Money And Results Led to Championship Dismissals, Nothing More

For many, the hardest job you can have in football today is being a manager of a club in the English Premier League. With Brendan Rodgers, Dick Advocaat and Tim Sherwood having already being replaced with just over a quarter of the new season gone, this may actually be the case. But on the other hand, arguably the toughest league for a manager to operate in now is England’s second tier, The Championship. Whilst the media glare may not be as bright, the pressure in the Championship is just as high as in the Premier League, if not higher. In a league of 24 teams that is so evenly balanced that almost all clubs in the league have the talent to secure a promotion place, there are no such things as an easy game. With each club desperate to secure three points, every game becomes a smaller battle within a larger war. With every war there are always casualties and in this war that tends to be the managers.

Money driving decisions - Tim Sherwood's sacking made him the latest casualty (Image from Getty)

Money driving decisions – Tim Sherwood’s sacking made him the latest casualty (Image from Getty)

To date, six managerial changes have been made in the Championship as clubs jostle for positions in one of the most competitive leagues in the world. Uwe Rolser (Leeds United), Marinus Dijkhuizen (Brentford), Steve Evans (Rotherham) and Guy Luzon (Charlton) have all been let go in recent months after a string of poor results. The latest duo to join them were Huddersfield manager Chris Powell and QPR boss Chris Ramsey. The pair was dismissed yesterday after their clubs dismal starts to the new season. Powell was first to go after Huddersfield slipped to 18th in the table following their 2-2 draw against Reading on Tuesday night. Huddersfield have quickly appointed former Borussia Dortmund coach David Wagner as their new head coach, in a move that has upset Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp who was trying desperately to bring Wagner to Anfield. QPR followed suit later on the same day sacking Chris Ramsey after the London side dropped to 13th in the league. Director of Football Les Ferdinand said the move was done in the best interest of the club stating that after the club managed to hold on to key players in the summer like Charlie Austin, the mandate for success had changed and that under Ramsey so far the club was falling short. Former boss Neil Warnock has been drafted in as temporary charge until QPR can appoint their new coach.

Ferdinand informed Ramsey of QPR's decision (Image from Getty)

Ferdinand informed Ramsey of QPR’s decision
(Image from Getty)

Whilst anti racism campaigner Troy Townsend, father of Tottenham’s Andros may believe that the move to sack them was partially race related, the truth is that football is a results based business. Clubs have evolved over the years into individual businesses which focus on profits and the bottom line above all else. Its money that drives these decisions and this season more than ever before, clubs in the Championship are desperate to land one of the three promotional spots to the Premier League. The reason for this is that next season marks the start of the Premier League’s new £5.1billion TV deal with Sky and BT and each club in the league is in line for a whopping £81million windfall. For that reason alone, clubs in the Championship are more impatient than ever before and are making the managerial changes whilst they still have a mathematical chance of promotion

Troy Townsend has suggested that Ramsey and Powell's sacking was more than just results driven (Image from Getty)

Troy Townsend has suggested that Ramsey and Powell’s sacking was more than just results driven
(Image from Getty)

Ramsey and Powell were removed now to avoid their respective clubs falling further behind in the promotion chase. To claim that the decision by Huddersfield and QPR was race related in any shape or form is misleading and shows a clear misunderstanding of the modern game. Both men are excellent coaches and managers so to suggest that their dismissals was to do with the colour of their skin rather than their abilities is insulting to them both. The harsh truth is that for one reason or another there are few black managers in the game today regardless of location. In France, Antonie Kombouare of Lens is the only manager of colour in Ligue 1, whilst in Spain Nuno Espirito Santo of Valencia is La Liga’s only representative. That is one more than in Italy and Germany who have no managers of colour in the top leagues, Serie A and the Bundesliga respectively. Indeed it is hard to find many examples across Europe but the same can be said for managers of other ethnicity or gender (for example: there is only one female manager in Europe’s various league – Clermont Foot’s Corinne Diacre). Football across Europe still has its serious issues but it continues to evolve to the point that the colour, ethnicity and gender of a coach becomes less of a factor the decision to appoint them or not in a majority of case.

