Money for old ropey managers erodes sympathy

Date published: Friday 9th October 2015 8:16

Being sacked is never nice, but a whacking great pay-off helps. Is football incentivising failure?

It’s distressing, being sacked. You’re left red-faced through pangs of embarrassment, clearing your desk to an uncomfortable silence broken only by the fevered whispering of now-erstwhile colleagues who begin verbally picking at your corpse. They haven’t realised that the door hasn’t yet closed behind you.

If the dismissal itself is unpleasant, being forcefully asked to leave is a great deal worse when it’s through apparent incompetence. If you’ve been caught phoning in sick when enjoying days at the cricket, or spending eight hours a day Sporcle-ing before loudly announcing “another day, another dollar” while stretching and getting up from your desk, you knew it was coming. Being handed the P45 was an inevitable denouement to your professional procrastination, rather than a Tuesday afternoon body blow.

Being told that you aren’t fit for purpose, however, that really smarts. Knowing that you’ve poured every ounce of effort into something and still been cast aside is certain to deflate the ego. “Look here, it’s not that we don’t like you, and we know you’ve given it your all. It’s just that we think you’re doing so badly that it makes sense to change our tact entirely and appoint someone else.” Ouch.

Sympathy is the customary response in such situations. Anyone who comes home to the bad news that their significant other has been laid off should avoid pursuing the line of enquiry as to why they weren’t considered fit for purpose. Less “what did you do wrong, then?” and more “you’re too good for them anyway” is the sensible advice.

Football managers tend to receive more sympathy than most. Every time a Premier League coach loses their job, Hand-Wringers Unanonymous call an extraordinary general meeting to conclude that, yes, clubs are indeed sacking their managers quicker than ever. The stakes being higher and the rewards for success being greater, it’s hardly a surprise. Wait and see is an expensive game to play.

It’s not just the rewards for success that are growing; there is a sweet treat for any manager unfortunate (or incompetent) enough to be sacked. Following his departure from Liverpool, Brendan Rodgers will receive a pay-off of around £7m. Should Jose Mourinho be removed from his position by Roman Abramovich, Chelsea would be liable to pay their unwanted coach £30m for the privilege. That’s added to the figure of around £10m he negotiated in September 2007.

Now I’m not going to suggest that Jose is playing the long game here, deliberately rebuilding his career just for this monumental but manufactured decline. That would be a ‘f**k you’ trick so elaborate and extended that Norris McWhirter would be called in to adjudicate. If there’s one manager capable of that level of belligerent stubbornness it’s Mourinho, but I think we can reason that this is a genuine c*ck-up, rather than some dastardly masterplan. Anyway, we knew it was serious when they banned banter.

This P45 pot is a valuable sector in the industry. In December 2013, the Daily Mail calculated that £450million had been spent paying off managers since Arsene Wenger had joined Arsenal, and we can reasonably assume that figure has grown exponentially since. Half a billion pounds worth of “sorry, you really aren’t fit for purpose but thanks for trying”.

“It is testament to his character that he has foregone any kind of a financial settlement, something very unusual in football,” said Sunderland owner Ellis Short of Dick Advocaat, who refused to take a pay-off following his recent departure from the Stadium of Light. Only in football could a man be warmly congratulated for not taking extra financial benefits after winning one match during his entire permanent tenure (against League Two Exeter City). Having initially turned down an offer to become one of the highest-paid Premier League managers when Sunderland initially offered the Dutchman a full-time role, one suspects Advocaat was remunerated handsomely for his disastrous four months in charge. 

With the blinkered thinking of many clubs creating a shallow pool of candidates for each job, the temptation is to say that certain managers can become glorified freelancers in failure. A few home wins here, a demand for more transfer funds there and a final “the fans deserve better” for good effect, and watch the money roll in as you head off to the sunshine. The accusation would be that, as with the banking crisis, an environment has been established whereby failure is incentivised.

In fact, that’s unlikely to be true. It may feel as if the same individuals are on a dreary managerial carousel, paint peeling off the mounted horses as the rain pours down, but that’s a case of assumption clouding fact. Of the last eight appointed managers at Premier League clubs, five were making their managerial debuts in the league; the other three were appointed at their second Premier League club. The old guard, Football Men disgruntled that the new brigade have taken over, have lost their influence.

Yet it’s still a slightly jarring end result. Andre Villas-Boas was famously given £11m for his achievement of making Chelsea a great deal worse, only to then be awarded slightly less money by Tottenham for only a slightly better job. Roberto di Matteo was still being paid £130,000 a week by Chelsea until he took Schalke’s offer of employment. He was the club’s fourth highest earner despite not being an employee.

Money is neither magic potion nor comfort blanket, but the millions received by Premier League managers after failing to achieve their desired goals must act as consolation to those finding their feet back on the rungs of football’s job ladder. Those shedding tears for the failing and fallen would be advised to find a more deserving cause.


Daniel Storey

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