Wednesday, December 15, 2010

'Tis the Season

... to sack managers.

Blackburn's Sam Allardyce is the latest manager to be given his pink P45 slip, made redundant by the new ownership of the northwest club, the Indian Poultry company Venky's. Early tips suggested he was removed due to a conflict between the club's ambitions - a fifth-placed finish next term - and their transfer ambitions - five million available and two guys they'd strongly suggested he buy.

The club's new chair, Anuradha Desai, spoke to ESPN Soccernet in an attempt to dispel those rumours but rumblings persist they are keen on Middlesbrough's Scottish striker Kris Boyd and San Jose's flamboyant Brazilian Geovanni. All reports of the firing mentioned meetings between board and manager had left both sides malcontent but if we believe that Allardyce's reaction to being instructed who to buy wasn't the reason for his departure, then suddenly reasons for Big Sam's termination aren't apparent. Blackburn have performed well, if not overpoweringly in the league and hadn't spent money on players for over a year. Allardyce's development of highly rated youngsters Steven Nzonzi and Phil Jones could well pay dividends as they may soon be snaffled by big clubs as each approaches their national team squad.

He may well be replaced permanently by his number two, Steve Kean, who has taken temporary charge of Rovers, as Venky's has stated they're looking for a British manager. This places Chris Hughton, recently of Newcastle United, in the frame and habitual candidates Sven Goran Eriksson and Diego Maradona mercifully ruled out. This came as part of a statement in which they floated a possible "X-factor" type audition-come-scouting process that could be turned into a TV show, a project already tried in Australia.

The man "better suited to managing Real Madrid or Inter" may though fall on his feet. A specialist in avoiding relegation who turned a bunch of also-rans into over-achievers at Bolton, he may have a ready-made challenge at West Ham where boss Avram Grant has reportedly been given two games to save both his job and the Hammers' season. West Ham have been almost uniformly awful this term despite captain Scott Parker playing out of his skin and youthful promise from Junior Stanislas. A proto-Allardyce, take-charge type would be perfect should the Israeli that David James calls "Yoda" receive his marching orders. Quiet Man Hughton has also been strongly linked as the preferred candidate for Messrs Gold & Sullivan due to his experience last year, where he took Newcastle back to the Premiership in their first attempt.

The Hammers' steadfastness at the bottom of the table is a slight puzzle given they appear more talented - if paper thin - than several of their competitors for the three relegation spots. Between last season with Portsmouth and West Ham this year, Grant's League record in 2010 has been abysmal. He has, however, taken Portsmouth to the FA Cup Final and West Ham to this year's League Cup final showing his Cups form remains nearly indomitable. Unfortunately for Yoda, it's the Premiership and the money it brings that interests Gold & Sullivan meaning Grant's status remains perilous at best.

Other managers under pressure include Roberto Martinez at Wigan, Aston Villa's new boss Gerard Houllier, Fulham's Mark Hughes and most prominently the Gentleman of English football, Liverpool's Roy Hodgson. Poor performances or an inability to match last season's standing dogs each of them. Although the pressure has eased on Roberto Mancini in the blue half of Manchester, he finds his job mildly in question because of the style of play he's conducted at Eastlands. His consistent use of defensive tactics has frustrated fans and players alike but a recent run of results has probably ensured his position for now.

Each boss finds himself under the magnifying glass as the January transfer window approaches because it's now that clubs start thinking about shelling out on new players. For the Hammers, where would the sense be in giving Grant money to spend on the players his style of play demands when the style encouraged by Allardyce or Hughton requires different skill sets?

As Christmas approaches, it still remains to be seen if one or more of these men has more time to spend with his family during the cold English winter. With so many bosses feeling the pressure it's likely that there will be at least one gaffer dismissed this year and with the Winter Sales - and the point of no return - just around the corner, that looks to be coming sooner rather than later.

We'd love to hear your comments as to who you think will be the first manager sacked. Who would you replace them with?

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