Gary Rowett must know he does not have long. Around 18 weeks, if the Derby chairman’s form is anything to go by. Just ask Paul Clement. Or Nigel Pearson.
Derby are in their ninth consecutive season in the Championship and their appointment of Rowett to replace Steve McClaren this week means that when they face their bitter rivals Nottingham Forest on Saturday the fixture will feature two new faces in the dugouts for a fifth time in succession – a run that stretches back to January 2015. On that occasion, McClaren – then in his first spell at Pride Park – lost out to Stuart Pearce 2-1 before gaining revenge almost two years later in his second spell with a 3-0 win over Philippe Montanier.
At least he got two goes at it. Pearson never did in his short-lived tenure as he became one of Mel Morris’s three victims since the Candy Crush tycoon assumed control of the club in September 2015. Darren Wassall, the caretaker, moved back to his post as academy director after an 18-match spell in charge (six more than Pearson was given) but such loyalty has proved the exception rather than the rule to an owner who gobbles up managers faster than Pacman.
Things are not much better 14 miles away. At the end of this season, it will be 24 years since a teary Brian Clough left the City Ground dugout for the last time. Having guided Forest to successive European Cups in 1979 and 1980, Clough ended his 18th season on 1 May 1993 with a 2-0 defeat by Sheffield United which sealed relegation.
Barring brief revivals under Frank Clark and Dave Bassett and three seasons in the wilderness of League One between 2005 and 2008, the second tier is where Forest have remained ever since. Of the clubs now in the Championship, only Ipswich, who are in their 14th successive season, have been there longer.
This week’s confirmation that Mark Warburton will be Forest’s 34th permanent manager, to replace the caretaker Gary Brazil, meant there have been four more appointed since Clough’s final match on that emotional late spring day as there were in the previous 86 years of the club’s history. But far from being isolated cases, Forest and Derby’s quickfire turnover of managers is a trend that has become the norm in the division that never sleeps. Warren Joyce’s sacking by Wigan made him the 14th manager to leave his post this season – one third of all the departures from the top four divisions.
“We are concerned by the high turnover of managers, especially in the Championship where we continue to witness an alarming hire-and-fire culture,” says Richard Bevan, who has been the chief executive of the League Managers Association since 2008. “Football management, like any other leadership vocation, requires time and support in order to develop talent. There is currently too much talent lost to the game.
“Whilst this culture clearly comes at a personal cost to the managers and coaches, their families and the careers of which they dedicate their lives to, there is also a significant cost to the game, as this instability is not healthy nor conducive to the long-term success of the clubs.”
The numbers appear to bear him out. Whereas the average tenure for a manager across the top four divisions is around 1.3 years, that is threatening to dip to below a year in the Championship once more. At present only 11 of those employed by Championship clubs have reached that landmark, with Mick McCarthy leading the way having been appointed by Ipswich in November 2012. Simon Grayson, who took over at Preston in February 2013, is second.
“The statistics prove the clubs that are successful are careful in the appointment of their managers and then provide them with time to achieve the long-term objectives of the club,” Bevan says. “Time is the rarest commodity in the game. [Managers are] simply not being given the time to deliver.”
With the finish line in sight and owners getting twitchy, there is still a danger the record of 20 dismissals set in the 2014-15 season could be surpassed. Derby, Wigan and Rotherham have each changed manager twice this season, with Aston Villa, Cardiff, Queens Park Rangers, Blackburn and Birmingham – who replaced Rowett with Gianfranco Zola and have plummeted down the table – the others to have pulled the trigger.
As in previous years, the pattern of dismissals is spread across three distinctive stages of the campaign: the end of October/start of November, mid-March and, finally, in the close season.
“During the previous two seasons, 39 managers were dismissed in the Championship and a further 13 dismissals have occurred this season,” Bevan says. “In addition, a significant and largely unreported number of backroom coaching staff have also lost their jobs as a direct result of this short-termism. These statistics highlight how difficult it is for managers and coaches to be successful and build teams in one of the most volatile leagues within European football.”
The LMA offers managers and coaches legal support to assist them when they are dismissed and has called for a standard contract to be introduced to avoid some of the disputes which often arise. But with the chase for the Premier League more lucrative than ever, the cases will only keep on coming for the lawyers.