Study reveals managers' fates are sealed after nine games - and that Arsene Wenger should go

Jason Burt
The stats suggest Arsene Wenger should leave - AP

Football clubs will know after just nine games whether a manager is going to succeed, according to a model devised by experts at the Henley Business School.

It also found that a “super-elite set of managers” has emerged who the biggest clubs need to employ, usually only for a relatively short time, and the theory suggests this is the first season when there is a sound argument for Arsène Wenger to step down at Arsenal.

Using the analytics model, it can also be concluded that the Chelsea strategy of hiring and firing managers has worked and should be followed by other big clubs and that Leicester City were correct to sack Claudio Ranieri.

The study, “The performance of football club managers: skill or luck?”, has been produced by Professor Adrian Bell, associate dean (international), along with finance Professor Chris Brooks and Dr Tom Markham at the business school and the approach could provide clubs with the data they need to decide a manager’s future.

Premier League manager safety index

The work has already led to inquiries from clubs and its accuracy is based on using a financial model known as ‘bootstrapping’. “It is an econometric, to ‘tighten the bootlaces’ and see what is driving performance,” Bell says, explaining that, in analysing 60 managers over the seasons between 2004 and 2009, they took into account factors such as wage bill, transfer budget, television and gate money, playing in European competition and players being absent through injury and suspension. They awarded managers points for each game so that performance can be assessed on ability alone. “We route that game by game and ask what can be the expected outcome,” Bell adds.

‘Bootstrapping’ compares the manager’s actual performance against predicting what the team’s performance should have been and then compares it to how 10,000 ‘imaginary’ managers would have done. “Top five per cent are outperforming, bottom five per cent are underperforming and in the middle they are just doing OK,” Bell says.

“We could decide within nine games. We saw trajectories formed from day one and they were quickly established. You can see whether they are going to go up, down after those nine games.”

Managers who the model ‘likes’ include Mark Hughes, Martin O’Neill, Sam Allardyce and David Moyes – when he was at Everton, which brings the study on to another interesting conclusion.

The list of managers who the model 'likes' include Sam Allardyce Credit: REUTERS

“There was no manager better than Moyes at Everton,” Bell says. “So why did it go wrong at Man United? You have got to think about what he’s like as a manager and he’s a manager who does very well with a particular type of team. But when he got the bigger resources and the bigger ‘baggage’ that you get at Man United he was not able to motivate those players in the same way as a Jose Mourinho should be able to. So therefore you need someone at those clubs who is used to these resources. You can’t just drop in somebody who has never managed a club like that before.

“So what you are looking at now is a super-elite set of managers who can do the job and you don’t need them for very long. And that is what is happening in England now – you have these five or six managers who can do the job and they don’t need very long. And then you get rid of them. And the only reason clubs don’t do that is because they can’t afford to.”

The success of such a rapid turnover has been felt at Chelsea, in particular. “So 2004-2016 you have Chelsea against Arsenal and Arsenal have a model where they have kept the manager – the manager has kept the board happy, the fans happy, up to now, moved to a new stadium but just won two FA Cups,” Bell says.

“Look at Chelsea, same period, they have had a series of managers and won the Champions League, the Premier League four times and so on. But how much have they spent in compensating managers? Mourinho, alone, first time he went was about £18 million. Arsenal did not want to do that. Chelsea had success and don’t care.

Roman Abramovich is not afraid to sack a manager Credit: REX FEATURES

“Now that Arsenal are not in the top four it could be Wenger does not deliver on this for the first time. On this basis, it would follow that he should indeed step down.”

The model also shows that Leicester were right to sack Ranieri. “Considering the resources and constraints of Leicester City, my view was that the team were not performing to expectation,” Bell says. “The primary strategic aim for Leicester must be to stay in the Premier League at all costs – and this cost includes the negative reaction from sacking their manager as nobody is untouchable or irreplaceable in the context of their strategy.”

Bell is sensitive to accusations that the model is, effectively, calling for managers to be sacked and shows some were actually got rid off prematurely. “The model would help at the bottom end because the managers there would have something to back them up,” he argues. “They can say, ‘Look at the resource you’ve spent, the players have got injured, suspended, annual wage bill and income and actually I am doing “expected”. Give me a bit longer and I will get you up the league’.”

There are, though, some damaging findings for the managerial trade.

“There are some managers where you are almost better off having a monkey at the side of the pitch waving his arms because they are actually having a negative response from their players,” Bell says. “A manager doing nothing at all can perform better than they are doing.”

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