Lots of factors can influence how safe a manager’s job is. Unrealistic expectations can hamper a boss just as much as bad finances or bad results.
If you glance below the Premier League, you will see a talented young manager, Darren Ferguson, recently parted company with Championship club Peterborough. Ferguson, with all his famous managerial genes, had carved his own reputation with a superb couple of seasons at Posh. Successive promotions had seen the club jump from League Two to the second tier, but a poor start to the season had left the team bottom of the Championship table. Compared to where the side had been two years previously, that was still surely immense progress. However, with an ambitious and relatively wealthy chairman on board, Peterborough had developed ideas above their station and Ferguson had suddenly become a failure, not a success.
The same can be labelled at Hull, where Phil Brown has come in for much criticism, including on this page, even though in reality Hull have no divine right to survive in the Premier League. If Hull want to prosper at this level, he is not the right man, but he has still done amazingly well to have the club at the top in the first place. In contrast, Paul Hart at Portsmouth has performed wonders at Portsmouth considering the shambolic affairs behind the scenes at Fratton Park. He still finds himself under pressure with a change of manager usually being the easiest way to paper the cracks at crumbling clubs, even if the manager is the least of the myriad problems.
In the firing line: Rafa Benitez (Liverpool), Gary Megson (Bolton Wanderers), Phil Brown (Hull City).
Looking over their shoulder: Mark Hughes (Manchester City), Sam Allardyce (Blackburn Rovers), Alex McLeish (Birmingham City), Gianfranco Zola (West Ham), Mick McCarthy (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Paul Hart (Portsmouth).
Safe as houses: Carlo Ancelotti (Chelsea), Arsene Wenger (Arsenal), Sir Alex Ferguson (Manchester United), Harry Redknapp (Tottenham Hotspur), Martin O’Neill (Aston Villa), Steve Bruce (Sunderland), Tony Pulis (Stoke City), Owen Coyle (Burnley), Roy Hodgson (Fulham), David Moyes (Everton), Roberto Martinez (Wigan Athletic).
Rafa Benitez – Liverpool’s legions of fans are split over who to blame for the dire form being displayed on the pitch. Some want rid of the quarrelling American owners whose investment opportunity has had a crippling effect on club finances. Others blame Benitez for the consistently poor player purchases he has made and some rather odd selection and substitution choices. Lucas Leiva has acquired himself the status of poster boy for all that is wrong on the field of play at Anfield, but he is just one of many players who would not get a sniff at Chelsea or Manchester United. For once, David Ngog was actually of use to the Reds, helping to salvage a scarcely deserved draw against Birmingham. Unfortunately, his role was that of chief diver, conning the referee in to awarding Benitez’s boys a penalty. Lucas or Ngog, the common factor is they have been bought with Benitez’s chequebook, and the buck must stop with the manager. This is not continental Europe where the Coach is lumped with players bought by a director of football. Sir Alex Ferguson has bought the odd turkey in his time, but he has never had quite so many distinctly average players in one team. Injuries to Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres have highlighted the problems in recent times, and their absences have not helped as Liverpool have seen just one win in nine games. Teams should be made up of 11 players, not two stars and a motley crew, and after four years of dining out on one Champions League success, it is time Rafa left first team affairs to someone else at Liverpool.
Gary Megson – There were hardly parties on the streets of Bolton when Gary Megson was appointed Bolton manager two years ago. The former West Brom boss was not even his own board’s first choice appointment, let alone the fans’. With the Trotters unsuccessful in their approaches for Chris Coleman and Steve Bruce, they turned to Megson, a man who had been at his then-club Leicester for just six weeks. Whilst successful enough at the Hawthorns, there has always been something distinctly unattractive and unexciting about Megson-managed teams. It could be a hangover from having been a functional defensive midfielder as a player himself, but his style was not going to excite anyone at the Reebok Stadium looking for a change after years of Sam Allardyce’s long ball stylings. Fighting against a tide of apathy has handicapped Megson from the start and has meant that every bad result has been factored more than for a popular gaffer. Current form has been very poor for the club with the defence looking particularly porous. After two 4-0 defeats inside a week to Chelsea, Bolton were then spanked 5-1 at Aston Villa. Even if results in the weeks before those games had been far from disgraceful, with narrow defeats to Manchester United and Liverpool and wins over Everton and West Ham, it speaks volumes of what the crowd thinks of the Trotters boss when all the focus falls on the big defeats rather than the positive matches. Matty Taylor and Kevin Davies are real Premier League quality players, but sadly Megson is not a top-flight boss.
Sam Allardyce – With his eventual successor at Bolton, Gary Megson, coming under fire, Allardyce can at least offer some empathy given his own position at current club Blackburn is looking a little shaky. Little under a year ago, Big Sam succeeded Paul Ince in the Ewood Park hotseat, and although he kept the struggling club in the Premier League with an upturn in form, he has fared little better than Ince did this season. Before the win over Portsmouth last time out, Rovers had just two points more after 10 games than they had at the same point last season under Ince. The onetime England captain was given until just December in his first season in the job and it would be hypocritical of Blackburn to afford Ince so little time and not expect vastly improved levels of performance from Allardyce. At Bolton, Allardyce was known for his physical style of football, with the team enjoying success regularly against attractive sides like Arsenal who they could bully. At Blackburn, Big Sam’s style is yet to prove quite as effective. In part this is due to playing personnel, with Allardyce yet to have had the time to shape his own squad. A wheeler-dealer by nature, the former Newcastle boss has unearthed many a bargain in his time and will surely do so again if given the chance in another corner of Lancashire. What he must do is start picking up the wins against the likes of Pompey, where his switch to two strikers for the second half paid off. Like with Megson’s Bolton, winless matches coupled to dour football mean the fans will not remain patient for long.