Europe's only female manager Corinne Diacre (Image from Getty)

Europe’s only female manager Corinne Diacre
(Image from Getty)

What is a problem is that money is taking over to the point that young managers and coaches are no longer able to get their shot. In the past, clubs have been able to gamble on an untested coach, giving them a season and see what they can do. But now with money heading up all decision-making at the clubs, they can ill afford to take a risk leaving several coaches and potential managers disappointed. It has become such a problem that managers in England’s lower leagues now have little to no chance of becoming a Premier League manager unless they can gain promotion to the league with their existing teams. In the past, Sunderland and Aston Villa would have looked at the lower leagues for a talented manager to come in but instead have appointed a tried and tested Premier league manager (Sam Alladyce) and a foreign import who has had success in another top league (Remi Garde). The top managers in the Championship and League One were overlooked completely despite potentially being a better long-term fit. This is unlikely to change any time soon as money continues to tighten its grip on the beautiful game.

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Leeds Woes Continue With Yet Another Managerial Change

The drama at Leeds never seems to end after yet another turbulent week for the Elland Road club. It started on Monday when manager Uwe Rosler was sacked following a poor start to the new season. The likeable German only arrived at the club in May following the dismissal of previous boss Neil Redfearn but in the end was only given twelve games to show progress. Leeds 2-1 defeat to Brighton on Saturday which saw them slip down to 18th in the English Championship proved to be the final straw for owner Massimo Cellino who has a growing reputation for wielding the axe quickly and swiftly. It’s the sixth time that he has done so since taking over in early 2014. The colourful yet controversial Italian has dismissed Brian McDermott, Dave Hockaday, Neil Redfearn (twice), Darko Milanic and now Rosler in his search for the perfect manager that can lead Leeds back to the Premiership. Less than a day after Rosler left, Steve Evans was appointed by Cellino who himself hit the headlines again after being banned by the Football League for the second time in under a year.

Sacked - Uwe Rosler (Image from Getty)

Sacked – Uwe Rosler (Image from Getty)

Cellino’s reign at Leeds has been nothing short of disastrous with Leeds failing to make any progress towards stability. The nature of Cellino’s takeover is still under question, whilst his murky past which led him to fail the Football Leagues proper ownership test remains a principal concern. Added into this the nature in which Cellino has conducted himself at Leeds, often speaking badly about the club’s manager, sacking key members of the playing and backroom staff without the managers knowledge and appointing individuals to the club without clarification of role or responsibilities has left the fans dazed and confused. Cellino’s current ban should restrict him from damaging the club further yet the Italian’s tenticles are so entrenched in the club, including appointing his children as directors on the board that decoupling may be trickier than first feared.

Controversial owner Cellino has been banned yet again  (Image from Getty)

Controversial owner Cellino has been banned yet again
(Image from Getty)

To be fair to Cellino, Leeds problems started well before his arrival and their implosion began during Peter Risdale’s period as owner. Risdale, like many owners had dreams of conquering Europe and for a time it looked like that might be possible for Leeds. Under manager David O’Leary, Leeds became a challenger for European honours making it to the semi finals of the Champions League in the 2000-2001 season. That team, which included Rio Ferdinand, Jonathan Woodgate, Alan Smith, Robbie Keane and Harry Kewell would eventually be beaten by Valencia over two legs and that defeat would signal the beginning of the end. To reach that semi final, Risdale had done the unthinkable by taking out huge loans to chase the ultimate dream. When that dream collapsed, so did Leeds who quickly had to dismantle their star-studded team in order to pay  off the debt. As the stars exited, Leeds on field performances began to suffer and eventually they fell into the deepest of slides, one which they still haven’t quite recovered from.

