Premier League: The Sackworthy Seven

With Mark Hughes (finally) getting the sack at Stoke on January 6th, after their defeat to Coventry in the FA Cup 3rd round, seven managers in total have now lost their jobs since the beginning of the 2017-18 Premier League season. And what better time than the clean slate of a new year to look back with a critical eye upon the failures of these men, and the no doubt profound success their clubs have found without them. So, without further ado, let us begin in...September? How do you get sacked barely a month in?

1. Frank de Boer, Crystal Palace

  • Sacked: September 11, 2017, 19th place.
  • League Goals Scored During Tenure: 0

Well, that’s certainly one way to do it. Following their sparing from relegation last season at the hands of Big Sam Allardyce, the board at Palace decided their side was ready for a more cultured, continental style of football. Enter: Ajax legend and assister to THAT Bergkamp goal in World Cup ‘98, Frank de Boer. The Dutchman’s managerial career had started strong, with four consecutive Eredivisie titles at Ajax, but more recently he had been sacked after only 85 days at Inter Milan.

His time in Italy proved to be more indicative of his success at Palace, as the season began with four straight goalless defeats. Total football? No, totally inept football. De Boer’s only consolation came in the form of a 2-1 victory over Championship side Ipswich Town in the League Cup. This, sadly, was not enough to keep the job, and De Boer was sacked following defeat at Burnley.

 Frank de Boer, Crystal Palace

Frank de Boer, Crystal Palace

In some sort of attempt to head the exact opposite managerial direction, young and foreign de Boer was replaced by old as hell and English as hell Roy Hodgson. The former England national team manager began his tenure by continuing his predecessor’s strategy of never scoring a goal, losing 0-1, 0-5, and 0-4 to Southampton, Manchester City, and Manchester United, respectively. Barring victory over Huddersfield in the League Cup, this was not a great month for ole Woy the Boy.

But, oh how the tables turned on that fateful day in October. Palace’s first league goal came with Chelsea of all sides visiting Selhurst Park, but even then, it was the Blues’ own Cesar Azpilicueta who turned it into the net for them. Own Goal: 1, The Entire Rest of the Palace Squad: Nil. However, the confidence boost this goose egg-breaking provided led to their first proper goal from Wilfried Zaha, which proved to be enough to eke out a 2-1 win over the defending champions.

This monumental victory spurred Palace on to, well, the basic mediocrity that’s come to be associated with the club’s time in the Prem. They’ve scored 18 more goals since then, but still sit only two points above relegation in 14th place. Hodgson’s defensive solidarity seems to be paying dividends, but it’s a long way to May, and Palace are far from safe.

2. Craig Shakespeare, Leicester City

  • Sacked: 17 October, 18th place. 
  • Days Since Winning the Title in the Greatest Underdog Story in Football History: 533

Yes, I know Ranieri was manager of the title-winning side, but Shakespeare was his assistant at the time, and the stark contrast in fortune makes for a funnier statistical joke as far as I’m concerned. Anyway, Shakespeare’s year started off well enough, narrowly losing 3-4 in an opening day shootout at the Emirates, before taking down Brighton in the league and Sheffield United in the League Cup.

Little did he know, however, that victory over Brighton would be Leicester’s last win for nearly two full months. While this run had its fair share of imposing opposition (losses to Manchester United, Chelsea, and Liverpool), it also showcased Leicester’s ineptitude on both sides of the ball (draws with Huddersfield, Bournemouth and West Brom). After sharing the points with Tony Pulis’s (don’t worry, his time will come soon enough) side, chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the king of the King Power stadium, decided it was time for Shakespeare to exit stage right.

Leicester soon found their managerial rose with another name: Claude Puel. Was this to be, or not to be? Well, six wins in his first nine matches in charge is hardly tragic. Puel seems to have fashioned the squad back into the shape and style which gave them so much success two years ago, holding tight in the back and launching a rapid fire counterattack led by Mahrez, Okazaki, and Vardy.

Although the winter congestion took a toll on their results (three losses and a draw from 16 December to 30 December), Puel began 2018 anew, with a 3-0 victory over Huddersfield. The Foxes still sit comfortably in the top half at 8th place, closer in points to the Europa League spots than relegation. Poetic justice, perhaps?

3. Ronald Koeman, Everton

  • Sacked: 23 October, 18th place
  • Difference in League Goals Between Romelu Lukaku and Wayne Rooney: 0

Manchester City have dropped seven points all season thus far. Koeman’s Everton claimed two of them in the second gameweek. This would prove to be the high water mark of the Dutchman’s campaign, a 1-0 victory over Stoke the previous week notwithstanding. Following that impressive stalemate at the Etihad, Koeman managed to take a meager four points out of the next 21 available, bringing his side down to 18th in the table.

On the continent, things weren’t so hot either, Everton beginning their Europa League campaign with a devastating 0-3 loss to Atalanta and a 2-2 draw with an Apollon Limassol side that only finished third in the Cypriot First Division. Cyprus, mind you, is a country with roughly half the population of the Liverpool metro area.

