When is it a good time to sack a manager?

by Steve

Two months into the football season and there have already been several managerial casualties.

Perhaps the strangest, and least expected, is the most recent, Gareth Southgate. Southgate has been Middlesbrough boss since 2006, and took them to two mid-table Premiership finishes before last year’s relegation into the Championship. If he was going to get the sack, you would have thought it would have happened this summer. But instead, Chairman Steve Gibson took the advice of Tammy Wynette to heart and stood my his man.

Until now, that is. It is well-documented that many clubs have struggled in the Championship after dropping down. Middlesbrough, however, have held their own. They currently lie fourth, only one point off the top, and last night beat Derby County 2-0. So, Southgate was dismissed after a win, and with Middlesbrough in a very strong position to build on.

There have certainly been bad results this season, including a 5-0 home defeat to West Bromwich Albion, but the league table doesn’t lie. Middlesbrough could easily push on for promotion.

So why remove Southgate now? Has Gibson got someone lined up who he thinks will give Middlesbrough an extra edge? Has Southgate lost the confidence of players? Or has there been a grand falling-out behind the scenes? It will be interesting to see how this story develops.

Meanwhile, Liverpool lost their fourth consecutive game last night, with Lyon snatching a last-minute goal in a 2-1 at Anfield. To add insult to injury, Steven Gerrard left the pitch barely a quarter of the way into the game, injured. Liverpool are now on their worst run of results for 22 years. And the ever-patient Liverpool supporters are getting increasingly restless with manager Rafa Benitez.

Last night highlighted his managerial failings, certainly. The faults were manifold. There is clearly no quality replacement for Torres when he is injured. The substitutions were baffling. Gerrard goes off and is replaced by Auerlio, a defender. Benayoun, the most creative presence for Liverpool, is taken off with five minutes to go. Liverpool were set up to defend a 1-0 lead, rather than push for a bigger win, and almost inevitably came unstuck.

It’s a good job I was suitably satiated in a prime pub spot with a plate of scampi and chips, a pint of good beer, and my ever-understanding Significant Other (that is not my order of preference, by the way). Otherwise, my blood pressure would have been going through the roof at such a frustrating performance. Or maybe I’m just getting worringly used to Liverpool losing?

So, should Rafa go? I’m extremely wary of managers being sacked mid-season. While there then might be an initial surge with a new manager, does it really help in the long-term? And how many top-class managers are available right now?

Liverpool face Manchester United on Sunday, and things don’t get any easier for Rafa. A win would certainly be a reprieve. But if they lose in the manner of the past few games, or worse, more and more questions will be asked.