With the likeable Italian cast aside, it leaves us with the perennial case of a manager coming in to try and save a club deep in relegation mire. But should the club just stick with their man and give him the chance to turn things around, or should a new man be sought? And does recent Premier League history back West Brom’s decision?
Last season the most successful case of bringing a new man in to stave of relegation was that of Bolton Wanderers, who discarded Gary Megson in December with the club sat 18th, with Owen Coyle coming in and leading the club to the sanctity of 14th. An inspired decision then – although, Megson himself had brought about a similar renaissance when he replaced Sammy Lee back in October 2007. With the club lurching perilously in 19th, Megson came in to steer the club to safety in the remaining months. The two other clubs who changed managers last season in an attempt to climb to safety were Hull and Portsmouth, both of whom were still relegated.
The season before last was a victory for changing the man at the helm in the hope a new man could come in and change the club’s fortunes around. Harry Redknapp took Tottenham from 20th to eighth in seven short months when he replaced Juande Ramos, while Allardyce saved Blackburn Rovers when he replaced Paul Ince with the Lancashire club staring down the barrel in 19th place. On a slightly lesser scale, Paul Hart steadied a sinking ship at Portsmouth, leading the club from 16th to 14th late on in the season as Tony Adams struggled in his first managerial post. To further hammer the nail into loyalty to managers, both Middlesbrough and West Brom stuck rigidly by their man’s side, only for Gareth Southgate and Tony Mowbray to lead the respective duo to the Championship.
In the 2007/08 season, it was a similar story, as managerial changes did see an upturn in fortunes once more. The aforementioned Megson saved Bolton, while Steve Bruce performed a similar act on Wigan’s fortunes following Chris Hutching’s short rein. Juande Ramos took Spurs from 18th to 11th when he replaced Martin Jol in October, and Roy Hodgson kept Fulham up by the skin of their teeth following the sacking of Lawrie Sanchez in December. Of the relegated clubs, Paul Jewell replaced Billy Davies at doomed Derby in November but couldn’t prevent the inevitable, while Reading stayed loyal to their man Steve Coppell to no avail.
It seems there are plenty of examples of clubs prevailing after wielding the axe, as well as those who stay loyal to their man losing out in the end. However, the likes of Wigan and West Ham stuck with their managers last season when they could’ve gone elsewhere, and were rewarded with Premier League sanctity, while Hull stuck with Phil Brown in the 2008/09 campaign despite a horrendous second half of the season, before securing safety.
Different scenarios call for different reactions, but there are enough success cases to suggest West Brom had a point when relieving Di Matteo of his duties on Sunday. New managers breathe fresh life into struggling teams, giving the players a new man to impress, with perhaps some of the negativity following the former boss out the door. As for West Brom, it remains to be seen if they go down as one of the success stories, or if they live to regret what is a massive decision in their season.