Is Premier League sacking season a real phenomenon?

Being a Premier League manager is a cutthroat business. Scarcely one month has passed since Arsenal and Crystal Palace kicked off the new season and two managers have already bitten the dust.

Scott Parker became the first managerial casualty when his gloomy assessment of Bournemouth’s hopes of avoiding relegation was too close to the bone for the Cherries board, while Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel soon followed after the new owners decided it was “the right time to make this transition”.

It’s the earliest date since 2008-09 that two Premier League managers have fallen on their swords and with talk of unrest surrounding Brendan Rodgers at Leicester and Steven Gerrard across the Midlands at Aston Villa, that trend shows no sign of abating. If anything, the chaos only seems to have continued from last term.

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When Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was shown the Old Trafford exit door on 21 November last year, he became the sixth Premier League manager to leave his post in the 2021-22 season – an English top-flight record. But you wouldn’t bet against that being gazumped this year.

It’s called sacking season. The time of year when coaches lose their jobs nearly as readily as the leaves are dropping off the trees, although it seems to have come early this year.

And while it’s easy to look at the past two campaigns and assume there’s no safe time for Premier League managers anymore, the reality is that ousting bosses in a season’s infancy is nothing new.

Tuchel’s sacking on 7 September ranks as only the third earliest time for a second manager to leave his post since the Premier League began, with Alan Curbishley’s West Ham exit and Kevin Keegan’s departure from Newcastle by 4 September in 08/09 the last time two bosses met their makers so earlier.

But that effort still doesn’t top the pile. In 2004/05, early season patience seemed to be at a premium, with Paul Sturrock and Sir Bobby Robson both being shown the door from Southampton and Newcastle respectively by 29 August, and Graeme Souness making it a hat-trick when he left Blackburn on 6 September.

It’s not unusual for the flow of P45s to come in a glut, though. Looking at past trends, when one gaffer is made to pack up his things, it can often be the catalyst more to follow suit – regardless of what time of the season it is.

For example, when Crystal Palace made Neil Warnock the first managerial dismissal of 2014/15 on 27 December, it could have been easy to surmise that chairmen were feeling in more lenient moods. Yet in the 46 days that followed Warnock’s firing, four more managers were given their marching orders, with Alan Irvine, Alan Pardew, Harry Redknapp and Paul Lambert all leaving their jobs by mid-February.

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The same could be seen in last season’s sack-fest. Solskjaer’s dismissal on 21 November meant previous records of six sackings by 24 November – set in 2004/05 and matched in 2007/08 – were surpassed by three days, but also represented the fifth manager to leave their post in 32 days or the sixth in seven weeks.

Yet the inconsistency of when triggers are first pulled are highlighted by the fact that on eight occasions since the Premier League started in 1992, there hadn’t been a single sacking by 21 November.

Acquired knowledge suggests that many clubs tend to wait until international breaks to make changes to give them chance to bed in their replacements during the two-week domestic gap in league fixtures. While this logic stands firm, the break has only become a more-utilised time to give bosses the heave-ho in relatively recent times. Before last season, only nine of the division’s mid-season managerial swaps have occurred during the window.

Instead, runs of sackings crop up at different times. As well as the example triggered by Warnock above, five sackings happened in a five-and-a-half-week period from mid-November to late-December in 2019/20, whereas it was a particularly busy time for managers in 2016/17 with three managerial changes in 12 days around Christmas and New Year a season earlier. Roll the calendar back all the way to 2001/02 and struggling Leicester City, Derby County and Southampton all made managerial changes in the three weeks to 21 October as they each made slow starts to the season.

Of course, there’s always the point that bad runs will usually precede sackings and concerned chairmen won’t be looking elsewhere unless they’re seeing the defeats tally up in their own camp. Yet look at where there’s been a higher frequency of firings in the past and it’s too much of a coincidence to say there isn’t a domino effect when one side at the bottom of the table takes action.

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If one club brings in a new boss to aid their fight against relegation, a look back at the run of departures that follow and it suggests itchy-trigger-finger syndrome spreads quickly. It’s fair to say that if one manager gets the boot, it can ramp up the pressure on others around them in the table.

But as we cast an eye back towards this campaign and wonder where the next fallen manager will appear, don’t be fooled into thinking sacking season is a modern-day phenomenon because they were at it in the 90s too. In the Premier League’s second season, four bosses felt the chop in less than a month in January 1994, whereas a whopping six left jobs in 34 hectic autumn days later that year.

It might not feel as though we’re swimming in sackings right now, but it suggests the Premier League has never been a comfortable ride for its managers.

Is Premier League sacking season a real phenomenon?
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