The Agenda: Does stability really bring a club success?

Lack of direction, not stability, has hurt Newcastle United and Sunderland since Arsene Wenger's appointment argues Mark Douglas

Sunderland head coach Paolo Di Canio
Former Sunderland head coach Paolo Di Canio

For Newcastle United, the figure is 18. For Sunderland it is a slightly more palatable 13.

The North East’s managerial hotseat has been more like an executioner’s chair in the years since Arsene Wenger began building an empire in North London.

An ever-changing cast of the good, the bad and the frankly quite mad has filed through the doors of the Stadium of Light and St James’ Park, none of whom come close to replicating the success the Frenchman has had in 1,000 games.

A pertinent statistic for those who promote stability as the answer is that Wenger has three Premier League titles and four FA Cups to his name while Sunderland and Newcastle have conjured nothing. “I am always pleading for stability,” Wenger said last week.

“You could say I’m pleading for myself. I always think that technical stability is important, but it will become more and more difficult, because in every game there is a trial happening now – on what has the manager done right and wrong.”

It is a point supported by Richard Bevan, the chief executive of the League Managers’ Association, who has long claimed that stability is the key to sustained success in football.

But scroll through the list of North East managers since 1996 and you would struggle to come up with many who deserved more time than they got. For all the disdain that trigger-happy chairmen are treated with, can you make a case for many of the dismissed Sunderland and Newcastle bosses?

Newcastle have had 18 managers, both full-time and interim. Of those, Kevin Keegan, Sir Bobby Robson and Kenny Dalglish came close to winning a major trophy, while Chris Hughton won the second-tier title. Keegan left of his own accord so scratch him off the list while Dalglish had Newcastle languishing in 13th place, having frittered away some of the goodwill of the Keegan era. A new direction was required.

Action Images / Craig Brough Norwich City Manager Chris Hughton
Norwich City Manager Chris Hughton
 

Hughton was hard done by but there was clear logic behind his dismissal. Newcastle’s board felt they needed a bolder man; someone who might take the club on quicker than the former Tottenham defender.

For all the regard he is held in at St James’ Park, few would make a convincing case to have Hughton back in charge if Alan Pardew left tomorrow. All of which leaves Sir Bobby.

Over at Sunderland it is an even harder task to find someone jettisoned too early. Mick McCarthy operated with both hands bound by ridiculous financial constraints but results were not forthcoming, while Martin O’Neill’s sense of injustice at losing his job was not backed up by the position he left Sunderland in. Progress was thin on the ground.

As unpalatable as it might seem to some supporters given his subsequent Black Cat baiting, Steve Bruce might have deserved more time at the Stadium of Light. The ship was listing badly on his watch, but the job he has done at Hull proves that there is more substance to him than others who have preceded or followed.

It is worth remembering this the next time stability is put forward as a philosophy that must be clung to. Those who point to Sir Alex Ferguson and Wenger as examples that persevering is the fast-track to success ignore one salient fact: both of those clubs got the right man. In the North East, too often we have backed the wrong horse. Paolo Di Canio was given the keys to the castle by Ellis Short but it was apparent from an early point that his regime was a disaster waiting to happen.

West Ham United and former Newcastle United manager Sam Allardyce sits in the dugout at St James' Park
West Ham United and former Newcastle United manager Sam Allardyce sits in the dugout at St James' Park
 

Sam Allardyce was just a bad fit: both in terms of personality and playing style. Both clubs faced accusations that they had pushed the panic button after those sackings – but they were the correct decisions. The problem that is common to both clubs is that too often they have lacked a coherent strategy from the top. Alan Pardew has been handed an eight-year contract and a long-term remit but he has radically different ideas to Graham Carr, the club’s influential chief scout.

It has created a disconnect at St James’ Park. Technical, creative players have been brought from overseas when you suspect that at times, Pardew would prefer a physical persence in certain areas. Wenger, by contrast, has dictated the Gunners’ direction in the last few years. It is now a club with a clearly defined philosophy which comes directly from Wenger.

The North East clubs have tried recently to rectify this by appointing directors of football but even then it feels like they have done it reluctantly and half-heartedly.

Neither Roberto De Fanti nor Joe Kinnear – thankfully – lasted past the New Year. But what does that say about the judgement of those who actually appointed them?

We are in a different era now from the one that Wenger started in. Roberto Martinez has noted a change in management culture in England.

The days, he suggests, of the all-powerful manager are on the wane and that is to the detriment of the Premier League. He argues: “As a manager, if you are going to be a manager and not a head coach, you need time to put your ideas across, to manage your budget, to develop players for the short and long term.

“We shouldn’t be copying other leagues, we should be preserving the British tradition.”

Stability can be hokum anyway. It is true that Arsenal and Manchester United have enjoyed success but so have Chelsea, who have had 15 managers since Wenger walked through the door.

Liverpool, enjoying their finest season since the days of Rafa Benitez, can hardly be accused of mis-stepping when they appointed Brendan Rodgers in the wake of Dalglish’s sacking either.

The simple fact is that it is good judgement – rather than stability – which brings success.

Journalists

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