9 June ~ The last month has seen half a dozen managerial appointments in the Football League. Another will be announced today when my team, Oldham Athletic, confirm Paul Dickov as their eighth manager in ten years. The events at Boundary Park will not be the biggest news of the week, but they are an illustration of national trends.
Dickov's first managerial job is as a replacement for Dave Penney, an experienced, well-qualified manager given just one season to achieve success. Penney arrived with a reputation, built mainly at Doncaster Rovers, of getting results with limited resources. He had also survived a turbulent environment at Darlington, emerging with his reputation more or less intact. By contrast, postings on message boards and letters to the local press point to poor signings for the Latics, although there is a grudging acknowledgment that he had little luck with injuries.
For many of the letter writers, his biggest crimes were a lack of passion and failure to inspire his team. The giveaway for this was, apparently, that he watched most games with his hands in his pockets. Looking to the future, one letter welcoming Dickov's appointment summarised "fan requirements" as the ability to instil into the team "honesty, passion, commitment, guts". Dickov, nicknamed "the wasp" by his former manager Joe Royle, has to encourage his new team to play in the same irritating way if he is to be successful.
The idea that changing the man at the top will lead to improvement isn't restricted to supporters – it's clearly crossed the Boundary Park board's mind several times in the past decade. More than that, statistics from the League Managers' Association show that 36 clubs came to the same conclusion last year and dismissed their manager. Another 15 managers resigned, although some of those departures will have been deals to avoid dismissal. Over 380 managers have been sacked in the last ten years, with a further 87 resignations. Over the same period the average tenure for dismissed managers has declined from 26 months to just 17.
The trouble with this particular silver bullet is that it doesn't work, as last season's statistics show. Of the 12 clubs relegated last season, ten had changed their manager. Conversely, of the 16 clubs that finished in the top four of their respective league, only three had made changes. That stability is more likely to bring success is not a surprise, but it seems to be a difficult lesson for clubs to learn.
As a first-time manager, Dickov can draw some encouragement from predecessors at Oldham. Joe Royle, who led the club to the Premier League, and Iain Dowie, who made the play-offs in his first season, were both first-timers. More daunting is the fact that of the managers dismissed last year, 12 were first-timers – on average given just 14 months to make their mark. It took Royle more than a season or two to make an impact and in the current climate he would have been long gone before he led his side to promotion. Worse still for Dickov is that managers dismissed from their first job have only a 50:50 chance of ever getting another job as a manager.
There are some lessons here for Paul Dickov. The first is to sew up the pockets on his tracksuit trousers. The second is that there are already some great cheap flight deals for January 2012. If things go badly the statistics say he may have time on his hands around then to take that winter break. Brian Simpson