Stablility for stability's sake: Roger Moore scores

Last updated : 03 January 2008 By Roger Moore
For ten years under the previous regime, Southampton fans cried foul at the managerial merry-go-round that saw a new arrival almost annually into the seat that, in truth, has never really been filled since Lawrie McMenemy's departure.

The culmination of this calamitous episode, three managers in twelve months and resultant relegation, was an abject lesson to the whole of football in the price of 'instability'.

And yet, just two seasons later, Charlton Athletic - a team who had so often been admirers of us, our 'business model' and prolonged tenure in the top-flight - ignored the evidence and proved that fundamentally, three managers into one season does not go. Or rather, it does go, but only down.

And so it was written, that success, above all other factors, requires managerial stability. Because we, and countless other clubs who have changed manager only for performances to get worse, have proved it. Time and time again.

And the football media continues to remind us that this is the case, with every pundit in the land sighting Newcastle United's failings as their prima facie case in point.

There was even some research done which, I'm led to believe, showed that while there might be a short-term points per game increase from changing manager, there was slightly more often a long-term points per game decrease, or just no change at all.

So there you have it, stability is king. Or is it?

You see, the trouble with stability in any job, in any walk of life, bar perhaps Government, is that there is no such thing as stability. You either do a good job these days or you're out. That, as they say, is life. Why should football be any different?

Those who promote stability hold up Sir Alex Ferguson as their evidence. Look at Manchester United they say, here is a model of success brought about by managerial stability. This is akin to a milliner telling you that your head was designed to wear hats. It's patent nonsense.

The same is true of Arsene Wenger. Heralded by the stability council of football as the man who could stabilise a one-legged unicyclist, Wenger was in fact Arsenal's third manager in three years as they sought to replace the successful George Graham.

The reality must be that successful managers are more likely to remain in their post, giving rise to believe that their success results from their tenure, rather than vice versa.

Of course clubs who are struggling are more inclined to fire the manager to change the results on the pitch, since this is the most likely cause of the team's failure.

The measure of success and failure is relative and it may be that the board has unrealistic expectations, but only the most obdurate manager would conclude that they are not the most important factor in how their team performs.

Modest managers will claim the game is all about 'players' and to some extent that's true. But even the best, most-highly paid footballers in the world need organisation, fitness and tactics to perform as a team.

So any evidence on stability in football, is either anecdotal or deeply flawed, since it takes as its measure of success a judgement of one club boasting managerial longevity and compares against a club that doesn't.

And a comparison between Manchester United's one manager to Queen's Park Rangers' twelve over the same period is as fair as would be a meeting on the pitch, if QPR were asked to play blindfold. Had QPR appointed Sir Alex Ferguson, perhaps they would be multiple Premiership winners.

The difficulty, of course, is to find a club who have swapped and changed manager often and yet still boast a bulging trophy cabinet. I mean, why would such a club continue to change successful managers?

Well, surprisingly, there is such a club. Since 1990, they've made 13 managerial changes, appointing the same manager twice on four separate occasions. Yet despite this, they've also won their league title six times and been runners-up five times. And famously, they sacked their manager last season after he won the title.

Real Madrid is no ordinary football club, but while stable Alex Ferguson has managed to win the Champion's League just once, Real Madrid, that hotbed of instability, have managed it three times during the same period.

So there you have it, conclusive evidence that stability is as necessary for success as parsley is for a good fish supper.