Chelsea dominate list of ten most ruthless manager sackings during a Premier League season

·9-min read
Southampton fans back Nigel Adkins after his post-Chelsea sacking Credit: PA Images
Southampton fans back Nigel Adkins after his post-Chelsea sacking Credit: PA Images

Thomas Tuchel should have a solid support group to join upon his merciless Chelsea demise. A baffled Sir Alex Ferguson features twice.

 

10) Nigel Pearson (Watford, July 2020)
The Watford managerial model was almost entirely established on the sort of shaky foundations that a revolving door policy encourages. It culminated in their last two Premier League seasons being guided by three managers each, of whom only Roy Hodgson was not sacked. And he was allowed to remain until the bitter end on the sole basis that he was skulking back into retirement come season’s end and the Pozzos are anarchists but not animals.

Before Xisco Munoz, Claudio Ranieri and Hodgson steered them back into the Championship, an awkward but intriguing threesome was formed by Javi Gracia, Quique Sanchez Flores and Nigel Pearson, with Hayden Mullins given the mop and bucket on two separate occasions as caretaker.

By the time the Hornets had sacked Gracia and Flores – the second time for both – Watford had beaten only Norwich in their opening 14 games and were bottom, seven points adrift of safety.

Pearson dragged them back into the race with victories over Manchester United and Wolves, while ending Liverpool’s 44-game unbeaten, 18-match winning and Invincible hopeful run.

But there was “big frustration”, “upset”, “anger” and general confusion when the club parted with Pearson two games before the campaign finished. Watford were three points above the relegation zone ahead of games against Manchester City and Arsenal yet the manager, who had contracted Covid that March and lost his mother to the disease in January, was shown the door.

 

9) Sam Allardyce (Blackburn, December 2010)
“He phoned me at 3.10pm today saying ‘can I have a cup of tea tonight?’ because he was coming to the game. Then he phones me at half past four and says ‘I’ve been sacked’. I’ve never heard of such a stupid decision in all my life, it’s absolutely ridiculous. I don’t know what they’re doing up there, but deary me.”

Sir Alex Ferguson seemed more furious at the prospect of six guaranteed points a season being jeopardised by the sacking of Sam Allardyce, but there was genuine disbelief as new owners Venky’s P45’d the big one just 25 days after their takeover.

Allardyce had taken over at Ewood Park two years before, spending precious little but guiding them away from relegation in his first half-season, finishing 10th and then being given the boot in 13th.

“We have taken this decision as part of our wider plans and ambitions for the club,” read a club statement at the time. Within 18 months they were Championship-bound under Steve Kean.

 

8) Roberto Mancini (Manchester City, May 2013)
Boy meets girl. Boy is already in relationship with another girl. Boy dumps that girl for new girl. Boy and girl happily spend three-and-a-half years together. Boy buys girl Yaya Toure and David Silva. Boy gets bored of girl. Boy finds different girl. Boy dumps girl.

Roberto Mancini came to Manchester City in acrimonious circumstances regarding his predecessor. He heralded a period of great and dynasty-forming success. He experienced an understandable drop-off. He publicly wondered, after a shock defeat to Wigan in the FA Cup final, “why the club didn’t stop” speculation which suggested they were planning to appoint Manuel Pellegrini as his replacement. He was sacked within three days, two games from the end of the Premier League season. Manchester City announced Pellegrini as their new manager exactly a month later.

 

7) Mark Hughes (Manchester City, December 2009)
They say to never trust a cheater and perhaps Mancini should have taken more notice of the clinical way in which Mark Hughes was dispatched by Manchester City.

Barely 90 minutes after engineering a 4-3 win over Sunderland in December 2009, Hughes was sent packing by Manchester City as confirmation of a woefully-kept secret. The entire build-up to the game focused on an exclusive in The Sun that claimed he was a goner regardless of the result, with chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak flying in to deliver the news personally.

That rigor mortis jolt of a victory left Manchester City sixth, eight points off second with a game in hand, having lost just twice in 17 Premier League games. “I’m sorry for Mark but when we start this job, this situation is possible,” said a cold-blooded Mancini at his unveiling press conference.

 

6) Roberto Di Matteo (Chelsea, November 2012)
March 4, 2012: Chelsea sack Andre Villas-Boas and place assistant manager Roberto Di Matteo in temporary charge until the end of the season as first-team coach.

April 24, 2012: Gary Neville really enjoys a Fernando Torres goal.

May 5, 2012: Chelsea win the FA Cup.

May 19, 2012: Chelsea win the Champions League.

June 13, 2012: Chelsea appoint Di Matteo to a permanent two-year deal as manager and “the right man to lead Chelsea on to further success”.

