In the sporting world, perhaps nothing makes a bigger statement that changes are needed at a team than when a coach or manager is fired. In North American leagues, the firing of managers is fairly common and usually predictable. Mike Shanahan of the NFL’s Washington Redskins, Peter Laviolette of the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers and Dusty Baker of MLB’s Cincinnati Reds are a few of the many managers and coaches relieved of their duties over the last year. Failure to make the playoffs, a string of bad games, underperforming players or a total collapse of a season can all lead to a high profile firing. Often the firing seems unfair but that’s the life of a manager; it comes with a target attached firmly to your back. ‘Across the pond’ in England’s Premier League, the situation is similar. There a manager’s fortunes can turn quickly, one day a hero the next a villain.
On Sunday April 6th, Premier League side Norwich announced that their manager, Chris Hughton, had been sacked. Hughton’s removal came after a 1-0 defeat to West Bromwich Albion which leaves Norwich in 17th position, just one spot above the relegation zone. Hughton’s firing probably caught no one by surprise. The Canaries had been on a terrible run of form lately and have, so far, only taken 32 points from a possible 99 this season. The club’s board made this move to reportedly “give the club the maximum chance” to avoid relegation to the Championship and stay in the Premier League for next season. The task seems nearly impossible for Hughton’s successor as Norwich face the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea in their final matches this season.
The recent Premier League sacking raises questions surrounding other managers in the league. The following list addresses several EPL managers who are currently facing considerable pressure to keep their jobs. Some will not surprise you at all but every one of them is potentially facing the axe at the end of the season.
5 Felix Magath – Fulham
In reality, any one of the managers at the relegation-threatened clubs could be included in this list. Fulham’s current manager, Felix Magath, makes this list because of leadership instability and the fact that out of all relegation-threatened teams, the London club are the current longest tenured Premier League side, having been in the top flight since 2001.
Magath is the third manager Fulham have had this season, replacing Martin Jol and Rene Meulensteen. The German born manager isn’t new to high pressure situations. In the Bundesliga, he developed a reputation for ‘fixing’ problems and stabilizing teams. Most notably, Magath took Wolfsburg to the top of the Bundesliga in 2009. Over the years, he has developed a reputation for being able to do much with a small budget. He also has a reputation for very strict, sometimes ruthless, training and discipline methods. With these qualities and reputation it is unsurprising that Fulham’s owner, and mustache aficionado, Shahid Khan hired Magath to salvage the team’s season and premier League status.
Magath’s start to his Fulham career has not been spectacular. With two wins, one draw and four losses, the new manager’s team sits in 18th position. That said, with the exception of facing Tottenham, Fulham’s final games are against clubs from the bottom half of the table. Expectations for Premier League survival will be high and if Magath fails to keep the club up, expect Khan to sign off on the manager’s pink slip. After all, as Family Guy’s Peter Griffin famously stated, "with great mustache comes great responsibility."
4 Tim Sherwood – Tottenham
Have you ever seen the movie Dead Man Walking? When Tottenham sacked manager André Villas-Boas in December 2013, Tim Sherwood was installed as the Spurs’ new manager. Sherwood’s 18 month contract, the team’s average league position and an army of high-priced, underachieving players all made this undertaking the football equivalent of a suicide mission.
Sherwood is not new to the Premier League. He has played for a host of clubs and won the league title with Blackburn Rovers in 1995. As a former Tottenham player and first team coach, under Harry Redknapp, he understands the club and its fans. So far, Sherwood has managed Spurs for 17 league matches, claiming 32 points out of a possible 51. He has been credited with stabilizing the club and helping current players, like striker Emmanuel Adebayor, rediscover their form. Unfortunately, this is likely not enough to satiate the demanding club Chairman, Daniel Levy.
Tottenham aspire to be a ‘big-four’ club. Champions League football is the goal and Levy has made it clear that falling short of this goal has its consequences. Juande Ramos, Harry Redknapp and Villas-Boas have all found this out. Redknapp actually led the club to 4th place in 2012 but was sacked anyways because Chelsea (who were 6th) won Champions League, thus bumping Spurs from the last qualifying spot. Despite spending the most in 2013, Tottenham currently sit 7th in the league and a top-4 finish again looks unlikely. With names like Frank De Boer and Louis van Gaal being thrown around in the press, Sherwood has to know that his days are numbered at White Hart Lane.
3 Alan Pardew – Newcastle
This one may surprise some people but many fans, especially the Geordie faithful, will know there has been growing criticism of Pardew around St. James’ Park this season. Recently in the news for his $265,000 fine and three-game suspension, Pardew’s leadership is coming under scrutiny as Newcastle sit 9th in the league, having suffered a series of embarrassing defeats.
Alan Pardew arrived at Newcastle in 2010, ironically after the firing of Chris Hughton. Support for the new manager was initially mixed but grew over the next two years as he assembled a capable team which included players such as Yohan Cabaye, Demba Ba and Papiss Cissé. Eyebrows were raised in September 2012 when Pardew was rewarded with an 8-year contract extension. Nonetheless, he continued performing well and brought in more quality players in January 2013, including Mathieu Debuchy and Moussa Sissoko.
