23 May ~ David James is said to be interested in taking over from Avram Grant as Portsmouth manager. James could be a good fit for the club – if anyone is likely to know what the Portsmouth players need to do, it could be the man who has been standing behind them for the past four years. For the player, however, taking the job could be a disastrous career move. James is not short of job prospects.
He has his own charitable foundation that trains and sponsors students in Malawi. He is also a budding artist, a journalist, an environmental campaigner and an international goalkeeper. If James spent any time picking over the League Managers Association's review of the season, which was released earlier this week, he might consider eschewing the idea of management altogether.
The prospects do not look good for ex-players considering a job in management. The LMA found that the average tenure of a league manager is only two years. Worse still, sacked managers are only given 1.4 years to prove themselves. The high turnover is particularly troubling for first-time bosses – half of those sacked from their first job are never offered a second. The omens do not look good for James, a fact spelt out by the sober words of Richard Bevan, the LMA chief executive: "Thirty five of our members have lost their job in the past season. This statistic is not only worrying for the individuals themselves but also for the staff and fans of their respective clubs. More worrying is that the average tenure of those managers that were dismissed this season has reached an all-time low by comparison with other years. In simple terms, managers are being given less and less time to deliver."
This season has seen more than its fair share of casualties on the managerial merry-go-round. Mark Hughes at Manchester City, Gianfranco Zola at West Ham and Phil Brown's consignment from Hull City to his back garden were all agonised over by the press. But the Premier League is actually a relatively safe place for managers. The sheer cost of sacking a top-flight boss (see Rafa Benítez) has made the Premier League the least volatile of the four divisions. Unfortunately for James, the same cannot be said for the Championship. While a Premier League manager can expect to remain in his job for 3.46 years, his counterparts in the Championship are only afforded 1.44 years. Peterborough, who finished bottom of the division, contrived to employ four managers across the season.
If he does opt to take the job at Portsmouth, James could be a success. Alex Ferguson, the longest-serving manager in the league, has been at Manchester United for the past 24 years – long enough to witness 969 dismissals elsewhere. Pundits like to hold up Ferguson as an example to football chairmen. They argue that by sticking by their managers, clubs are rewarded with success. The logic is repeated after every dismissal – usually by Alan Hansen – with Ferguson, Arsène Wenger and David Moyes pulled out as convenient examples. As he considers his future, James might well take hope from the careers of these purveyors of the trade. But, if he had any sense, he would get out his easel or go and open a nice seaside pub.