The Premier League begins Friday. By Sunday, at least one manager will be rumored to be in trouble “if results do not improve.”
It is one of the enduring truths about soccer that managers are meant to be fired, and a hell of a lot quicker than their contemporaries in American sports. It’s insanely hilarious, and something the Yanks should consider, at least on the general manager level. (Those guys are way too comfortable because they get to sit right next to the owner all the time and badmouth the employees with impunity.) One of the best ways to market bad seasons is with carnage, and in a league where only the top six places really matter, carnage can be a 70-percent solution. If a couple of committed franchise operators would stick a couple of their heads on pikes just on a whim, the others will take the hint.
In Europe, and certainly in England, the manager already has been given the hint. A few can clear the bar based on résumé or time served, but most of them will see the reaper in the rearview mirror at some point this year because that’s the way it works. I have no easy way of determining how many former Premier League managers are getting paid off at this moment (you think I’m Henry Winter, for God’s sake?), but I want to believe at least a few are being paid by multiple teams. A small army of Charlie Weises would amuse me for reasons I prefer not to get into at this point.
To bring the analogy a little closer toward port, American coaches usually don’t get into trouble until year three (Steve Wilks in Arizona being a rare exception), and some even get to lose with staggering and club-endorsed regularity and survive (Brett Brown in Philadelphia), while Premier League managers don’t need much to provoke the audience. Ole Gunnar Solskjær was a longtime hero at Manchester United as a player and even more so when he was hired to replace the ever-toxic Jose Mourinho. He was named Premier League manager of the month in his first actual month, won 10 of his first 12 games and was hired full-time, but by the end of the year most pundits were questioning the decision to give him the contract at all.
He’s been a coach for 32 weeks. He’s on the hot seat.
Steve Bruce got hired 17 days ago at Newcastle United by Euro-strangling manager Mike Ashley after the job Rafa Benitez had quit in frustration had sat vacant for 38 days. He barely knows his team, and he’s been the manager at seven others.
He’s on the hot seat, too.
Indeed, you can make a compelling case for all except the following gents to be croaked or rumored for croakage:
- Eddie Howe, Bournemouth (seven years at a tiny club holding its own among the dreadnoughts, plus he still looks 9 years old).
- Frank Lampard, Chelsea (30 days on the job, but too big a name for Roman Abramovich to dismiss immediately; I’d say Boxing Day 2020, depending on results).
- Jürgen Klopp, Liverpool (a deity after winning the Champions League; he stays until Bob Kraft names him to replace Belichick).
- Pep Guardiola, Manchester City (see above, only find-and-replace Champions League with Premier League and Kraft/Belichick with Jerry Jones/Jason Garrett).
- Mauricio Pochettino, Tottenham (though I wouldn’t guarantee his safety quite so stridently based on desirability elsewhere and goofy ownership).
- Nuno Espirito Santo, Wolverhampton (think Matt Patricia’s beard but a sense of joy about his work).
That means 14 teams will have a coaching issue at some point this year, either real, imagined, or just rumored on slow news days. The NFL has at best six, MLB maybe five and the NBA six, tops. The NHL has had 15 coaching changes in two years, but they’re due for a slowdown. The Premier League does this every year. Chelsea has had 15 coaches in 16 years, Crystal Palace has had 10 in six, Leicester City is on its sixth in two-plus years, and only four years ago won the league as a eighty-billionty-zillion-to-1 shot.
This is just part of the deal: the manager is on life support the moment he is given life because that’s the way business is done.
In truth, this is all very cynical and unpleasant. These are people who have devoted their lives to the game, reached its pinnacle and probably deserve to be treated better for all that effort. But they don’t, because they work for people who view all employees the way a carpenter views a hammer—or maybe a nail—and the media and fans have accepted that to be a cruel yet immutable truth. They accept the conditions that prevail and adapt their toil and fandom to meet that reality. Continuity is for the weak; firing folks for the hell of it is the act of a responsible billionaire, and demanding firing is the very minimum standard for a fan or media member. They may be on to something.
Or they may serve as a reminder that most American team operators are disgustingly patient because their income is essentially guaranteed. Maybe all we need is relegation, and I know everybody’s up for that, right?
Ray Ratto wants more firings because he is just a small and unpleasant person. We hate him.