Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Honeymoon Period? This makes no sense!

Branded the ‘silly season’ by politicians, December and January is largely the ‘sacking season’ in the Premier League as nervous owners have their hands forced by fans, media and, ultimately, results.

With January the only chance a struggling club has to directly change playing personnel during the season, it offers clubs the chance to replace a manager in time for the incumbent to go out and purchase the players he feels will help an ailing situation.

Don’t act, and owners face the prospect of sitting on their hands as their beloved club gets relegated, misses out on a European place or even fails to land the title. Act after January and owners face the prospect of replacing a manager with no possibility of financially backing the new one – a very risky prospect as the players already at the club are surely worth some of the blame.

However, it is generally assumed that new managers enjoy a ‘Honeymoon Period’ where results and performances, for no apparent reason other than a new man in the dugout, dramatically improve in the short term.

This can have drastic effects when achieved by a club suffering near the foot of the table, as it is usually only a handful of points between the bottom half dozen or so teams come January, and is another key factor in the timing and reason of dismissal.

So Liverpool have gambled on this honeymoon theory – as well as allowing Kenny Dalglish a pop at the transfer window - in sacking Roy Hodgson, hoping that Dalglish can come in and immediately improve their admittedly dismal performances and results of late.

But is this possible? Do players improve when a manager flies in to save a club? If so, why? Surely it can only be a sign of mental weakness on the players part, an ineptitude underlined by the apparent drastic change in fortunes – even if the new manager makes changes to the personnel on the pitch, it can’t be hugely different at the immediate outset.

In the last two seasons, many clubs in the Premier League have changed their manager during a campaign, thus encountering an opportunity for players to drastically improve. Is there a link between their immediate results post-sacking?

First up, in November last season, Paul Hart was sacked as manager of Portsmouth. With the club struggling desperately, they turned to Avram Grant. Ultimately he failed to get the club out of the bottom three all season, but in fact, under his first 5 league games he achieved just under three times the points/game ratio which Pompey had under Hart up to that point. Hart had earned a point every two games but Grant’s first 5 games secured 7 points themselves.

Then in December last season, two managers lost their jobs: Gary Megson at Bolton was replaced by Owen Coyle; and Mark Hughes was replaced by Roberto Mancini at Manchester City.

Bolton’s immediate results barely changed, but at Eastlands Hughes exited with a very respectable 1.7 points per game, before Mancini achieved vastly more, securing 2.4 points per game in his first five league fixtures.

Hull waited until March before replacing Phil Brown with Iain Dowie, but there was no change in their fortunes. So two managers last season made drastic improvements, while two made no immediate effect.

During the summer there were obviously management changes but the ‘Honeymoon Period’ argument would not work if the manager was given lengthy time to train with his side and portray his visions.

So the first one this season worth looking at came at the eve of the season’s start, when Martin O’Neill walked out on Aston Villa.

Villa then earned 1.4 points per game under Kevin MacDonald before the permanent position was filled by Gerard Houllier, who came in and won just five points from his first five league games, a substantial reduction.

Then in December, Newcastle amazingly fired Christ Hughton, after he had won 1.18 points per game since August. But in replacing him with Alan Pardew, Newcastle actually managed to net 1.8 points per game in his opening five league fixtures.

Blackburn, not to be outdone by this Honeymoon tactic, fired Sam Allardyce – who had averaged just over a point a game – replacing him with Steve Kean, who managed to earn 1.4 points per game in the short term.

That’s two out of three this season who have had fairly large immediate improvements on results. Four out of the seven management changes listed were ‘succesful’ in the short term, two made no difference, and only one went sour – that of Houllier at Villa.

Should Liverpool excel in their first five games under Dalglish so, do not get too carried away, as by that theory, they probably would have done well under Steve Staunton!

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