History and trends in the Premier League sack race
It is safe to say that job security is low on the list of reasons to become a manager but the Premier League sack race attracts plenty of interest with punters.
In more than half of the 30 seasons to date, at least one manager has left their job within the first 10 matches. Who will be the first to depart in 2022-23?
We have analysed the reigns of every manager who left their job during a Premier League season due to either being sacked, resigning or leaving by “mutual consent”.
There are 166 top-flight bosses who meet these criteria, which excludes caretakers, departures during the summer or those who left for another job.
How often do managers get sacked?
Between five and six managers leave their job under these circumstances in an average Premier League season, although this number is increasing over time. Over the last five campaigns (2017-18 to 2021-22) a total of 37 have departed: a rate of more than seven per season.
This is a sharp rise from the first five years of the Premier League in which 18 managers lost their job: equivalent to fewer than four per season.
Last season was only the third in Premier League history that saw 10 permanent managers leave their posts. The other two were also in the last decade – 2013-14 and 2017-18.
Watford were the only club to dismiss multiple managers in 2021-22, with Xisco Munoz sacked in October and his replacement Claudio Ranieri shown the door in January.
The changing of managers did not pay off for the Hornets or their fellow relegated clubs – Norwich and Burnley – who got rid of long-term bosses Daniel Farke and Sean Dyche.
The early sackings of Steve Bruce and Nuno Espirito Santo paid off for Newcastle and Tottenham respectively, with Eddie Howe leading the Magpies to safety and Antonio Conte guiding Spurs to Champions League qualification.
Manchester United fans were less enamoured with their managerial change, as caretaker Ralf Rangnick struggled to improve on the results achieved by predecessor Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Arguably, the jury is still out for Aston Villa, Everton and Leeds, who sacked Dean Smith, Rafael Benitez and Marcelo Bielsa respectively. Their replacements secured Premier League safety but finished no higher than 14th.
When do sackings happen?
Managerial departures that occur during a season are most likely to happen in the middle of a campaign, with chairmen attempting to strike a balance between having enough time to assess their side’s form and giving their new manager sufficient time to make an impact.
The hotspot is in the second quarter of the season – between matchweeks 11 and 20 – in which around 40% of all dismissals take place. A further 29% depart during a smaller late-season flurry between games 21 and 30.
The peak times for getting rid of a manager are after 12 and 29 matches. These roughly coincide with the November and March international breaks, which can provide a bit of extra leeway for recruiting and bedding in a successor.
It is rare to see chairmen pull the trigger early, with only 13 permanent managers having left their job after five games or fewer of a Premier League season.
Kenny Dalglish was sacked by Newcastle after two drawn matches in 1998-99, with chairman Freddy Shepherd recruiting Ruud Gullit as his successor. Paul Sturrock also managed just two games in 2004-05 before leaving Southampton by mutual consent.
More recently, Javi Gracia was sacked by the trigger-happy Pozzo family at Watford after four games of the 2019-20 season, while Frank de Boer ‘won’ the Premier League sack race when he was shown the door at Crystal Palace within 77 days in 2017-2018 following four straight defeats.
Who gets the most managers sacked?
Matches against Southampton have proved fatal for 14 managers in Premier League history, more than any other club. Games against Liverpool have preceded 12 sackings, ahead of Man City and West Ham on nine.
Saints boss Ralph Hasenhuttl has seen his opposite number sacked on five separate occasions, a record only matched by Jurgen Klopp among current managers. The Austrian has seen his counterparts dismissed at almost twice the rate, however – in 138 games compared with Klopp’s 258.
Aston Villa’s Dean Smith became the latest victim of the Hasenhuttl curse in November of last season, when his side lost 1-0 at St. Mary’s in what proved to be his final match in charge.
A 2-0 home defeat against his Southampton side was also the final straw for relegation-bound Sheffield United last March, with Chris Wilder dismissed shortly afterwards.
Apart from Hasenhuttl and Klopp, Leicester’s Brendan Rodgers and Tottenham’s Conte are the only other current managers to have precipitated more than one departure in the English top flight.
Does sacking a manager help?
Over the history of the Premier League, a club’s chances of climbing the table after changing managers have been the same as a coin flip.
Of the 166 sackings, resignations and departures by mutual consent, exactly half saw the club’s league position improve by the end of the season.
The other half, though, were almost evenly split between no change and a further fall, so there has only been a one in four chance of the decision backfiring.
A change of manager has rarely worked out for teams chasing Champions League football though.
There have been 10 occasions in the competition’s 30-year history in which a club that finished in the top four the previous season decided to change managers while sitting lower in the table, but only one of these gambles paid off.
Chelsea were eighth when they dismissed Frank Lampard after 19 games in 2019-20, but his replacement Thomas Tuchel was able to steer the Blues back to a fourth-placed finish.
When should a club sack their manager?
While early sackings are usually accompanied by fans and pundits complaining that the departing manager should have been given more time to turn things around, the data suggests that it is better to pull the trigger early if things aren’t working.
Of the 166 departures we analysed, 33 occurred between a club’s eighth and 12th games of the season and almost three-quarters (24) saw the club go on to improve their league position.
This includes Liverpool bringing in Klopp to replace Rodgers after eight games in 2015-16 – which proved a master stroke even if they only rose from 10th to eighth that season – and Tottenham replacing Mauricio Pochettino with Jose Mourinho, who steered them from 12th to sixth in 2019-20.
Compare this with clubs making a change following their 26th match of the season or later – of the 43 departures in this category, fewer than a quarter (10) saw their league rank improve.
It is especially important to act early if a team is struggling against relegation. Of the 73 clubs who changed managers while in the bottom three, there were 29 who managed to climb out of it.
Of those survivors, all but two made the change in the first half of the season, with more than half of those who did so going on to avoid relegation.
This leaves just two successful managerial changes among the 25 clubs that waited until the second half of the season to act, and both gave their new boss at least 13 games to work with.
Southampton clawed their way back up to 18th in a 22-club table in 1993-94 after replacing Ian Branfoot with Alan Ball in January, while more recently Aston Villa’s dismissal of Paul Lambert in February 2015 saw them rise to the safety of 17th under Tim Sherwood.
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