It’s been an odd weekend for managers across the European leagues, with four managers receiving the sack in the last two days. On Saturday, West Bromwich Albion’s Steve Clarke was relieved of his duties, with the Hawthornes club in sixteenth in the Premier League. This morning, Tottenham Hotspur’s manager Andre Villas Boas departed the club by mutual consent, on the back of crushing losses to West Ham United (3-0), Manchester City (6-0) and Liverpool (5-0) this season with the club in 7th. Two hours later, Valencia manager Miroslav Dukic was sacked, his club in ninth on the back of a 3-0 loss to joint La Liga-leaders Atletico Madrid. Three hours later, Watford’s Gianfranco Zola resigned, his club in 13th and eight points from a Playoff spot. Malaga’s Bernd Schuster was nearly sacked this weekend, before his club’s 1-0 win over Getafe arguably saved his job. According to reports in the Daily Mail (always to be taken with a grain of salt, bear in mind), Cardiff City Manager Malky Mackay is also on the verge of being sacked after disputes with owner Vincent Tan over transfer policy. It’s an odd time for so many manager firings to happen, with the season not yet at its halfway point, and each of them in some way leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
Steve Clarke’s sacking probably makes the most sense of the bunch. Despite winning at Old Trafford this season, his club was languishing in sixteenth, having endured their fourth successive defeat this weekend. Though they challenged at varying points last season, at one stage being on the verge of Europa League qualification, things haven’t quite gone according to plan this season. Without the loan talents of Romelu Lukaku, they’ve found goals to be a difficult commodity to get. Not that surprising.
Nor, unfortunately, is Gianfranco Zola. Though Watford made it to the Promotion Playoff Finals last year before dropping to Crystal Palace, they’ve found replicating that form this year to be difficult. They benefited enormously last year from their ownership by the Chairman of Udinese Calcio in Italy, with a string of loan signings providing Serie A-level talent in the second tier of English football. Given that he still enjoyed the backing of owner Gino Pozzo, it’s a bit of an odd decision, but an unfortunate one. Watford played some good football under his mantle last year, and I for one was hoping to see them continue to do well this season. The joint ownership of Udinese, Granada, and Watford is an intriguing notion, with the latter two being used as loan outlets for Udinese where playing time and development are guaranteed (in return, Granada and Watford get good players). Here’s hoping it continues.
The Valencia and Tottenham sackings are more unfortunate. By all accounts, Miroslav Dukic is a good manager – he won promotion from the Segunda Division from Valladolid, brought them to 14th in their first season back in the Primera, and got a mediocre Valencia team comfortably through their Europa League group, In truth, the axe of the sack has basically stayed over his head from Week Two, when they dropped 3-1 to Espanyol. Every time they’ve dropped points, even if it was to good teams, it’s looked as though Dukic was about to be fired. When the moment finally happened, it was after a 3-0 loss to Atletico Madrid, with Valencia five points off a Europa League spot. Two things of note here: first, you lost to Atletico Madrid, a squad that are joint-top with Barcelona, through to the Champions League Round of Sixteen having gone unbeaten in the group, and have lost a single game since April (and even that due to a freak own goal to Espanyol). What more do you want against what is probably the best team in Spain? Moreover, look at the squad he has to work with! Valencia’s staggering debt has meant that they’re hemorrhaging players each summer, from David Villa to David Silva to Juan Mata, Jordi Alba, and Roberto Soldado. With the squad they have, what more do you want? Until the debt issues are sorted out, Valencia simply cannot compete. That Dukic has fallen victim to ultra and presidential politics as much as results is enormously unfortunate. I’m not sure who they could possibly replace him with, unless AVB doesn’t want to go back to a struggling Porto side.
It’s the Andre Villas Boas sacking that leaves the bitterest taste in the mouth. Yes, they got shellacked by Manchester City at the Etihad, but everyone except Bayern Munich has been. Yes, they got demolished by the Luis Suarez Show, but Suarez is probably the best player in the Premier League right now, and due to injuries his only opposition was Michael Dawson – not exactly the best defender in the Premier League. Meanwhile, Spurs won every game in their Europa League group, are in seventh – only five points off a Champions League spot, and gradually getting better. Yes, they spent a shitton of money this summer, but a) their net spend was actually a gain of four million pounds, having sold Bale, Scott Parker, Clint Dempsey, and Steven Caulker, b) their summer signings were all non-EPL players, and such an influx of new players was inevitably going to need time to gel, c) key injuries to Vertonghen and Cristian Eriksen severely depleted the squad’s ability to play the type of football that Villas Boas wanted them to. It’s even more annoying, given that the summer signings were not at the behest of Villas Boas, but rather of Daniel Levy and Franco Baldini, the Chairman and Sporting Director. Why didn’t they go for EPL Players? Levy’s reputation as a bargain-finder means he won’t have gone for the generally overvalued EPL players. If the players you recruited aren’t suited to the Premier League, the blame lies with the manager that recruited them, and that was Baldini and Levy, not AVB.
Every time Villas Boas has been sacked, the reaction of the press has been equally caustic: “he’s a shite manager, he’s lost the dressing room, he’s overrated, etc.” The press hates Andre Villas Boas, and not for good reason. It’s largely because he’s better looking than them, WAY smarter than them, and refuses to bother entertaining the tabloid nonsense that rags like the Sun and Daily Mail insist on trying to talk about. Their rejoicing at his departure leaves a bad taste in the mouth. He’s also fallen victim to Daniel Levy’s infamous trigger finger, with the Spurs Chairman infamously having no patience for any patch of poor form. I hope they hire Taylor Swift as their next manager – it would be the first time that Levy’s had to deal with someone who has the same level of loyalty and commitment as he demonstrates.
In fact, Villas Boas’s whole managerial career has been an unfortunate case of flying too high, too fast. His first year at FC Porto was astronomically good – Unbeaten Portuguese League Title, Portuguese Cup, and Europa League. He was identified as hot property and scooped up by Chelsea, where he was manager for all of 256 days before facing Abramovich’s wrath. He’d tried to change things too quickly, shuffling out older players like Nicholas Anelka while trying to impose his own style of direct, high-risk high-reward football on an aging and protesting team led by noted pricks John Terry and Ashley Cole. He’s suffered the same fate at Spurs, with his brand of football being greeted with skepticism almost from day one. He led Spurs to their highest-ever points total in the Premier League last season, but is now on his way out. For a manager purported to hold such promise, it’s a little bit saddening. The best comparative I can think of would be if Guardiola had been snatched up by some English club after his first season in charge of Barcelona B, thrown way out of his depth, and forced to endure the stigma of those results for the rest of his career.
Given the level of the press’s dislike for the man, the fault that must surely lay with his Chairman and Sporting Director for their (un)inspired signings, and the general lack of patience afforded Andre Villas Boas at Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, the whole thing leaves a bad taste in the mouth.