Mid-season managerial changes: A short-term oriented decision?


European top division managers are constantly under pressure and on-field success or failure tends to decide the fate of football managers. Ahead of the 2016/17 season, KPMG Football Benchmark team has analyzed mid-season managerial changes across the ‘big five’ leagues during the past five seasons.

The financial cost of missing out on a UEFA Champions League place or suffering relegation is significant and the number of mid-season managerial changes within the top-tier divisions of the ‘big five’ European leagues between the 2011/12 and 2015/16 campaigns (213) demonstrates that if a club’s expectations look likely to go unfulfilled, the first course of action may be the removal of the manager.

A successful mid-season hiring can inject fresh impetus, transforming a team into one capable of winning major competitions; a good example being Chelsea where Roberto di Matteo and then Rafael Benitez led the club to European honors in 2012 and 2013 respectively, or as most recently seen with Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid.

However, mid-season managerial replacements are notably most common among clubs fighting to avoid relegation. Between the 2011/12 and 2015/16 season, relegated clubs accounted for over a third of managerial changes, demonstrating that fear of relegation continues to guide decision-making, as a drop in league status has never appeared more costly as it has in recent years.

However, 23 out of 71 ‘big five’ league clubs relegated over the seasons under review decided to maintain their managers until the end of the troubled season despite poor results. This extended confidence is often the result of a club’s long-term planning, beyond a single season’s results (see Burnley, Hull City AFC or SC Freiburg). Indeed, despite relegation at the end of the 2014/15 season, all three of those clubs decided not to change their ‘man in charge’, and all three earned promotion one year later led by the same manager.  

On the other hand, of the 61 clubs that maintained their top-tier status in ‘big five’ leagues from the 2011/12 to the 2015/16 season, only 13 avoided mid-season managerial changes. Among these teams, it is interesting to highlight the cases of Arsenal FC and AS Saint-Etienne, which have shown higher-than-typical trust in Arsene Wenger and Christoph Galtier respectively. The two Frenchmen are the only managers who have kept their job through the analyzed period.

It was not surprising to find these two remarkable cases in French Ligue 1 and the English Premier League, as both competitions, of the 5 in question, registered the lowest number of manager dismissals in the last five seasons, 31 and 33 respectively.

Clubs showed less patience in La Liga (45) and the German Bundesliga (39), competitions in which at least one club has been led by three managers during each of the analyzed seasons. The most recent cases, in the 2015/16 season, included Valencia CF (Nuno, G. Neville, Ayestaran) and Hannover 96 (Frontzeck, Schaaf and Stendel).

But top spot in terms of managerial changes is held by Italy. The number of mid-season hirings registered in Serie A (65 over 5 seasons) is higher than the Premier League and Ligue 1’s totals combined. However, it should also be noted that this figure is strongly impacted by the frequent mid-season replacements at just a few clubs. In fact, the three ‘big five’ clubs that have replaced their managers with most frequency during this period are all Italian, namely US Citta di Palermo (10), Cagliari Calcio (7) and Genoa CFC (6).

Whilst some leagues may appear more prone to mid-season change, the figures  show no consistent drop in the number of managerial changes on any of the leagues. In fact, the aggregate number of manager replacements during the 2015/16 campaign (52) was the highest in the analyzed period.

Despite most club’s move towards more structured long-term planning in areas such as infrastructure and commercial development, this analysis demonstrates that pressure from fans and the economic impact of failing to meet the season’s goals are still key factors leading to short-term decision taking.

Further investigation into this and related topics, as well as analysis of industry data, can be undertaken for you by KPMG’s Sports practice. Our subject matter experts can also assist stakeholders in assessing and interpreting the potential impact on their organizations of any particular piece of research, identifying the underlying reasons behind specific trends or developing potential solutions and considering future scenarios.