Leeds star studded 2001 team  (Image from Getty)

Leeds star studded 2001 team
(Image from Getty)

From a nostalgic prospective, seeing Leeds in this situation is heartbreaking to most English fans (except perhaps those on the red side of Manchester). Leeds United’s rich history in the English game sets them apart from others as one of the iconic teams of the British game. The belief that the club can recover and return to the Premiership is still there but the harsh reality is that organizationally Leeds are miles away from being ready. There are some glimmering lights however most notably the emergence of several promising players from the club’s youth system. Once a constant source of quality graduates, the Leeds Academy had appeared to have dried up in recent years but the promotion of Sam Byram, Lewis Cook and Alex Mowatt are the first real signs of recovery. Unfortunately for Evans, Leeds will remain as a selling club for the foreseeable future due to the nature of the current game. Holding on to these players will be difficult especially if they continue to impress. If they are to leave for substantial fees the club must redirect the monies raised back into the first team and youth development as that will be the bloodstream of the club going forward. Staying in the Championship is the goal for this season with the hope that stability can be restored in the long-term to the club. Once restored, Leeds can start to plan for the future with some positivity and aim to make it back to the Premiership where they rightly or wrongly believe they belong.

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Wigan’s Rebuild Starts With Caldwell Appointment

Gary Caldwell has been appointed as Wigan's new manager with the task of rebuilding them (Image from Getty)Dave Whelan slumped down into his chair late on the night of May 11th 2013 with a large grin on his face after a day of celebrating his club, Wigan Athletics finest hour . In what was described as one of the greatest FA Cup final upsets for a quarter of a century, relegated Wigan stunned Manchester City with a 1-0 win thanks to a late Ben Watson header. Whelan, who bought Wigan in 1995 when they were in the old Division Three (now the Football League Two) deserved the day after giving his heart, soul and more importantly money to the club for over 18 years. The JJB Sports founder was highly regarded by many in football as an example of how owners should act. At 76 years young on that day, Whelan could have been forgiven for considering retirement from his role as Chairman of the club with a new chapter about to begin back in the Championship. But the former Blackburn and Crewe full back decided to stay on and committed to getting the club back into the Premiership.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and looking back now Whelan may be thinking that he made a mistake by staying on instead of leaving on an all time high. Life in the Championship has proved troublesome for Wigan from day one. With manager Roberto Martinez departing for Everton and a host of players following him out the exit door, a rebuilding job was needed starting with the appointment of a new manager, someone who could set the tone for the years ahead. Whelan opted for Owen Coyle but when the Irishman failed to emulate Martinez style and results he was sacked and replaced by Uwe Rosler. Unfortunately for Whelan, the German coach fared no better and only lasted 11 months before he was pushed out as well. Then came arguably Whelan’s biggest mistake when he handed the reigns over to Malky MacKay. The Scot was embroiled in a racism row with his previous club Cardiff along with the Welsh clubs sporting director, Iain Moody. His controversial appointment was made by Whelan who claimed that MacKay had made a mistake and paid the price so he should be granted a second chance. Fan groups and sponsors were up in arms with several of the latter pulling their financial support as a consequence of his appointment. It was then when Whelan knew he had made a mistake himself but now stuck with MacKay under contract he had little option but to get on with things.

Unfortunately for Whelan the controversy continued with the Chairman himself then caught up in a racism row. Defending his appointment of MacKay in an interview with the Guardian, Whelan told the reporter that “Jewish people chase money more than everyone else” and later referred to Chinese people as “chinks”. His throwaway comments were largely criticized by fellow club owners including West Ham’s David Gold and Cardiff’s Vincent Tan. Whelan and Wigan’s reputation was in tatters. With the pressure growing and Wigan slipping closer to the Championship relegation zone, Whelan decided enough was enough and stepped down as Chairman, handing his 23 year old grandson David Sharpe the keys. Sharpe who became one of the world’s youngest football bosses surveyed the legacy that his grandfather had left and knew that significant changes were needed to get the club back on track.

