Crystal Palace’s decision to sack Frank de Boer after just four Premier League games has generated accusations of short-termism – but is there such a thing as a ‘best’ time to change manager?
De Boer’s four-game reign is the shortest in Premier League history – even Les Reed managed seven matches before he was sacked by Charlton on Christmas Eve in 2006 – but Steve Parish and Palace will argue there is no point waiting if they see no signs of improvement on the horizon.
But does that way of thinking stand up to scrutiny?
Over the last five seasons, only Sunderland have axed a manager in the second month of the campaign, sacking Paolo Di Canio on September 22, 2013. It worked well for the Black Cats, who were rock-bottom when the Italian was dismissed but went on to finish comfortably above the drop zone in 14th after Gus Poyet took over.
Indeed, in the last five years, most sides who sacked their manager inside the opening half of the season have enjoyed an upturn in their fortunes.
Of the five to make a change in October, only one suffered a fall in the table – Aston Villa during their wretched 2015-16 season when they sacked Tim Sherwood in 19th place but went on to finish bottom.
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However, Swansea City had to sack two managers to inspire an improvement in their form last season, with their initial decision to replace Francesco Guidolin with Bob Bradley seeing them drop from 17th in October to 19th in December, when Bradley himself was sacked and replaced by Paul Clement.
Of the other three teams to switch managers in October since 2012, Sam Allardyce and Jurgen Klopp improved Sunderland and Liverpool’s positions by two places respectively in 2015-16, while Palace went from 19th to 11th after sacking Ian Holloway and appointing Tony Pulis in 2013-14.
That dramatic turnaround makes October on average the ‘best’ month to have sacked a Premier League manager over the past five seasons, whereas late-season changes have made very little difference to teams’ fortunes in that same period.
With much less time to change things, only two of the clubs to have sacked a manager in March or April since the beginning of 2012-13 have ended the season in a higher position – and one of those was Newcastle United in 2015-16, who still went down despite replacing Steve McClaren with Rafael Benitez.
Middlesbrough (Aitor Karanka, March 2017), Aston Villa (Remi Garde, March 2016), Manchester United (David Moyes, April 2014) and Reading (March 2013) all finished in the exact same position as when they made the change, while Sunderland (Gus Poyet, March 2015) and Norwich City (Chris Hughton, April 2014) both dropped a place.
It proved costly in Norwich’s case as they slipped from 17th to 18th under Neil Adams, but Boro and Reading may all wish they had rolled the dice earlier having been relegated. Villa, of course, tried both early and late-season changes but still could not save themselves.
December has been the most popular month for sackings over the past five seasons, with 10 clubs pulling the trigger in order to give a new man the opportunity to strengthen in the winter transfer window.
Sackings by month (before De Boer):
May: 1 (Roberto Martinez by Everton one game before the end of the season)
Average places gained
It has generally been pretty successful, too, with Swansea going from 19th to 15th under Clement in what was seemingly a case of third-time lucky last season. Palace, meanwhile, climbed from 17th to 14th after replacing Alan Pardew with Sam Allardyce.
Chelsea went from 16th to 10th the previous season after sacking Jose Mourinho and putting Guus Hiddink in charge, while Swansea rose three places from 15th to 12th after firing Garry Monk.
West Brom climbed from 16th to 13th after sacking Alan Irvine in December 2014, while Palace again benefitted greatly from a change that season when they replaced Neil Warnock with Alan Pardew and pulled themselves out of the relegation zone to finish 10th.
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Only in 2013-14 did December sackings go less well, with Cardiff City’s decision to sack Malky Mackay and appoint Ole Gunnar Solskjaer severely backfiring as they went from 16th to 20th.
Newcastle nearly suffered an even bigger disaster in 2014-15 when they sacked Alan Pardew in January with the team in 10th only to go into the final day of the season with their safety still uncertain under John Carver.
Hull City improved two places but not enough to save themselves after sacking Mike Phelan last season, while Southampton only rose one place after sacking Nigel Adkins in January 2013 but certainly did not regret the decision, finishing eighth under Mauricio Pochettino the following season.
Of the 35 managerial changes in the Premier League over the past five seasons, only 10 resulted in the club finishing lower than the position they were in when they made the sacking. Seven finished in exactly the same position, but just over half (18) improved to some extent.
And while plenty have accused Palace of panicking, they are not new to this having made three mid-season changes over the last four campaigns.
It won’t have escaped the club’s hierarchy they fared well each time, making eight-place gains when sacking Ian Holloway in October 2013 and Neil Warnock in December 2014, before successfully achieving safety under Sam Allardyce last season after showing Pardew the door.
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