Eleven games in, five managers gone – what is going on?

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November 10, 2021
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    Nuno Espirito Santo, Daniel Farke and Dean SmithNuno Espirito Santo, Daniel Farke and Dean Smith were all sacked in the first week of November

    Eleven games into the season, five managers gone, three sacked in seven days. What's going on?

    Dean Smith's dismissal by Aston Villa means more managers have lost their job in England's top flight already this season than in the whole of 2020-21 – with this the highest number of departures at this stage of a campaign for 17 years.

    The return of fans, financial pressure, and just sheer panic have been suggested as some of the reasons why.

    BBC Sport takes a closer look.

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    How did we get here and is it unusual?

    A quarter of all Premier League clubs have changed their manager so far this season, with three sacked in quick succession as the most recent international break loomed.

    • 3 October: Watford's Xisco Munoz was the first to go, sacked with the Hornets 14th, seven games into the season. He was replaced by Claudio Ranieri.
    • 20 October: Newcastle boss Steve Bruce left his post by mutual consent, 13 days after the Saudi Arabia-backed £305m takeover of the Magpies with the club winless in the league. He has been replaced by Eddie Howe.
    • 1 November: Tottenham dismissed Nuno Espirito Santo after four months in the post, after a run of five defeats in seven league matches. He was replaced by Antonio Conte.
    • 6 November: Norwich's Daniel Farke was sacked hours after their first Premier League win of the season. The club are yet to appoint a successor.
    • 7 November: Aston Villa's Dean Smith was dismissed two days after the club's fifth successive league defeat. A replacement has not yet been announced.

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    In each of the past three seasons, only one team had parted company with their manager by this stage.

    The most in-season departures for managers in a Premier League campaign is 10 – in both 2013-14 and 2017-18.

    Short presentational grey line

    'International break the perfect time'

    Phil McNulty, BBC chief football writer

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    The international break is time for clubs to take stock – and increasingly spells very bad news for managers on the edge.

    It is no coincidence that a break in the programme is now a time to worry for managers struggling for good results.

    Management is an increasingly brutal business, focus sharpened by the rewards for success and the penalties for failure. It can now often be only a matter of games before a struggling manager has his future questioned.

    The international break gives clubs a bit of space to consider their position and that of the manager, and who might come in if a change is made.

    The events over the weekend have proved once again what an unforgiving world managers operate in, with the fear of failure and the inability to fulfil high ambitions turning up the pressure even more.

    Short presentational grey line

    Does it work?

    Changing managers during the season is a risky business.

    However, that does not deter clubs – there have been 16 in-season changes since the start of the 2019-20 campaign.

    Team Manager Season Position when leaving Final/current position
    Watford Javi Gracia replaced by Quique Sanchez Flores 2019-20 20 19
    Tottenham Mauricio Pochettino replaced by Jose Mourinho 2019-20 14 6
    Arsenal Unai Emery replaced by Mikel Arteta 2019-20 8 8
    Watford Quique Sanchez Flores replaced by Nigel Pearson 2019-20 20 19
    Everton Marco Silva replaced by Carlo Ancelotti 2019-20 18 12
    West Ham Manuel Pellegrini replaced by David Moyes 2019-20 17 16
    Watford Nigel Pearson replaced by caretaker Hayden Mullins 2019-20 17 19
    West Brom Slaven Bilic replaced by Sam Allardyce 2020-21 19 19
    Chelsea Frank Lampard replaced by Thomas Tuchel 2020-21 9 4
    Sheffield United Chris Wilder replaced by interim manager Paul Heckingbottom 2020-21 20 20
    Tottenham Jose Mourinho replaced by caretaker Ryan Mason 2020-21 7 7
    Watford Xisco Munoz replaced by Claudio Ranieri 2021-22 15 17
    Newcastle Steve Bruce replaced by interim boss Graeme Jones, then by Eddie Howe 2021-22 19 19
    Tottenham Nuno Espirito Santo replaced by Antonio Conte 2021-22 9 9

    *Daniel Farke and Dean Smith have not been included as Norwich and Villa are yet to appoint replacements.

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    As the table indicates, changing manager during the season produces mixed results. In terms of league position, Tottenham benefited most when they replaced Mauricio Pochettino with Jose Mourinho, who oversaw a rise of eight places.

    Later that season, Everton's decision to dismiss Marco Silva with the club languishing in the relegation zone was vindicated with caretaker-boss Duncan Ferguson driving the club up to 15th before Carlo Ancelotti improved their position further to 12th.

    Thomas Tuchel's arrival as Frank Lampard's replacement at Chelsea in January also prompted an uptick in form as the German secured a top-four finish before guiding the Blues to their second Champions League title.

    But Watford sacked three managers – Javi Gracia, Quique Sanchez Flores and Nigel Pearson – during the 2019-20 season. When Pearson was dismissed, the Hornets sat three points above the relegation zone with two games remaining, and caretaker boss Hayden Mullins was unable to steer the club to safety.

    This season, Claudio Ranieri's Premier League return with the Hornets has not had the desired impact, with the Italian overseeing three defeats in four since replacing Xisco.

    Villa and Norwich – 16th and 20th respectively – have not yet confirmed their new bosses, but the recent trend suggests they will have their work cut out.

    Financial and fan pressure

    Survival in the Premier League is of paramount financial importance to clubs given the loss of TV revenue that comes with dropping down a tier – the current TV deal is £4.7bn.

    In addition, the impact of Covid-19 continues to be felt in football, with the pandemic calculated to have cost Europe's 20 richest clubs more than £1.7bn by the end of last season, according to finance company Deloitte.

    "We're seeing the big business aspect of football now," former Premier League midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker told BBC Radio 5 Live.

    "Most of these clubs want that quick fix. I think it's much more about the financial gain now than anything else. It's become more cut-throat."

    Has the return of fans to grounds also contributed to the increase in managerial exits?

    Last year, Arsenal went seven games without a league win. They played most of those matches behind closed doors, and boss Mikel Arteta held on to his job.

    Nuno wasn't so lucky. The Portuguese, who had been named manager of the month in August, was sacked after three losses in four, with his side booed off the pitch in his final game in charge.

    "The problem is that those who are happy with a manager and want to see him given more time are actually the quiet ones, aren't they?" said BBC football correspondent John Murray.

    "The fans that want to see managers replaced are the noisy ones that create the clamour."

    It's not exclusive to those at the ground either. Former Premier League boss Tony Pulis told the BBC podcast The Sports Desk he feared criticism by some pundits and fans had "gone too far".

    "The world's changing – there's no middle ground any more," said the former Stoke and West Brom boss.

    "There doesn't seem [to be] that coming together, the media that surrounds our industry has done exactly that."

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