest season for sackings was 2015-16. 

Most of this increase can be explained by increased sackings in the Premier League and the Championship, with League One and League Two relatively stable over the period looked at.

Longest Serving Managers

ManagerClubTime In Charge
Sir Alex Ferguson Manchester United 26 Years, 7 Months
Arsene Wenger Arsenal 21 Years, 7 Months
David Moyes Everton 11 Years, 2 Months
Harry Redknapp West Ham United 6 Years, 9 Months
Rafael Benitez Liverpool 5 Years, 10 Months
Alan Curbishley Charlton Athletic 5 Years, 9 Months
Sam Allardyce Bolton Wanderers 5 Years, 8 Months
Gérard Houllier Liverpool 5 Years, 6 Months
Jim Smith Derby County 5 Years, 2 Months
Sir Bobby Robson Newcastle United 4 Years, 11 Months

For somewhat obvious reasons, we’ve decided to keep this list limited to managers in the relatively modern era. That isn’t to say that they all have to have started managing in the Premier League, but rather that there’s little point in considering managers that were in charge during the era when they were little more than figureheads.

We’ve also decided to look at managers that have remained at the same club for the longest period of time. A manager could have been in the job for fifty years, but if they spent one year at fifty different clubs then that’s not exactly a sign that they’ve done anything other than managed to sweet-talk the people in charge of hiring and firing.

Sir Alex Ferguson

There’s no questioning the undisputed king of long-serving managers. If you look at his overall management career, which began at East Stirlingshire in 1974, you’ll see that he took charge of more than two thousand games during his career. He finished it with a win ration of 58.1%, though things weren’t quite that rosy at the start of his time at Manchester United.

The club that he would later go on to make the second-most successful in English football after Liverpool were reportedly within 90 minutes of sacking him. No win in 8 games meant that the Red Devils were faced with the prospect of a relegation battle; something that the people in the directors’ box felt was entirely unacceptable.

We all know what happened next, of course. He defeated Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup, then went on to 13 Premier League titles, 5 FA Cups, 4 League Cups and 2 Champions Leagues. What he achieved in the Premier League era is unlikely to ever be topped by a manager at a single club, such was his longevity and ability to re-invent himself and his team.

Arsene Wenger

Arsene Wenger is actually the longest serving manager of the Premier League era, but he’s still five years behind Alex Ferguson in terms of overall time in charge of one club. The Frenchman is widely regarded as being the person who changed the face of British football, arriving at Arsenal at a time when the club was known as being ‘boring’ and uninspiring.

He changed the Gunners from a defensively-minded side into one that played beautiful, possession-based football. Though he lost his spark towards the end of his career, he kept on winning trophies almost until the moment that the he jumped before he was pushed. Not bad when you consider that he arrived at Highbury with a mediocre reputation.

He’d won a league title in France as well as a cup there and cup trophies in Japan, but neither were massively respected leagues at the time. Regardless, he went on to win three top-flight titles in London in addition to 7 FA Cups. One of his Premier League titles saw Arsenal go undefeated for a season, which no other club had achieved since Preston North End in 1888-1889.

David Moyes

At an Everton supporters pub near to Goodison Park there’s a sign with a cartoon picture of David Moyes declaring, “You don’t need trophies to be a winner”. Just as well as far as the Scot is concerned during his time on Merseyside, given that he barely won a Merseyside derby, let alone one of the English cup competitions.

To focus on a lack of silverware belittles the things he did achieve, however. He arrived at Everton when the Blues were perennial relegation candidates, regularly fighting at the bottom of the table simply to stay in the top-flight. By the time he left he’d made them a top-half side, even managing to finish in the Champions League and European places more than once.

Such was his standing in the game that he was the person that Alex Ferguson felt was the right man to take over from him at Old Trafford when he eventually retired. His fellow Scotsman started off well, winning the Community Shield, but was sacked before the end of the season. Regardless, he’s still viewed by many Evertonians as their best manager of the Premier League era.

Harry Redknapp

‘Arry, as Harry Redknapp is affectionately known to people in the game, is often thought of as being something of a journeyman manager nowadays. Little wonder when you consider that his list of clubs includes Portsmouth, Southampton, Portsmouth again, Tottenham Hotspur, Queens Park Rangers, Jordan and Birmingham City.

Ask a football fan to name a long-serving manager at a simple club and Redknapp’s name would almost certainly be nowhere near the top of anyone’s list. Yet before be became the wandering manager who would rock up wherever was paying, Redknapp was a loyal man. He spent 9 years managing AFC Bournemouth before taking up the manager’s spot at West Ham United.

The spell at Portsmouth only fails to make the list because it wasn’t during the Premier League era, but his near seven years at the Boleyn Ground gets him the recognition his long career deserves. Having played for the club for three years in the 1960s, he sat in the manager’s seat and led the Hammers to a UEFA Intertoto Cup victory in 1999.

