Monday, 16 December 2013

The Premier League's knee-jerk culture is growing out of hand

Andre Villas-Boas became this season's fifth Premier League manager to lose his job on Monday morning. Steve Clarke was the fourth, just two days earlier. The league is not yet at the halfway stage.

There are similarities between the two in the circumstances leading to their dismissals. Neither were abject failures; if anything, the opposite is true. Both led their sides to their clubs' highest ever points tallies in 2012-13. Villas-Boas was a point away from usurping Arsenal for fourth spot, while Clarke masterminded West Brom to a remarkable eighth-placed finish.

Spurs' total of 72 points was the most ever recorded by a team that finished outside the top four. They were edged by their north London rivals and Chelsea, who recorded 75 points. The manager had succeeded yet failed: Spurs chairman Daniel Levy's ambition of turning Spurs into a Champions League side would have to wait another year. Villas-Boas wasn't given the chance to better his total.

Daniel Levy fired AVB after only 16 games of the new season; photo by Doha Stadium Plus

West Brom finished one place below the 'super seven' last term. The points gap of 12 between them and Liverpool, who finished seventh, is so great that it could be said that West Brom under Clarke won a 'league of the rest'. To break the monopoly of those seven would be an achievement of staggering proportions.

The following campaign was destined to be tougher for both clubs as each lost their star player. Gareth Bale and Romelu Lukaku contributed 38 goals last term combined.

West Brom replaced Lukaku, a battering ram of a centre-forward who could finish too, with Victor Anichebe. It was a like-for-like swap in positional terms, yet a severe reduction in quality.

Spurs sold Bale, the league's most devastating attacking force since Cristiano Ronaldo, for a world-record £86m. They spent a large chunk of this on Erik Lamela, but expecting an immediate impact from a 21-year-old who just altered cultures is unrealistic. Meanwhile, Andros Townsend has been less productive than his eye-catching performances would suggest.

Spurs spent the remainder of this money, and £21m more, on six others. They were expected by Levy to go straight into the first team and deliver instant success. But settling so many players into a team takes time. Levy is not a former footballer and clearly does not appreciate this.

A manager should be allowed to finish the season. When the team has been totally overhauled, and is one point better off than at the same stage last season where they went on to record their highest ever points tally, the manager should be afforded until the season's end at least to achieve his goals.

Villas-Boas might have avoided the sack if he applied some damage limitation in matches against Manchester City and Liverpool. Steve Clarke might still be at West Brom if they had beaten Chelsea. These are such small margins. The knee-jerk reactions of Premier League chairmen, giving managers no room for failure, is getting out of hand.

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