Manchester United fans rightly don’t want the reputation of being an unsupportive club that sacks the manager at the drop of a hat. One of the arguments that is regularly put forward for keeping hold of David Moyes is that “we don’t want to become like Chelsea”. Whilst I’d argue that Chelsea’s policy of sacking the manager hasn’t prevented them from being successful, with them winning plenty of trophies with the eight different managers they’ve had in the past six years, it certainly has limited their success.
When Roman Abramovich took over in 2004 it appeared as though Chelsea were going to dominate English football indefinitely. They have spent over £800m in transfers alone during this time, with a net spend of around £600m, whilst United’s spend is over £400m, with a net spend of £200m. United are a club that are hundreds of million in debt, yet have won more Premier League titles since Abramovich moved to Chelsea.
Chelsea have obviously been considerably more successful than they would have been without Abramovich but there’s no reasonable excuse for them not taking the league by storm and dominating the way United had done in the 90s and Liverpool had in the 80s. When you consider how much United have been hampered by the Glazers, a club that generates more cash every year than every club bar Real Madrid and Barcelona but spends nowhere near as much as the other top clubs in Europe, it’s unforgivable that Chelsea haven’t taken advantage of United’s massive debt.
There has also been no investment in the future, with no manager given time to evaluate the youth system and bring players through, meaning that John Terry, who made his debut in 1998, is the last player of note to make his way up through the ranks.
Jose Mourinho won back to back titles, the FA Cup and two League Cups in just three full seasons at the club, which was an incredible return. Ahead of Mourinho’s third season, he added one of the best players in the world for each area of the field to a side that had already comfortably won the title, signing Ashley Cole, Michael Ballack and Andrei Shevchenko. In contrast, United’s only signing that summer was Michael Carrick, yet the reds still won the title relatively easily, wrapping up the league a few weeks before the season ended.
Just a few weeks in to Mourinho’s fourth season he was sacked by Abramovich after a 1-1 draw with Rosenborg in the Champions League. The stadium was half empty for Mourinho’s last game in charge, with just 24k fans showing up.
In his match report, Martin Lipton, The Mirror, wrote: Boos echoed round the vast empty spaces of a half-full Stamford Bridge, leaving Mourinho to point the finger at the players who conspired to squander enough chances to win the group, let alone one game.
Chelsea were 5th in the table at the time but were only 2 points behind league leaders Arsenal and on the same points as the eventual title winners that season, United. They weren’t running away with the league as they had done in the past but there certainly wasn’t any sort of crisis at hand.
You would think that if you were going to bin Mourinho, the most successful manager in the club’s history, Abramovich would have a decent replacement in mind. Instead he appointed Avram Grant, a friend of his, who didn’t even have a Uefa Pro Licence, the required qualification for anyone wishing to manage in the top flight on a permanent basis. How many trophies did the decision to sack Mourinho cost Chelsea?
Carlo Ancelotti’s sacking was the next unbelievable decision from the owner, just a year after he became the first manager to win the league and FA Cup double at the West London club. He was dismissed after finishing 2nd in the league the following season.
A club statement read: “This season’s performances have fallen short of expectations and the club feels the time is right to make this change ahead of next season’s preparations.”
Finally, the sacking of Roberto Di Matteo was again incredibly unfair and premature, with him being dismissed after becoming the first manager to bring the European Cup to a London club. They were 3rd in the table at the time, 4 points behind United, but struggling in the Champions League.
The club statement read: “The team’s recent performances and results have not been good enough and the owner and the board felt that a change was necessary now to keep the club moving in the right direction as we head into a vitally important part of the season. The club faces a difficult task ahead in qualifying for the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League as well as maintaining a strong challenge for the top of the Premier League while competing in three other cup competitions. Our aim is to remain as competitive as possible and challenge strongly on all fronts.”
Chelsea went on to finish 3rd, 14 points behind United, under the leadership of Rafa Benitez, the manager the fans hated. When at Liverpool, Benitez slagged off Chelsea fans. Whilst blues were criticised from showing him no support from the beginning, it is important to remember that no matter how heated a rivalry, the hatred is rarely or ever so heated that a manager will criticise rival fans. For instance, Sir Alex Ferguson never said anything about Liverpool or City fans, and Arsene Wenger didn’t have a pop at United or Spurs fans, despite unsavoury chants. On how many occasions has a manager come out and singled out another team’s fans in the way Benitez did Chelsea’s?
“We don’t need to give away stupid plastic flags to our fans to wave, our supporters are always there with their hearts and that is all we need,” Benitez said in 2007. “Its the passion of the fans that helps us to win matches, not flags. Chelsea fans lack passion.”
Five years after these remarks, Abramovich chose him to manage Chelsea. In the 16th minute of every game Chelsea fans applauded and sang Di Matteo’s name. Although, the fact their fans stopped doing this the moment Benitez left the club, suggests this was more a protest against the Spaniard than it was a protest against Di Matteo’s sacking.
So no, we don’t want to become a club that sacks a manager the year after he’s won consecutive titles or the Double. We also don’t want to become a club that sacks a manager six months after they’ve won the European Cup. But that doesn’t mean that every time a manager is sacked that the club is in the wrong and that the manager deserved more time.
Take the sacking of Luiz Felipe Scolari in February 2009. The season before they finished 2nd, two points behind United, and played in the European Cup final against United. By the time Scolari was sacked, with less than four months of the season remaining, they were 4th in the table. Guus Hiddink replaced him for the last few months and they finished the season 3rd, as well as winning the FA Cup. Nobody could seriously argue that Chelsea should have persevered with Scolari.
The sacking of Andre Villas-Boas is also another great example of when Abramovich got it right, after he joined the club in the summer of 2011. Chelsea finished the 2010-2011 season 2nd in the league behind United. AVB was sacked in March, with Chelsea 5th in the table, 20 points behind United. His second stint at a Premier League club, Spurs, suggests that the fella just isn’t cut out of management in England, despite his success in Portugal.
To suggest that all managers deserve more time is ridiculous. Whilst some decisions may be too hasty and may backfire, dependent on the quality of the manager brought in to replace them, they are often necessary decisions to prevent a club going backwards.
United could get their next appointment wrong, just as Chelsea did when replacing Grant with Scolari, but that doesn’t change the fact the decision to get rid of a failing manager is the right one.
United are 23 points worse off than they were at this point last season, having won nine fewer games and losing five more. On December 31st 2013 United were just 3 points behind Chelsea and now, eight weeks later, we’re 18 points behind them. We are getting worse, not better, as time goes by, even with the addition of Juan Mata, a truly world class player.
At any other top club in Europe, Moyes would have been sacked by now, and whilst I don’t think getting rid of him before the season has finished is the right way to go, we certainly should be lining up a replacement for the summer. Whilst I wouldn’t want to see us sacking the manager every year, justified or otherwise as we have seen Chelsea do, I can’t see anything admirable in giving time to someone who clearly isn’t up to the job.