Nowadays in the Premier League, you are normally guaranteed three things: high-scoring games, Everton starting poorly before undergoing a late resurgence, and sackings. We have seen plenty of the former, with the Chelsea-Arsenal and Manchester United-Manchester City matches dispelling the notion of cagey encounters between the bigger clubs.
Yet again, David Moyes has seen his side slump to narrow defeats, squandering chances galore, but with it widely acknowledged that they are in no real danger. However, somewhat remarkably, all the Premier League managers have thus far held on to their jobs. Is this representative of a fresh trend or merely an anomaly that will soon be corrected as rash owners begin to lose patience?
The perception of chairmen as trigger-happy egotists has hardly been suppressed by the likes of Mike Ashley at Newcastle United, who dispatched Chris Hughton with such impunity last December. In the past, managers have quickly become scapegoats for the shortcomings of their team or individual players. However, this season, there seems to have been a change of attitude. Although Carlos Tevez’s refusal to play against Bayern Munich was extraordinary, nobody ever questioned Roberto Mancini’s handling of the situation: the blame, from public and internal sources, was laid squarely at the Argentinian’s door.
Roberto Martinez and Owen Coyle have overseen poor starts at Wigan Athletic and Bolton Wanderers respectively, but remain highly respected by fans and chairman. Even at Blackburn Rovers, where protestations at the enduringly faltering tenure of Steve Kean are increasingly vociferous, the consensus is that the Indian owners, Venky’s, are at fault for the chaos. There has been a discernible heightening of respect for managers this season, and players are no longer able to unconditionally escape the wrath of their own fans.
The sense of expectation also seems much more abstract this campaign. It is widely accepted that the Manchester clubs will dominate the division, Chelsea will finish in the top four and Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Arsenal will battle to secure the final Champions League spot.
Outside the top six, nobody knows whether they should be aiming for Europa League qualification or fighting to avoid relegation. Everton are normally seen as the side that should be lurking behind the bigger clubs, but it is widely accepted now that a season of mid-table mediocrity would be a success for Moyes, given his club’s meagre squad and dire finances.
The likes of Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion, although hardly setting the league alight, espouse a new brand of clubs that is content with steady progression rather than rapid ascension: Tony Pulis and Roy Hodgson are sensible managers employed by sensible chairmen.
There is a clear sense that dispensing with proven managers is likely to merely create pernicious uncertainty and, given the uniformity of quality across the bottom fourteen or so, potentially propel the club into a messy, costly scrap to avoid the drop. This is especially true of the newly promoted clubs, all of whom are comfortably mid-table. Stability, normally a buzzword flagrantly ignored by all and sundry, has suddenly become the fashion.
It is difficult to imagine the trend lasting for long, given the ideologies of the power-hungry chairman who preside over some Premier League clubs. Indeed, it is only a matter of time before the annual sack-race has its winner. Wolves’ Mick McCarthy isn’t as popular as he used to be, Steve Bruce looks wearier every week after continued inconsistency by his Sunderland side, and Kean evinces the puppet whose strings are about to snap.
Yet, already this season we have seen Martinez pronounced “unsackable” by his chairman, and Hodgson told he can continue at the Hawthorns for as long as he wants. Perhaps most significantly, there has been not a murmur of Newcastle removing their manager from his job. That’s when you know times might be a-changing.