It’s a bit depressing to be highlighting this as an anomaly but here’s an interesting statistic for you: in the Championship, every one of the top 10 clubs have the same manager now as they did at the start of the season.
You might say that stands to reason, that clubs don’t sack coaches who are going along nicely, but the point about this season is that with one exception, changes in the Championship have made no significant difference.
Derby are higher up the league with Steve McClaren than they were with Nigel Pearson but they’re still a long way from the play-offs. Aston Villa have never been in the running under Roberto Di Matteo or Steve Bruce. The one really effective call, at least in the short term, was the appointment of Neil Warnock at Cardiff City. Cardiff were relegation fodder before he went there. Once again, he’s doing what he always does.
Tonight Leeds United go to Birmingham City, a club who took the plunge before Christmas by sacking Gary Rowett and taking Gianfranco Zola as manager. I can’t explain the logic of that any more than you can, except to say that owners are sometimes seduced by names and reputations, and it’s very difficult to defend that change 15 games later.
I never worked with Rowett but I’ve spoken to players who have and he gets a very good rep. How annoyed would Birmingham’s squad have been to see him leave in the way that he did? It’s a hard question to answer without being on the inside.
When a team’s going well you have this picture in your head of this wonderful team spirit and all-for-one attitude but that’s a slightly naive viewpoint. Players who play every week usually have a fondness for the manager who’s picking them.
Players who aren’t involved – and at times in my career I found out what that felt like – can be quite encouraged by a new broom and a clean slate.
All the same, I think I’d have been fairly mystified by it all. The job Rowett was doing seemed to be universally respected and there must be players at Birmingham who are wondering what that sacking was all about.
I saw Gary quite soon after he left St Andrews, when we worked together as pundits for Sky during a game at Reading. He was quite honest about his experience at Birmingham. The thing about management is that every day you’re dealing with problems, answering questions and keeping the show on the road.
Personally I think a lot of that taps into the ego a manager has and deep down it’s what they like but I was interested to hear Gary say that the only plus point of being out of a job was the ability to turn off all the white noise. I suppose we all need a rest at some stage. But a few months on, I bet he’s desperate to get back in the saddle.
The same will have been true when Garry Monk took over at Leeds last summer. A lot of people questioned his sanity – and I have to say that the biggest surprise of the managerial changes in the Championship is that Leeds don’t feature amongst them. For a while it was almost a given that a manager at Elland Road would go at some point in every season but the job’s a bit of a drug and when you see how well it’s going at Leeds you realise why Monk wanted to take the challenge on. It’s like everyone says: get it right at Leeds and you won’t experience much else like it. As it stands, there’s a huge carrot dangling in front of the club.
Leeds, like quite a few others, have been rewarded for sticking to a plan. It’s not really rocket science to understand why that works.
If a manager is shown patience, he can show patience to his players. If a club has faith in him, he can have faith in his players. Combine that with a decent squad and a bit of realism about how much football you can play in the Championship and you’re on to a good thing. Realism is something football really struggles with. I’m always reminded of a quote from Tony Pulis, who recalled a time when a young manager phoned him and tried to talk to him about philosophy.
Pulis said: “I’ll stop you there. Just think about winning games. Winning games will keep you in a job longer than losing them. End of story.”
There’s a lot said about Pulis and the way his teams function but he got a club out of this division. Of course you get situations where the manager is the problem and he needs to go. But it very rarely acts as a silver bullet.
Upcoming Sky-televised Championship fixtures include:
Tonight: Birmingham City v Leeds United (Sky Sports 1, 7.45pm kick-off).
Saturday: Huddersfield Town v Newcastle United (Sky Sports 1, 5.30pm kick-off).