 Ronald Koeman, Everton

Ronald Koeman, Everton

Koeman’s summer transfer policy turned out to be a real Gift of the Magi situation. (Editor’s Note: does anyone but you actually remember or know The Gift of the Magi, you pretentious mug?) Apparently, selling one of the league’s top strikers to buy players whose main jobs are to provide assists for top strikers is not a particularly effective technique. Koeman found this out the hard way, getting the sack following a 2-5 mauling to Arsenal at Goodison Park.

Sitting in 18th, Everton were faced with a monumental hole to climb out of. And who better for a monumental task, than a monumental man. BRING IN THE BIG SAM. Mister Allardyce finished the 16/17 season having saved Crystal Palace from the drop before seemingly announcing his retirement from club football. As it turns out, family time is far more stressful than relegation battles, and Big Sam’s break from the Prem lasted a mere 191 days. More summer vacation than sunset years.

Following a managerless month with U-23 coach David Unsworth at the helm, Big Sam was appointed as Everton’s permanent manager. Allardyce managed to sure up the Toffees’ defense and figure out how to get hometown hero Wayne Rooney scoring again, leading to a six match unbeaten streak in the league (seven if you count his talismanic appearance in the stands during a 4-0 drubbing of West Ham) as well as their only win in the Europa League group stage.

Despite the early worries, it looks like Big Sam will do what Big Sam does: not get relegated. Everton currently sit in a luxuriously high 9th place, having conceded only seven league goals since the change in management. The Toffees look in good shape, and should make it to a 65th consecutive year in England’s top flight.

4. Slaven Bilić, West Ham

  • Sacked: 6 November, 18th place
  • Percent Thinner Slaven’s Hair Got From the Stress of Managing West Ham: 37.89

Oh, Slaven...poor Slaven. It’s one thing to watch a journeyman manager take their leave, but it’s always a sad day when a man is sacked by a club he truly loves. Having spent a year and a half as a starting central defender for the East London club, Bilić certainly endeavored to lead his side to its former glory. With the help of then new signing Dimitri Payet, he led West Ham to 7th and a berth in the Europa League qualifying rounds in the 15/16 season. But following an offseason move to London Stadium and the departure of Payet in January 2017 things began to careen downhill.

West Ham finished last season in 11th, and looked ready to return to form following an impressive transfer window which saw the Hammers pick up Pablo Zabaleta, Marko Arnautović, and Javier Hernández. The added defensive solidity and goalscoring threats seemed on paper like perfect patchwork for the missing links in Bilić’s side. But once the whistle blew to start the season, that patching proved poor as they lost their first three matches by a combined score of 2-10.

September proved fruitful, with West Ham picking up seven out of a possible 12 points. This was a false dawn, however, and following a draw at Crystal Palace and a 1-4 embarrassment at home to Liverpool, the “Dildo Brothers” gave poor Slaven the boot. (For a moment of levity in the midst of these sad, sad paragraphs, take a moment to look up any stories involving Sporting Lisbon’s president referring to the West Ham owners David Gold and David Sullivan as the “Dildo Brothers.”) It should be noted for the sake of Slaven’s reputation that, despite the abysmal start to 17/18, he left the club with an average of 1.33 points per league game, the highest of any West Ham manager in the Premier League era.

With Slaven out, West Ham needed a reinvigoration, a spark, an infusion of fresh blood. Naturally, this meant David Moyes. The long-time Everton and short-time Manchester United manager took over the day after Bilić’s sacking, and immediately set to work trying to top the Croatian’s work. And improve he did, taking a single point from his first three matches in charge, and garnering a combined scoreline of only 1-7. Take that, Slaven.

But since a far-closer-than-it-had-any-right-to-be defeat to Manchester City, Moyes has had the Hammers on a bit of run. With only one loss in seven and picking up 12 points along the way, West Ham are now out of the drop zone for the sixth consecutive gameweek. Granted, they’re only two points and three places clear, but things do seem to be looking up for the claret and blues.

5. Tony Pulis, West Bromwich Albion

  • Sacked: 20 November, 17th place
  • Number of Tracksuits That Will Go Unworn With Pulis Out of a Job: Uncountable

What’s this? A manager sacked BEFORE falling into the relegation zone? Surely the need for immediate results has gotten out of hand! This managerial roundabout is purely symptomatic of the overfunded capitalistic drive of the modern game! Oh, wait, it’s Tony Pulis. Nothing to see here.

The season started off brightly enough for Pulis’s West Brom, winning their opening two matches. And, perhaps believing the league table over 38 weeks functions the same as a match over 90 minutes, Pulis decided to park the bus. The tracksuit aficionado would be in charge of the Baggies for three more months, and in that time his team managed to pick up four more points. That “winning run” to start the season was enough to keep West Brom in the top half into October, but that record, like his defensive setups, would rapidly collapse.

