The Agenda: Has the era of stability in football come to an end?

Chief sports writer Mark Douglas examines whether football's stability philosophy has suffered a damaging blow with the sacking of David Moyes

Clive Mason/Getty Images David Moyes, who was sacked from his position of Manchester United manager
David Moyes, who was sacked from his position of Manchester United manager

It was uttered with, presumably, the best of intentions.

“You can’t keep changing your manager if he has a bad run – it doesn’t make any sense at all,” said Derek Llambias in September 2012, with Newcastle United basking in the afterglow of their fifth-placed finish the previous season.

Emboldened by a campaign that had run so smoothly that it had prompted acclaim for Newcastle’s pared-back approach, he continued: “If you look at clubs like Manchester United and Arsenal, Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger have shown that stability gives you the best platform to achieve success and that is the model we wish to emulate here.”

Just as clubs had started to deploy their scouts to French stadiums to try to ape United’s efficient approach to recruitment, so Llambias anticipated a few others would follow Newcastle’s lead if this worked out.

Eighteen months on, Pardew’s eight-year contract hangs like a millstone around the club’s neck. Llambias is gone, Sir Alex has retired and his successor – appointed with a contract to rival Pardew’s – has been sacked less than nine months into his tenure after a disastrous spell that has seen Manchester United plunge to their lowest point in the Premier League era. What’s more Wenger has endured the roughest days of his 18 years at Arsenal.

Suddenly “stability” – that watchword of not only Llambias but also the League Manager’s Association and their protective Chief Executive Richard Bevan – does not seem as fashionable as it once was. The longer Pardew is given by a board that no longer challenge Ashley’s decision making, the more resolute the club are in the face of criticism, the harder it seems to get for them.

Four recent managerial changes that appeared to fly in the face of the longevity theory would suggest that there can be merit in freshening things up.

The first, the sacking of Kenny Dalglish, was made with a lack of sentimentality that surprised Liverpool supporters. Dalglish had fallen short of expectations but commanded the affection and respect of his supporters. The Anfield powerbrokers believed younger, fresher candidates might add impetus to the club and now, under Brendan Rodgers, they stand on the verge of their first title for 24 years.

Mauricio Pochettino replaced Nigel Adkins at Southampton, who had done – by all accounts – a more than adequate job at St Mary’s. Executive chairman Nicola Cortese could be an abrasive and controversial figure but he had recognised the need for someone to lift the Saints into a different bracket at an important stage in their development.

Ben Hoskins/Getty Images Nigel Adkins, former Reading manager
Nigel Adkins, former Reading manager
 

The flourishing of Southampton’s young players and likely top-10 finish in only their second year back in the Premier League suggests there was merit in that decision.

Roberto Martinez might have come in as the result of an enforced change at Everton, but new ideas and approaches have buoyed the Toffees. Similarly, Tony Pulis’ departure at Stoke has not – as predicted – diminished the Potters’ top-flight status.

The key theme that runs through all of these successful managerial changes is that the clubs had reached a crossroads. Stoke had just dallied with relegation, Southampton had a crop of promising stars on the brink of breaking through who needed a certain type of manager to oversee their development and Liverpool had once again fallen well short of their Champions League aspirations.

A decision had to be taken in every instance about whether the manager in charge was the right candidate to see the club through that transition period. In every example they decided on a change and that call has been backed up by progress.

At Old Trafford, it was all about the money. They took a long look at Moyes’ body of work and made the call that he could not be trusted with the players that he would be bequeathed in the close season.

At Newcastle, it is the same on a slightly less lucrative scale. The Magpies will not have the £120m that Manchester United officials seem to be suggesting will be available to their manager, but this is an unprecedented close season of change for the club and it might well be that the manager’s longevity is actually hampering him.

At St James’ Park things seem loose. There are players, like Hatem Ben Arfa, who are openly challenging the manager now. The squad were off on Monday and were again scheduled to be off today. Are there new ideas being communicated to the players? Would an alternative voice really be such a bad thing?

Pardew’s capacity to change things from the position that he has now appears limited. Even if he did re-imagine the football principles which seem pretty well-ingrained, could he really do it anyway?

The stability mantra is over because the era of the manager-ruler is over. Gus Poyet bristles at Sunderland because he is only the head coach of the club, but that is a deliberate statement from owner Ellis Short, who has grown frustrated at the way his previous managers have demanded authority but failed to back it up with success.

Lee Congerton is there because Short wants stability without having to attach himself to the whims of a man who might not turn out to be any good. At certain points he has seen his players stop listening to their manager – and wants to reserve the right to freshen things up.

Just as impatience and panicking at the first sign of trouble is not the answer, neither is throwing an eight-year contract at someone a recipe for success and neither is persevering with a manager who has run out of ideas and credibility.

Preaching stability is missing the point and, as Manchester United have emphatically made clear, it is the candidate not the length of contract which brings success.

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer