A comparison of managerial change across the top four European leagues

In recent years, football has become more and more of a results business. With the upcoming TV deal in the Premier League reaching heights of £5.136 billion over the next three years, we see an ever changing scene on the manager front with owners yearning for success and willing to do whatever it takes to survive and win matches in the top leagues. None more so than in recent weeks, with criticism of Manchester United’s Louis Van Gaal and fans at the Mestalla showing their discontent for the performance of Gary Neville at Valencia despite him taking over only two months ago. This shows that impatience in football is not isolated to England but also across Europe.

To examine these effects and produce findings that fans will be interested in, analysis of the managerial change statistics from what are considered to be the top four European Leagues (English Premier League, Spanish La Liga, German Bundesliga and Italian Serie A) will be made. For clarity a managerial change consists of a manager who resigns, is sacked, leaves by mutual consent, is removed from caretaker management or comes to the end of their contract. It is first important to consider how many managerial changes there have been in each of the leagues. To do this, data will be taken from the last four full seasons and the current season to provide up to date analysis. Data is collected from August – July in each of the first four seasons and from August – February in the current 15/16 season.

The English Premier League is relatively consistent in terms of the amount of managers that leave clubs year on year with the number of changes ranging from 10 - 13. It would be expected that with three months of the playing season and two months post season left, the number of changes this season (5) will increase. It will be interesting to see if, when and what the number of manager changes this season will increase to as there is still some way to go before this seasons number of changes reaches the heights of previous seasons.

Interestingly the Spanish La Liga has made more managerial changes over recent seasons. With the lowest number of changes occurring in the 13/14 and 14/15; this is only one more change than the Premier League’s highest number of managerial changes across the time span. However in the 12/13 season there is a stark contrast in numbers as there were 19 managerial changes which could be a result of the TV deal that came into effect from the 13/14 season. It may be that those responsible for hiring and firing managers were desperate to stay in the top division and made decisions based on financial reasons.

In comparison to La Liga, the Bundesliga made a similar number of managerial changes to the Premier League across the seasons and remains fairly consistent in the number of changes made. With 10 changes occurring in the same season that 19 occurred in the La Liga, this shows that the TV deal for La Liga may have been an even larger factor than first thought.

Serie A seems to be a whole different story in comparison! From making a massive 27 changes in the 11/12 season to last seasons ‘normal’ amount of 13, it would be expected there was an underlying reason for such a high number. However, Serie A signed a new TV deal prior to the 11/12 season and so it would be expected that if managerial changes were to be made then they would have been prior to the season, not during or at the end.

Reasons such as the managerial merry-go-round may have impacted this anomalous finding. It can be safely said that Serie A have made the most changes out of the four leagues (88) over the past four and half seasons.

So far data has been collected regarding the number of managerial changes that each of the top four European Leagues have made separately. The next step was to collate this data so that we can see the bigger picture and compare the total number of changes over the last four and a half seasons across the four leagues.

As previously mentioned, Serie A made more managerial changes by a landslide compared to the other three leagues. Having looked into the types of changes that have been made in Serie A it appears to be that there have been some cruel sackings. For example there have been numerous times when a manager has been sacked before their first competitive match such as Stefano Pioli of Palermo. The culture in Italy can be summed up by the infamous owner of both Leeds United and Cagliari, Massimo Cellino who relieved Max Allegri just after the manager had won manager of the season! An interesting point to note is that the English Premier League has made the fewest managerial changes over the past four and a half seasons. People in the UK perceive English football to be impatient with managers but from looking at the data, the Premier League could be considered quite patient in comparison to other top European leagues.

However, with Eddie Howe of Bournemouth the second longest serving manager (3 years, 4 months) behind Arsene Wenger (19 years, 6 months) there is a clear change in how football clubs operate and how much time they give their managers to succeed. With managers losing their jobs on such a regular basis, the question of whether there are certain times in a season when owners and chairmen decide to make a change could provide us with a picture of the regularity of managerial changes. To investigate this question, data was collected from the last four full seasons. This was done because the current season has not been completed and may skew the data as we would be missing five months of the season in the data. The total number of managerial changes in each of the months of the season was calculated for each of the top four European leagues. To improve understanding of the below graphs, a season was considered to begin in August (start of the league season when managers are first judged) and finishes in June (end of season and when contracts run out). July is included at the end of the season as this is considered a month of preparation and some teams are still responding to the previous season’s performance.

From this graph it can be seen that most of the managerial changes in the English Premier League occurred in May - the final month of the playing season. This would suggest that in England, those responsible for removing managers tend to wait until the end of the season, with the number of changes in June remaining relatively high which could be due to the non-renewal of contracts which often run out on the 30th June. Another point to note is that a high number of changes occurred in December with a large jump from 2 to 6. More on why this could be later.

Likewise, in Spain there is a similar pattern as to where the managerial changes occur. However the prominent months that changes occur are much clearer here. There is an even larger jump from November to December which suggests this time of year is when owners assess their team’s performance during the leagues winter break. The changes in May once again occur in Spain, but the data here shows that there were more 6 more changes in June than in May. This could suggest that owners wait a few weeks after the end of the season before making a decision on their manager’s future, in addition to contracts running out.

Compared to the other three leagues, the Bundesliga has select months in which managerial changes have occurred. It appears to be that managers leave their clubs every other month from October onwards which can be seen from the sharp spikes during the winter months. Like the previous two leagues, the Bundesliga relieves managers of their duties at the end of the season which seems to be a common theme across the leagues.

We now know that Serie A have made the most managerial changes over the course of the four seasons by a long shot. It would be expected that there would be even larger numbers of changes in December and the end of season months - if the other three leagues are anything to go by. However Serie A offers something different in that 10 changes occurred in January compared to 7 in December and 12 in both May and June. This shows that decisions on manager’s future may take place during the winter break in Italy before making a change for the second half of the season which is slightly later than the other three leagues.

Having analysed the number of managerial changes across each of the leagues separately, the next step was to collate all the data to show an overall picture of how many changes have occurred in each month over the past four full seasons.

There are clear months in the season that managerial changes have been made over recent years, such as December, May and June. Once this caught the eye, it was decided to delve deeper into what this data could mean and to portray the data in an even clearer manner. The domestic league in each of the top four European leagues can be split into four quarters as shown in the below graphic

The first quarter of the season has brought about the least amount of change. This is likely to be because newly appointed managers are given a clean slate and are provided with a bedding in period (if three months can be considered enough time) in which to instill their philosophies and produce positive results. However there were 30 changes made in this quarter, which could include managers who were hanging on at the end of the previous season and ones who are part of teams where their owners are impatient and want instant results.

As we move into the winter months the number of changes is twice as much as the previous quarter and increases dramatically. It seems that by this point in the season the league table is beginning to form into what it may look like at the end of the season, especially down at the bottom. There is a winter break in all of the leagues apart from the Premier League and some owners believe that this is the time to make a change to the management team if they are going to. It is also a time in which there is time for a new manager to bring in their own players in January and turn results around. To add to the pressure on a clubs hierarchy, it is often known before a season if a new TV rights deal is in place for the following season. If this is the case then there is even more pressure to stay in the top division for the financial benefits and so a change may be made for financial reasons.

Stats have also shown that making changes in late February, March and April is too late to save a team if they are already in the relegation zone; as 13 clubs in the Premier League relegation zone who have changed their manager in the third quarter of the season have gone on to be relegated anyway. There may be eagle eyed owners out there who do their research and know a change has to be made before this point if they are to improve their chances of survival.