However, Pardew’s season with Newcastle has slowly been deteriorating. In addition to issues of personal discipline already mentioned, he has watched his team under-perform and rack up a series of defeats over the previous months. Since December 4th of 2013, Newcastle have won just 7 of their last 20 league matches. During that same period, in 11 league losses, the Magpies were outscored 29-0. This included big home losses to Sunderland, Tottenham, Everton and Manchester United. Pardew’s tactics and use of certain players has come into question and fans are starting to become more vocal. Club owner Mike Ashley adds the final wildcard to this equation. Unpredictable at best, Ashley’s decisions in the past have left fans stunned and angry. In such an atmosphere, even with an 8-year contract, one wonders how long Pardew will have a place at St. James’ Park.
2 David Moyes - Manchester United
Now we get into the really divisive stuff. David Moyes’ appointment to replace the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson split the opinions of fans everywhere. In fairness, no one available could have truly filled the shoes of the departing Scot. Fans will point to other managers, like Jurgen Klopp or Jose Mourinho, and ask why these more successful managers were not taken on board? Sir Alex reportedly picked Moyes as his successor and told the United faithful on the last day of the 2012/13 season to stand by the new manager.
While not a great manager by any stretch of the imagination, Moyes was a good and solid all-around manager during his time at Everton. With limited funds and resources, he created a team which became a consistent top 10 finisher, challenging for European places and even finishing above rivals Liverpool last season. With Everton, he was named Manager of the Month 10 times. It was expected that Moyes would take time to adapt to his new team but with the defending champions Manchester United sitting in 6th place, many fans are openly questioning him. United have never finished lower than 3rd in the Premier League and the thought of ending the season outside of the top four with no Champions League football is not going over well.
Highlighting a generally disappointing season has been the below average defensive and midfield displays, the performance of summer transfer Marouane Fellaini and the loss of the fear-factor United had under Ferguson. Old Trafford is no longer the fortress it once was and Moyes has crashed to defeat there at the hands of West Brom, Everton, Newcastle, Tottenham, Manchester City and Liverpool. The few glimmers of hope have been the performances of keeper David De Gea and forward-midfielder Wayne Rooney. Without their contributions, it is likely Moyes, and United fans, would have a lot more gray hair and sleepless nights.
Will Moyes be out at Old Trafford come next season? Popular opinion seems to change from week to week depending on team performances. There will always be a core of fans who will stand by the manager no matter what. Additionally, Moyes has support in the boardroom, although reportedly this has somewhat diminished over the past months. The team wants stability and that means sticking with their new manager for more than a season. Of course, with images of Sir Alex and Bobby Charlton shaking their heads in disapproval from the stands and the likelihood that United will not be playing Champions League next year, there is a real possibility that David Moyes could be searching for a new job come the end of May.
1 Arsène Wenger - Arsenal
In September 1996, Arsène Wenger was appointed manager of Arsenal. Relatively unknown to most fans, the Frenchman went about revolutionizing the English game and creating an Arsenal side which achieved much over the following ten years. Wenger introduced new methods of training, scouting and player development. He inherited an Arsenal team with a very strong defense and added more attacking and creative players. Double-winning sides of 1997/98 and 2001/02 culminated in the ‘Invincibles,’ the team which went an unprecedented 49 games unbeaten and won the 2003/04 league title.
Since 2005, however, Arsenal haven’t won a major honor and with each passing year the frustration of the fans increases. The team plays attractive football and could provide periods of greatness, but Wenger's teams never provide the consistency needed to win a title or cup after 2005. Top four finishes have been on the cards every year since, yet the last few seasons have come down to the wire as Arsenal are facing more and more challengers for a coveted Champions League position, while making little ground on the title contenders.
This season has possibly seen the tipping point come. Despite the possibility of another top-four finish and an excellent chance to win the FA Cup, the first major trophy in 9 years, certain results and a recent slide in form have caused serious concern among fans. The inability to beat a very poor United side was compounded by three massive away losses to title rivals; 6-3 to Manchester City, 5-1 to Liverpool and 6-0 to Chelsea. Matters were made worse by a recent 3-0 thrashing by 5th place Everton. Die-hard supporters and those afraid of what could come with the end of the Wenger era point to underperforming players and injuries as reasons for the downturn. Unfortunately, the players were all selected by Wenger and the lack of depth in the club has been well known since the summer transfer window opened. To make matters worse for ‘The Boss,’ the excuse of limited funds is no longer there, removed by the £42.5 million purchase of midfielder Mesut Özil.
So will Arsenal fans see the back of Wenger this summer? Some have argued Arsenal need him while others have argued that the league has long moved beyond Wenger and Arsenal should look forward, not back. If Arsenal finish outside the top four and fail to win the FA Cup, Wenger will likely go. Even if Arsenal achieve 4th place and the FA Cup, it’s not guaranteed that he’ll stay. Recent performances and the fact that Wenger hasn't signed a contract extension suggest he may leave on his own terms at the end of this season.