Greg Abbott and the unheard of managers

At the end of last season, the longest serving managers with one club included Sir Alex Ferguson and David Moyes. At the beginning of this season, the longestserving managers in the Football League were Arsene Wenger and the unheard-of Greg Abbott of Carlisle United. But this week, after Carlisle’s disastrous start, Greg Abbott became another casualty and found himself unemployed as his six-year tenure ended. The average tenure of a manager of a Premier League manager (if you exclude Wenger) is now down to 1 year and 2 months.

There have been numerous complaints over the years about the consumer culture that surrounds football and the hiring/firing of managers. The throwaway nature of a manager seems to detract from the actual importance of coaching and a manager’s ability to do their job. This is the most important aspect of a manager: to be able to form a team around his ideals and style of play while also forging a club policy that will carry the club forward rather than constantly changing policy. Clubs are willing to invest so much in bringing in the right manager and will interview a variety of qualified candidates over a period of weeks before making a decision, yet they give those chosen so little time to enact lasting changes.

Lasting changes seem to lead to greater success as Wenger, Moyes and Ferguson have shown over the last decade. Those managers have achieved continued success with Moyes really pushing Everton higher up the table consistently. So does being a long serving manager bring a team more success? It is quite possible to say that it does. But at what stage does a short-term manager become a long-term manager? Is it only short-term success that allows a manager to become a long-term one?

Greg Abbott proves that success is important in the short term as well as in the long term. Despite the fact that he got Carlisle up to League 1, he hasn’t managed to take them anywhere in the last two years and so his tenure was ended. Long-term managers like Wenger are still judged on short-term success. Only because Wenger has the full support of the Arsenal board, due to making profits consistently, is he able to remain in the job despite having not won anything in six years. He is consistently called to resign or be fired by the Arsenal fan base due to the fact that Arsenal haven’t won anything in the short term. The failure to win anything recently should not be what Wenger is judged for. His ability to lead Arsenal, despite relatively low amounts of spending, to the Champions League 16 years in row is an incredible achievement that is forgotten readily when the team has a poor start to the season.

Short-term managers on the other hand are focused more on results than on creating their own vision for the club. Simon Kuper wrote about the effect of changing managers during a season in “Soccernomics” and what he found was that changing managers does improve the team for the first month, but then the team returns to equilibrium. The purpose of changing a manager seems very limited, and if a team with a long-term manager typically does more successfully, then it seems worthwhile to wait out the short-term problems.

With the high priced and long term contracts handed out to football managers yearly, it is even less worthwhile sacking a manager if he has a few bad games. Some clubs have started offering managers shorter deals to avoid huge payouts when the manager is fired. But there are odd contracts that get handed out occasionally including one to Alan Pardew who received an eight-year contract that will land him almost $15m if he is fired this season. While Newcastle are clearly signalling their intention to keep their manager for the long term, it seems like a foolish risk to take by handing someone an eight year contract with no get-out clause. So in many ways, mostly due to the large wages, it makes sense to hand out short-term contracts that minimize the risk for the club but also hamper the club’s development

So what happens to Greg Abbott now? He gets to search for a new job in a market where people are constantly switching and loyalty is unimportant. But he is a victim of the current culture; while his loyalty to Carlisle is commendable, it couldn’t last. The current state of the game means that long-term managers are a thing of the past except for the few exceptions. But with Newcastle leading the way there may be hope for managers who want to settle down in an area rather than being hired and fired across Europe.

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