Why only two Premier League managers have been sacked this season
Last season, the Premier League featured more managerial departures than ever before.
Scott Parker, Thomas Tuchel, Graham Potter, Bruno Lage, Steven Gerrard, Ralph Hasenhuttl, Frank Lampard, Jesse Marsch, Nathan Jones, Patrick Vieira, Antonio Conte, Brendan Rodgers, Graham Potter (again) and Javi Gracia all left or lost their jobs. And that’s not counting an interim boss, Cristian Stellini.
The Premier League has become accustomed to several managerial departures a season, which would have seemed odd in the first Premier League season, 1992-93, when only one manager, Chelsea’s Ian Porterfield, was dismissed. It summarises the impatience in modern top-level football but also says something about the nature of a manager’s job these days. Whereas English clubs used to have ‘general managers’ who bought and sold players and largely played the same system every week, now recruitment is largely out of their hands and their job is about preparing the squad tactically for individual matches.
Managers have, for better or worse, become more disposable.
But wait a second — this season, there have been only two departures. Sheffield United sacked Paul Heckingbottom and re-appointed his predecessor, Chris Wilder, while Nottingham Forest parted company with Steve Cooper and appointed Nuno Espirito Santo.
But we’re more than halfway through the season, so what’s the reason for Premier League clubs being so much more patient than last season?
Well, there are a couple of important bits of context to consider from last season — Chelsea, in the early days of the Todd Boehly era, were effectively responsible for three departures. Sacking Tuchel meant Brighton lost Potter, then Chelsea ended up sacking him anyway. Both Leeds and Southampton also made bad mid-season appointments, with Jones and Gracia not lasting the season.
But the real key is the performance of the promoted sides.
First, let’s take a look at the positions clubs are in when they part company with a manager, starting from 2012. It’s no surprise that clubs towards the bottom of the table are more likely to pull the trigger, but the extent to which sackings are concentrated among the bottom four clubs is striking.
Using data from 2012 onwards, managers in 17th place have been sacked as many times as managers in 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th combined. To put it another way, 63 per cent of managers are dismissed when their side is in the bottom four places. Sacking a manager is almost always about trying to retain your place in the Premier League.
A key feature of this season is that the three promoted clubs are unusually weak. Only once in the Premier League era have all three promoted sides gone straight back down — 1997-98, when Barnsley, Bolton Wanderers and Crystal Palace were relegated. There is a reasonable chance of that happening again, with Sheffield United and Burnley in the relegation zone and Luton Town in 17th.
That, inevitably, means fewer clubs are looking over their shoulder nervously. The 10-point deduction handed to Everton, who are consequentially battling against the drop rather than comfortably mid-table, also comes into play here.
Promoted clubs are less likely to sack their managers. Heckingbottom lost his job, but the likes of Vincent Kompany and Rob Edwards have credit in the bank from their promotion successes last season and might be well-placed to achieve a second promotion if required.
The collective struggle of the promoted trio is a stark contrast from last season when Fulham, Bournemouth and Nottingham Forest were all competitive and all eventually stayed up, which meant more of the existing 17 Premier League clubs felt inclined to sack their managers as they slid closer to the relegation zone.
Is that pattern obvious over a longer period?
Taking the promoted clubs’ points tally after 10 Premier League fixtures (which is long enough to get a sense of how competitive they are) and plotting them against the number of total managerial departures per season produces an interesting pattern. The better the promoted trio start a season, the more managerial departures occur across the league.
The pattern isn’t perfect – there was a notably low number of departures during the Covid era when fan discontent was less audible and when appointing managers from overseas was logistically complex. The figure for 2023-24, meanwhile, is obviously provisional.
But the correlation is pretty convincing. Clubs haven’t suddenly become more patient this season — they just have less reason to panic.
(Top photo: Jon Hobley/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)