Centre circle

Centre circle

Why sticking with your manager is better for football clubs in the long-run

Calls are mounting for Jose Mourinho to get the sack. EPA/Andy Rain

You’re not special, you’re not special, you’re not special anymore!

So, football fans have been chanting at Chelsea manager, Jose Mourinho, who famously once referred to himself as the “special one” for his managerial skills. The mockery is not without reason.

Last season’s champions are currently languishing in the lower reaches of the Premier League table and speculation has been rife about Mourinho’s future. His truculence before the media should not be taken as an indication of a desire to quit, though. Jose has always been the master of creating a siege mentality, deliberately positioning the clubs and players he has coached as victims of great conspiracies.

But it is hard to recall a time when one of his teams has performed this badly. Chelsea already have lost six Premier League games – they lost just three during the entire 2014-15 season. Many are therefore questioning just how much longer Mourinho should be kept on as manager.

Having arguably mismanaged Mourinho’s first departure from the West London club back in 2007, Chelsea’s board of directors don’t seem to be making too many noises publicly about him. But the club’s Russian oligarch owner, Roman Abramovich, is known for being rather impatient with the managers he employs, so for many it’s a case of when – not if – Mourinho is sacked.

Mourinho’s track record has won him the love of the fans. EPA/QMatthias Schrader

The question is, then: is it better for a club to sack a manager sooner, or later?

There is conflicting research about the point in a season at which a struggling manager or coach should lose their job. By sacking a manager straightaway, the argument is that there will still be time to attract a new one. After all, the replacement will also need time to settle into their new position, and turn the club’s performance around. Indeed, in Chelsea’s case, if Mourinho were to be sacked at this point it would leave the incumbent 27 games (or 81 points) to hoist the club back up the league.

But other research shows there may be a “honeymoon period” for new managers, during which results initially improve … before continuing in a downward trajectory. So Mourinho could be given a chance to turn things around into the new year and if results fail to pick up, a new manager could be brought in for the second half of the season. The club may then benefit from a new manager’s probable honeymoon period of good results.

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich. EPA/Facundo Arrizabalaga

Other commentators alternatively contend that the apparent failure of a manager is too often used by directors to mask other failings inside their clubs, such as the paucity of financial resources they provide their manager with. But having spent £66m (with net transfer spending of £32m) during the last player transfer window, Mourinho can hardly claim to have been constrained in this regard.

There is a possibility, too, that dismissing Mourinho would merely be a proxy for confronting more fundamental issues faced by the club. Reflections on his first spell in charge reveal that even back in 2007, Chelsea was grappling with damaging internal matters. If this is the case, whether it is acknowledged by the club or not, there would be little to gain by replacing him.

Benefits of stability

The alternative scenario to an imminent sacking is that Abramovich, having courted Mourinho for a second time in 2013, might be inclined to give his manager until the end of the season to change the club’s fortunes. There is some sense in this approach; after all, a world-class manager with a strong record of achievement doesn’t become a total failure in just 11 Premier League games.

Another body of research becomes applicable at this point, as it emphasises the importance of retaining a manager, at least until the end of a season. Some researchers argue that the performance benefits of managerial stability outweigh whatever advantages might come from a mid-season swap. Stability is acknowledged as being important in helping turn around a team’s fortunes, largely because it brings a degree of certainty and clarity to plans for the remaining months of a season.

The ‘special one’.

This may account for the respective current approaches of both club and manager in handling the uncertainty surrounding Mourinho’s future. As the Chelsea boss said in his Champions League pre-match press conference: “I’ll face bad results with honesty and dignity.”

Ultimately, if the Chelsea board wants to draw inspiration from the academic research then, on balance, the evidence appears to suggest that leaving Mourinho in charge is probably the best course of action – at least until the end of the season. Statistically, it is likely that keeping him in post will yield more points than replacing him with someone else. This is especially the case right now, as few high quality replacement managers are currently available for hire.

But Premier League football is an uncompromising business. Chelsea needs the financial rewards that a top-four finish generates, not least because it brings the riches of UEFA Champions League qualification. Furthermore, Mourinho and the club are constantly being scrutinised and the Portuguese is prone to making controversial statements, attention neither of them needs.

The academic research – and his reputation – may support his case, but if Mourinho wants to stay on at Chelsea, even the “special one” will have to dig deep.