November 21, 2012: Chelsea sack Di Matteo.

A shoddy defence of their European crown did it for the Italian, whose uncomfortable chat with Roman Abramovich came a day after the Blues were condemned to a Champions League group-stage exit in defeat to Juventus. But Chelsea were third in the Premier League, four points off leaders Manchester United. It was a touch harsh.

 

5) Nigel Adkins (Southampton, January 2013)
Back when the name Matt Le Tissier and the phrase “a bit of a laughing stock” were not necessarily linked with the simple addition of an ‘is’, the Southampton legend led the tidal wave of fury against Nigel Adkins’ dismissal in favour of Mauricio Pochettino in January 2013.

“I’m shocked at the timing, it’s very strange and it’s an odd thing to come to terms with,” Le Tissier said of the decision, conspiratorial seeds planted in a susceptible mind.

“It’s a crazy world we’re in and some strange things happen in the world of football, but it does seem unfair,” was Sir Alex Ferguson’s take.

‘Nigel Adkins stabbed in the back by Southampton as Argentina Mauricio Pochettino steps in as manager,’ was the nonsensical headline to a Henry Winter evisceration.

“With due respect to Pochettino, what does he know about our game?” wondered Lawrie McMenemy, before adding: “Everybody will be feeling sorry for Nigel Adkins.”

Adkins had marched Saints up to the Premier League from League One and then clear of the bottom three little over midway through their first season back in the top flight. His name was chanted by supporters at 2-0 down during his last game, which Southampton managed to claw back to a 2-2 draw against Chelsea.

But off he went, replaced by naive rookie Pochettino. Neither he nor Adkins are in work almost a decade later. The similarities end there.

 

4) Thomas Tuchel (Chelsea, September 2022)
He who merrily drinks from the poisoned chalice cannot usually feign surprise at such a toxic reaction. But being given a summer budget of about £250m does usually suggest you’ll have more than a week or so to start seeing results.

 

3) Chris Hughton (Newcastle, December 2010)
“What he said was the club wanted to go in a different direction, and that was it,” was Chris Hughton’s recollection of his parting conversation with Newcastle director Derek Llambias.

“He did not explain what the different direction was and I didn’t ask. The conversation didn’t even last two minutes. Did it come as a shock? Yes, it did. Our target was to stay in the top division and we were mid-table. I had hundreds and hundreds of messages from supporters who couldn’t quite understand it either. They felt it was unjust.”

Hindsight does not make the decision particularly clearer. After Newcastle dropped to the Championship in 2009, Hughton was there to pick up the pieces. He steered the ship to a 102-point title-winning season and, upon promotion, some headline results: a 6-0 win over Aston Villa, a 1-0 victory at Arsenal, a 1-1 draw with Chelsea, a 5-1 thrashing of Sunderland.

Yet in the comfort of mid-table, it was decreed that football’s nicest man was traded for Alan Pardew. Sake.

 

2) Ruud Gullit (Chelsea, February 1998)
The wires between Ruud Gullit and Chelsea remain crossed. As recently as April 2021, the former stated his belief that he was “stabbed in the back” by the Blues, who mistook his frequent trips back to Holland to visit his sick mother as regular partying visits.

Back when the decision was made to replace one player-manager with another, Gullit for Gianluca Vialli in February 1998, the Dutchman spoke of being “astounded” at reading the news on Teletext.

Vialli himself admitted he was “amazed” and “confused” at the “unusual” turn of events.

But Chelsea, third and in a genuine title race by this stage of the season, aired their side through director Colin Hutchinson, who claimed that despite offering “a contract which we believe would have made him the best-paid manager in the Premiership, we were not able to meet what he wanted and expected”.

Gullit had won the FA Cup nine months before and guided Chelsea to the Cup Winners’ Cup quarter-finals and League Cup semis, but that “betrayal” still stings.

 

1) Claudio Ranieri (Leicester, February 2017)
Leicester themselves described it as an “admittedly painful” but ultimately “necessary” course of action. The Foxes had not scored in six Premier League games, claiming only a point from fixtures against Middlesbrough, Chelsea, Southampton, Burnley, Manchester United and Swansea. The reigning champions were 17th, a point above the relegation zone and sliding.

It was a remarkably brave and ferociously unpopular call from owner Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, who would have felt justified when Leicester won their next five consecutive games to pull clear of trouble.

But 292 days separated the sight of Ranieri holding back the tears while being serenaded by Andrea Bocelli with the Premier League trophy in the foreground, and the Foxes taking him out back and telling him to look at the flowers. They should have let him drag them down into the sodding Combined Counties League if he wanted, reciting his favourite quotes along the way.

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