Rafael Benitez

Has Rafael Benitez been the Liverpool manager during almost any prior era of the Premier League, the Spaniard would almost certainly have won the Merseyside club at least one title. Instead, he was appointed in 2004, just as Chelsea had been taken over by Roman Abramovich to muscle their way into the title-winning conversation alongside Manchester United.

Even so, he landed on Merseyside with a reputation of being someone who could achieve the improbable, having beaten both Barcelona and Real Madrid to the Spanish title not once but twice. When his Liverpool team won the Champions League in ludicrous circumstances in 2005, when they came from 3-0 down to beat AC Milan, he then won the FA Cup the following year.

Sadly in-fighting amongst the owners of the club as well as a lack of success on the pitch in the 2009-2010 campaign meant that his time at Anfield was drawn to an end sooner than many people felt it should have. He went on to win trophies with a host of other clubs including, somewhat ironically, Chelsea and AC’s city rivals AC Milan.

Alan Curbishley

It says something about Alan Curbishley’s personality that he’s only managed two clubs in his career. The first club he was asked to take over as manager of was Charlton Athletic, being appointed player-manager in 1991. Initially he was in the role in a joint capacity alongside Steve Gritt, not taking sole control until June of 1995.

All told he enjoyed 15 years at The Valley, doing enough to ensure that many Addicks supporters consider him to be one of the club’s best ever managers. He took the club into the Premier League via the play-offs at the end of the 1997-1998 season, defeating Sunderland in a penalty shoot-out after a 4-4 draw in the match proper.

Despite two Manager Of The Month awards in his first Premier League season, Charlton were relegated. He took them back up by winning the Championship the next year and soon established them as a regular Premier League fixture. It was only after his departure that the Addicks once again crashed back down out of the top-flight.

Sam Allardyce

Nowadays Sam Allardyce is seen as something of a joke figure by many football fans. He was forced to leave his ‘dream’ job as manager of the England national side after just 67 days in charge when he was caught as part of an undercover newspaper investigation. Whilst he left the job with a 100% win record, he was only actually in charge for one match.

‘Big Sam’ might be something of a gun to hire in the modern era, but having cut his teeth as a manager at Limerick, Preston North End, Blackpool and Notts County, he took everything that he learnt and implemented it all at Bolton Wanderers. His success allowed him to remain Bolton manager for nearly six years, including a First Division Play-Off win in 2001.

The most impressive thing about Allardyce that many younger people might not realise is that he was, in his own way, a revolutionary manager. The football they played might have been pragmatic and not particularly attractive, but he used science and techniques that are considered standard nowadays yet were very much ‘new fangled’ at the time.

Gérard Houllier

That there are two Liverpool managers on this list goes some way to explaining how the Merseyside club has long ignored the desire of many to chop and change managers as soon as the going gets tough. Even Houllier’s arrival is indicative of this, considering that they Anfield hierarchy didn’t quite have the stomach to sack Roy Evans outright.

Instead the Frenchman was brought in as joint-manager initially, taking sole charge of the side when the former Boot Room boy decided that having two bosses was confusing for the players. Houllier’s experience was exclusively in France before his arrival on Merseyside, though he had an affinity with the club after standing on the Kop as a school teacher in Liverpool.

There’s no question that his most successful season with the Reds was the 2000-2001 campaign, during which time he led them to an unprecedented treble. The League Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Cup were all considered to be much more prestigious competitions than they are nowadays when he led Liverpool to victory in each of them, with half a million people turning out for the victory parade.

Jim Smith

Given the manner in which we’ve spoken about other managers on this list as being ones that have taken charge of numerous different clubs, it’s only right to point out that Jim Smith was the definition of a ‘jobbing manager’. Prior to taking over at Derby County in 1995 he had been the manager of eight different teams. These included the likes of Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle.

He would go on to manager at five more clubs before his retirement from football, including returning to Portsmouth and Oxford United. It’s his time in charge of Derby County that we’re most interested in, though, not least of all because it was double the length of virtually all of his other managerial spells at six years.

He managed to get the Rams promoted out of the First Division and into the Premier League at the end of the 1995-1996 campaign, being named Manager Of The Month in the November of his first top-flight campaign. That he’d managed to take Derby up at the first time of asking was not something that was missed by the club’s supporters, who love him to this day.

Sir Bobby Robson

Few managers are as widely respected in the game as Sir Bobby Robson. He began his managerial career in 1968 with a brief stint in charge of Fulham before 13 years as Ipswich Town manager earned him a shot at the England job. He spent 8 years in charge of the Three Lions, though things would have been different had the FA accepted his resignation in 1984.

That came after England failed to qualify for the European Championships, but he stayed in his job and might have won the World Cup in 1986 if not for Diego Maradona’s now infamous ‘Hand Of God’ goal. He enjoyed stints at PSV Eindhoven, Porto and Barcelona after that, giving one José Mourinho a job at the latter club, before taking over at Newcastle in 1999.

A son of County Durham, he was loved at St James’ Park and won six Manager Of The Month awards during his time on Tyneside. Though he didn’t win any silverware with the Magpies he is still considered to be one of their best managers of the modern era, if for no other reason than no one else won any trophies with them either.