Whelan with his grandson and newly appointed Chairman David Sharpe  (Image from WiganFC.COM)

Whelan with his grandson and newly appointed Chairman David Sharpe
(Image from WiganFC.COM)

Sensing an opportunity to cleanse the club once and for all was all the incentive Sharpe needed to make the changes. With the club teetering on the brink of relegation (8 points from safety with 5 games left), there was little protecting MacKay from the axe. After Monday’s 2-0 defeat to Derby, MacKay was shown the door and replaced by former club captain Gary Caldwell. The inexperienced Scot may look to be a surprise appointment by Sharpe, his first major decision as Chairman but for a player who has spent five years at the club and was the driving force behind that 2013 FA Cup win he is seen as a sensible choice. He will be supported by an experienced backroom staff including Mike Pollitt, Eric Black and Graham Barrow but it will be a crash course in management for the 32 year old. Sharpe has no concerns about his decision to hire Caldwell calling him the perfect candidate and backing up his appointment by insisting he was the only candidate considered for the role. Caldwell will be tasked with keeping Wigan in the Championship this season but if unsuccessful he will still be in place for the start of the new campaign in League One. Sharpe is planning for the long term and views Caldwell as an up and coming manager much like Whelan viewed Roberto Martinez when he appointed the Spaniard in 2009. More importantly for Sharpe, he wants a fresh start for Wigan, one free of scandal and damaging headlines. He may be young but even at 23, Sharpe understands fully the impact on the club of the decision by his grandfather made that fateful night back in May 2013. He will be conscious not to make the same mistakes.

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Last Chance Saloon For Wenger As He Targets Cup Success

Last Chance Saloon for Wenger (Image from Getty)A wry smile crept over Arsenal Wenger’s face as he sat back and watched Wigan dispatch favourites Manchester City in the quarter finals of the FA Cup. He knew that this might be his best shot at delivering what the fans want – a first trophy in nine years. It’s hard to believe it has been so long but it has. When Arsenal last one a trophy, Manchester City were fighting for survival, not titles and Wigan had just secured their passage to the Premiership for the first time in their 73 year history. Now with only Premiership side Hull and Championships sides Sheffield United and Wigan left to compete against, this may be the best chance Arsenal have had in a very long time. City’s victors Wigan are up first in a semi final showdown that is a must win for Wenger if he is to keep his job longer than this summer.

Up Next - Wigan  (Image from Getty)

Up Next – Wigan
(Image from Getty)

Not that it’s a cut and dry as it seems. They face tough opposition in Wigan, who are looking to join a select list of clubs who have successfully defended the FA Cup. Shock winners last year, courtesy of a solo Ben Watson strike against Manchester City, Wigan have gone through a lot of changes since that fateful day in May last year. But what hasn’t changed is the belief and determination that they can win the cup again and beat anyone put in front of them on the way there. So far Wigan, now under the management of Uwe Rosler, has put MK Dons, Crystal Palace, Cardiff and City to the sword as they continue their run to Wembley.  Facing Arsenal, who have struggled lately with form, after a blistering start to the new season, will not worry Wigan as it’s the Premiership side that have it all to lose. In the past Wenger has given little care to the FA Cup, preferring to use either second string or emerging youngsters in these games. But he can ill afford to squander an opportunity to return to Wembley, especially given recent history.

Martins goal still haunts Wenger  (Image from PA)

Martins goal still haunts Wenger
(Image from PA)

Arsenal and Arsenal have been in this position before and have let a potential cup win slip through their fingers. Memories of a cup final defeat at the hands of Birmingham City still lay heavily on the minds of the Gunners faithful. That last minute drop of concentration that allowed Obefemi Martins to capitalize still must etch away at Wenger on a daily basis. Now could be his chance at redemption, but he must keep his players focused more on the job in hand than what level the opposition are playing at.  One thing that might work in Wenger’s favour is the fixture list for the two teams between now and the 12th April, when the two sides are scheduled to meet. Having been knocked out of the Champions League by Bayern Munich mid week, Arsenal face difficult games against Spurs, Chelsea, City, Everton and Swansea in the league before playing Wigan. The Championships side however have eight games to play in the league before they take on Arsenal including three must win games at the start of April which will likely stretch Rosler’s side to its fullest. Cup success for Wigan would be a bonus but gaining promotion back to the Premiership is their main goal. Sitting in 7th place, with two games in hand, Rosler’s team is pushing hard for a playoff berth. With 13 games left in the standard season including crunch games against Reading, Leicester and QPR, the clash with Arsenal may not be top of mind. But try telling that to owner Dave Whelan who still basks in the glory of last year’s cup success. Promotion back to the Premiership and lifting the FA Cup again is his dream, one that Arsene Wenger must do all he can to shatter.

