Di Matteo’s sacking highlights a worrying trend


West Bromwich Albion’s decision to sack Roberto Di Matteo meant that the former Chelsea midfielder became the fourth Premier League manager to succumb to the axe this season. The Italian was placed on gardening leave after presiding over a dreadful run which saw the Baggies lose 13 of their last 18 games.

Defending his decision, Albion chairman Jeremy Peace said: “We, as a board, believe it is the right [decision] to give the club the best possible chance of remaining in the Premier League.

“If this run continues much longer, achieving our goal of retaining our Premier League status will become increasingly difficult. That is why we felt compelled to act now.

“This club’s track record proves we do not take such decisions lightly, with Roberto being only our fourth manager or head coach in almost 11 years.”

Di Matteo’s shock departure from the Hawthorns signified a dramatic change of fortunes for the likeable Italian. He guided the Baggies to automatic promotion at the first time of asking last May, and was named Premier League Manager of the Month just four months ago after leading his side to their best ever start to a Premier League season.

League Managers Assocation chief executive Richard Bevan criticised the sacking of di Matteo. He said: “Roberto represents yet another victim of the ‘hire and fire’ mentality that pervades in our game.

“It is in exactly situations like these that we all want to see clubs back the individuals they have employed rather than see the sack as a quick fix panacea.”

Figures compiled by Bevan last season show that a manager’s average tenure now is around one year and four months, compared to three and a half years in 1992.

The devastating financial ramifications of relegation mean that survival in the Premier League is as crucial and important as ever; the fact that the Championship play-off final is colloquially known as the most lucrative game in football supports this assertion. A football club’s manager is the man responsible for the performances of the team, and as such, is regarded as the chief scapegoat when displays and results suffer.

Bevan says: “In football, there is an incomprehensible belief that the continued sacrificing of the football manager, the ‘scapegoat’ and installing another will turn around a football club’s performance.”

The impending threat of relegation has meant that Avram Grant has faced uncertainty surrounding his West Ham United future for large parts of the season. At the other end of the table, Carlo Ancelotti’s seeming inability to guide Chelsea to a second successive Premier League title has meant that he has faced questions over his Stamford Bridge future. Liverpool’s uncharacteristic foray into the lower echelons of the Premier League eventually culminated in Roy Hodgson’s early exit.

The installation of Kenny Dalglish as Hodgson’s interim replacement has yielded short-term success for Liverpool (they are currently second in the Premier League form table), but there is no guarantee that this will continue. The ‘new manager’ effect often has a positive short-term impact on form, but more often than not, this form is followed by a level of performances and results comparable to those achieved before the change.

Unfortunately, Di Matteo’s dismissal is characteristic of the modern football environment. The thirst for instant gratification and importance of financial stability (stability which is heavily dependent upon Premier League survival) means that many managers are not given time to turn results around. This trend shows no sign of abating, and if this is case, Di Matteo is unlikely to be the last manager to be handed his P45 prematurely this season.

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