As expected the most managerial changes come at the end of the season as this is where contracts come to an end. However the interesting point to note here is the data gathered from each league individually. While by July some clubs seem to have not decided on whether they are relieving their manager of their duties, most have. The fourth quarter’s numbers are mostly covered by the months of May and June. Serie A had an equal number of changes across these months. However the Premier League made most of their changes in May. This shows that clubs may have already made a decision on their manager, or aim to get a new manager in as soon as possible after the end of the season. Whereas in La Liga and Bundesliga, clubs waited until June before a change was made. While it may be that further consideration was made by clubs in these divisions, owners are more likely to have let contracts run down to prevent having to pay off the manager.

Having investigated the data regarding managerial changes and time of the season, it is important to consider the flip side. When a manager leaves someone must replace them. One of Europe’s top managers, Jose Mourinho, recently said that in his first spell at Chelsea he thought it was difficult for foreign manages to get a job in the English Premier League. Whereas now he said it is easier for a foreign manager to get a job in the Premier League than an English coach. To look at the opposite side of managerial changes, data was collected regarding the nationality of managers who succeeded the manager they replaced.

The next step was to compare whether incoming managers are of the same or a different nationality to their predecessor in each of the top four European leagues. The last four full seasons and the current season were included to provide up to date analysis.

Percentages of managers who were of the same or a different nationality to their predecessor in the English Premier League and Serie A

At first glance the Premier League and Serie A appear to produce similar results. However the findings are startlingly different! 82% of incoming managers in the Premier League have been of a different nationality to their predecessor, whereas 18% were of the same nationality. This could suggest that clubs want a complete overhaul of their management and a new culture to be brought into the dressing room. These findings are consistent with Jose Mourinho’s opinion that it is easier for foreign coaches to get a job in the Premier League than English coaches as different nationalities are being brought into the league more and more.

In contrast, of the incoming managers in Serie A, 74% were of the same nationality to their predecessor and only 26% were of a different nationality. Interestingly 100% of the managers who were of the same nationality were Italian. Here it can be seen that there is a stark contrast in culture between England and Italy. Italy appears to stick with their countrymen, even when they make a managerial change. Whereas England do not consider it to be much of an issue when they bring in foreign managers. However, there is a huge difference between the competitiveness of the two leagues, so who is to say appointing managers of the same nationality is actually more beneficial for a league?

Percentages of managers who were of the same or a different nationality to their predecessor in La Liga and the Bundesliga

La Liga and the Bundesliga produce very different results to the Premier League and Serie A. In comparison both do not seem to have a preference for changing the nationality of their next manager, especially in Spain. However when looking at why this is in Spain, managers who have replaced Spanish managers are often from countries where Spanish is the first language such as Argentina. Like Serie A, La Liga want to provide some sort of consistency and are interested in managers being able to communicate effectively with their clubs core group of home-grown players.

To complete this analysis a comparison was made to see whether the four leagues had more incoming managers of the same or a different nationality to their predecessor overall.

Percentages of managers who were of the same or a different nationality to their predecessor across the top four European leagues

Amazingly, the stats show that there is an equal balance between incoming managers having the same or a different nationality to the previous manager. This is likely to be due to both La Liga and Bundesliga producing similar results and the English Premier League and Serie A producing opposite results. However for the top four European leagues to balance each other out, suggests Europe are for providing both consistency in the nationality of managers and importing a foreign manager with new ideas and a different culture.

From the analysis covered in this exercise it can be seen that the top four European leagues differ in the number of managerial changes that they make with Serie A leading the way and the Premier League making the fewest changes. With it being no secret that many managerial changes are made at the end of the season, it is interesting to note the reasons that are behind such changes and the high number of changes made in the winter months.

Further analysis could include comparing findings with data from many years ago while also considering other leagues across the world. Other considerations for analysis are: what are the most common nationalities in each of the leagues; the relationship between the length of a manager’s tenure and their win percentage; does the ‘manager merry-go-round’ impact heavily on the number of managerial changes made and the time between managers leaving and appointments.

While some of the reasons for managerial change were not covered in this exercise, there are many different avenues that could be investigated to delve deeper into the statistics presented here. However the presented data provides an interesting insight into the unusual world of football management across Europe.