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Baby faced Assassin Now All Grown Up And Killing The Competition

Anyone who recalls the 1999 UEFA Champions League final between Manchester United and Bayern Munich will remember one of two images from that game – a frustrated Samuel Kuffour of Bayern Munich smashing his fists into the ground in utter dismay at the full-time whistle or that of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer running towards the Manchester United fans with the biggest grin on his face after snatching the winner in the dying minutes of the game. Solskjaer, who became known as the baby-faced assassin, due to his boyish youthful looks and habit of coming from the bench to score, snatched the trophy away from the Bayern players in the 92 minute of the game with only the slightest of touches from his big toe. The game, already on a knife-edge after Teddy Sheringham had equalised for United in the 90th minute, is one of the most remembered finals of all time, along side Liverpool’s comeback in Istanbul in 2005 and Ajax’s win back in 1994. The entire squad become legends in the eyes of the United fans but in particular, Solskjaer himself was idolised by the supporters.

Ole Gunnar’s Manchester United story began in 1996 when he joined from Molde in his native Norway. An unknown quantity, Solskjaer was expected to be a bit part player, supporting the main strikers, Eric Cantona and Andy Cole but manager, Sir Alex Ferguson wanted to throw him in to the deep end from day one. In his first season, Solskjaer bagged 19 goals in all competitions for United from only 46 appearances. The fans took to him straight away and supported him throughout the next 10 seasons he spent with the club. Solskjaer had talent in abundance but more importantly was always in the right place at the right time, snatching goals from all over the 18 yard box. His career with United had mixed blessings, some high points including the win in the Nou Camp in 1999 and the subsequent treble United picked up that year, to the trophy led years where he snapped up 6 titles and 2 FA cups in an 11 year span. But times were not always great for him. A bad knee injury ruled him out of the entire 2004 season which also troubled him through his remaining years as a player.

When he finally retired in 2008 as a United legend after scoring 91 goals in 235 appearances, it was expected that he would stay with the club he loved in some capacity and he did, taking on the job of Manchester United Reserve team boss.This would be his first foray into management and to anyone paying attention, the signs of what were to come, were apparent. During his 2 years in charge, Solskjaer steered the team to two reserve team cup victories which caught the eye of his former club, Molde and the Norwegian FA. A fans favourite with the Norwegian fans after 67 international appearnces and 23 goals, it was only a matter of time before his country came calling. He was eventually offered Norway’s top job in 2010 after the resignation of Åge Hareide but turned it down out of respect to his country as he felt he was not quite ready for the job. However, when Molde departed with Uwe Rosler’s services a few months later, the draw of coaching his home team was too much so Solskjaer departed Old Trafford to return to his homeland.

In his first season in charge, Ole managed to turn around the fortunes of Molde. When he took over, Molde were in a bad way. Having performed poorly the previous season under Rosler, Molde narrowly avoided relegation by a few points. Rolser left and the returning figure of Solskjaer proved to be the catalyst that lead to Molde securing their first ever Tippeligaen title, despite losing Solskjaer’s first game in charge. After the success of last season, a host of British clubs came calling with Aston Villa first to requested access to speak to the young coach. Despite a desire to grow in his managerial career, Solskjaer could not uproot his young family so decided to remain in Norway and turned down Villa. This season, as he started Molde’s defence of their title, he again was linked with English clubs, Bolton and Blackburn but decided to remain again and eventually led Molde last month to back to back titles.

For the 39-year-old coach, he has lots of time on his hands and a move back to England looks likely at some stage. The question remains, if Solskjaer continues to win titles and improve as a manager, which club will eventually persuade him to uproot his family for another stab at the Premiership? If that club is Manchester United when Ferguson finally steps aside, its unlikely the young Norwegian manager will be able to resist the draw that Old Trafford has for him.