 Tony Pulis, West Bromwich Albion

Tony Pulis, West Bromwich Albion

First came a 0-1 loss to Southampton. Caught on the break in the 85th minute by a balletic Boufal drifting in and out of the West Brom defenders with grace and poise before slotting it past Ben Foster in net. Unlucky. Next was Manchester City, who left the Hawthorns with their eighth consecutive win. Saw that one coming; hardly alarming. Then falling 0-1 again, this time to Huddersfield. Newly promoted Huddersfield? Okay, this is getting a bit ridiculous. And what’s that on the horizon. Ah, pack your bags Tony. It’s Chelsea. The Blues battered West Brom 4-0, and Pulis was sacked two days later.

The hero brought in to save the day? Alan Pardew. And his effect was profound, transforming the club into a well-oiled goal-scoring mach-...sorry, what? Still no wins? Not even a flukey one? Well, surely they’re scoring a bit more. Pards loves the attacking game. SEVEN? Seven goals in 10 games? I see they’re eking out some draws again. Pardew must have a better points per game record than pathetic Pulis. You’re joking? He’s managed to DROP a further 0.23 points on average. Eh, at least he’s not wearing a damn tracksuit.

Pardew has the distinct honor of being the only manager on this list to take his adopted side further down the table. West Brom now lie in 19th, four points clear of safety. Their new manager can take solace in the fact that, at their current pace, his side will end the season on roughly 26 points which has...never been enough to survive relegation from the Premier League. Yikes.

6. Paul Clement, Swansea City

  • Sacked: 20 December, 20th place
  • Percent of Matches Clement’s Side Failed to Score: 55

Credit where credit is due: Paul Clement saved a dreadful Swansea side from relegation last season. Repeating such a miraculous feat was never likely. But the downfall began off the pitch, Clement selling off Sigurðsson and Llorente, two absolutely massive pieces in 16/17’s turnaround, without anyone close to suitable replacements.

This showed on the field almost immediately, the Swans finding goals nigh on impossible to come by. Their defense was somewhat more successful, only allowing more than two goals against on four occasions. But “two or less against” is rarely going to be enough when you average an abysmal 0.62 goals per game. Under Clement, Swansea did not manage to take a single point from matches they conceded in.

Following back-to-back multiple goal defeats, and staring down a third consecutive gameweek at the bottom of the table, Swansea’s American owners gave Clement the pink slip. Eight days and one 0-5 demolition at Anfield later, and Carlos Carvalhal was appointed as permanent manager.

It’s certainly too early to tell, but Carvalhal has already managed to get a win out of the Welsh side, topping Watford 2-1 in the final game of 2017. The Swans still remain in the basement, however, 20th place and four points off of safety.

7. Mark Hughes, Stoke City

  • Sacked: 6 January, 18th place
  • Number of Unique Formations Hughes Managed to Lose With: 8

Mark Hughes has twice completely transformed Stoke City Football Club. Unfortunately, only one of these transformations resulted in a half-decent footballing squad. Hughes began his tenure before the 13/14 season, and showcased his ideals almost immediately by releasing long throw expert Rory Delap. This side was not going to play ugly football, and the philosophy paid off. Stoke finished ninth, their highest top flight finish since 74/75.

The 14/15 season saw Hughes extending a continental reach, bringing in Barcelona forward Bojan. Their game was expanding, and once again, Stoke finished ninth. The following summer saw the arrival of Xherdan Shaqiri from Bayern Munich, adding even more attacking flair and continental prestige. Once again, they finished ninth. This proved to be the beginning of the end.

 Mark Hughes, Stoke City

Mark Hughes, Stoke City

Following three successive seasons of a growingly expansive counter-attacking game, other Premier League clubs were beginning to catch on to Hughes’ methods. Resorting to a far more negative approach, Stoke took until the third to last match of the season to secure safety. They finished a paltry 13th.

We enter the current season. Stoke are back to playing old-school hoofball, knocking it long and hoping someone gets on the end of it. Shaqiri is the last real playmaker left in the side, but without any consistent targets to provide for (Diouf? Crouch? Seriously?), his impact has been limited. The Potters begin 2018 with losses in the league and F.A. Cup to Newcastle and League Two side Coventry city respectively. The loss from three tiers below is the final straw. Hughes is sacked.

Stoke have yet to appoint a new permanent manager at the time of writing, and are currently helmed by caretaker Eddie Niedzwiecki. While early reports had Slaven Bilić as the odds on favorite for the job, club officials say their number one target is former Watford manager and Bilić’s tan lookalike, Quique Sánchez Flores. Whoever takes the job, they’ve got a lot of work ahead of them

So who’s next? Bournemouth sure are struggling, maybe Eddie Howe gets the sack. Or maybe Southampton aren’t content to just sell off all their players, and decide to offload their manager as well. Or, could it be...Wenger? Out? No, no, now we’re getting ridiculous. It’s a new year, though. Anything is possible.

Author: Busby Cagle