Off Script | Gary Neville on sacking season in English football
"A sacking of a manager is a reflection upon you as an owner. You've got it wrong. I don't look at it any other way"
Last Updated: 27/11/19 5:04pm
In the latest edition of Off Script, Gary Neville reflects on his experiences as Valencia manager and Salford owner to address the phenomenon of 'sacking season' in English football...
The new-season optimism is now a thing of the past. Pressure is mounting on managers, clubs are starting to panic and that can only mean one thing - sacking season is upon us.
Javi Gracia and Mauricio Pochettino have already been relieved of their duties by Watford and Tottenham this season and as the cold winter months draw in, a handful of managers look nervously over their shoulders.
But can managers tell when the writing is on the wall? And what can they do to stop the inevitable? Gary Neville sheds light on his spell in charge of Valencia and explains why managers in England haven't got it half as bad as in Spain...
When things became untenable in Valencia
"Did I see my sacking at Valencia coming? The whole world could see it coming! You don't have to be an expert. I obviously knew the owners very well, but it got to a point where it was untenable.
"It was explained to me at the very beginning in a jovial manner. I was told that once the white handkerchiefs went up at Valencia, as a manager you're done, there's no way back. Once the fans have turned, to the point where you've lost the whole crowd, it's over.
"That moment came for me against Celta Vigo, around 60 minutes when we had conceded a goal and it went. We'd been beaten by Barcelona 7-0 a few weeks before and from that moment on it was rough, rough like you wouldn't believe.
"My press conferences became painful in the sense that I was asked repeatedly 'how do you keep your job?', 'why are you here?' and all you can do is keep saying you have belief and keep spouting out the stuff we in the media hear a lot of the time from managers.
"But the reality is that in the end you know it's coming if the results don't change, you can feel it. I knew that if we didn't win against Celta Vigo I would have a massive problem, and I did."
Sacking season? You should see it in Spain
"The media in England are soft on managers compared to Spain. In Spain, the brutal questions come once, they come twice, they come three times.
"If Unai Emery was being interviewed after Arsenal's draw with Southampton, every question would be about why he thinks he should keep his job and various forms of the same question. In England, interviewers are more respectful in the sense they would ask a question and then move on.
"Ultimately, we have accepted that sacking season is a thing, but I had a real problem when I first got into punditry and media.
"David Moyes' sacking after eight months at Manchester United didn't sit well with me, it was ridiculous, Nigel Adkins' sacking before Mauricio Pochettino went to Southampton was another ridiculous decision."
What is it like to wield the axe?
Neville and his Class of '92 team-mates have overseen two managerial overhauls since becoming owners of Salford City in 2014. These decisions require swift action but also a time of self-reflection, as Neville explains...
"From a Salford City point of view, a sacking of a manager is a reflection upon you as an owner and a board, because you've got it wrong. I don't look at it any other way.
"We sacked a manager (Phil Power) at Salford after six months. He'd been there 18 months and we hadn't appointed him, but it was quite clear that we didn't feel it was right for the club. Then Johno (Anthony Johnson) and Berno (Bernard Morley) had three-and-a-half years, which I think is an acceptable time for a manager to do his work.
"After three years there has to be some sort of change because players get tired of hearing the same voice. I don't know how Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger did it, great managers who stayed in a job for such a long time.
"I think that is very difficult nowadays and three years is probably the right moment for clubs, managers and players where they need that different voice. And when you look at Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham, he just fell foul in the end of basically being there too long."
No choice but to sack Pochettino?
Neville offers his take on the news that sent shockwaves around the footballing world when Mauricio Pochettino was relieved of his duties at Tottenham...
"I don't know what was going on inside Spurs, but I'm less definite than I was a few years ago about sacking managers.
"From Mauricio's point of view, it would have been better for this all to have happened at the end of a season, but it unfortunately doesn't work like that. Sometimes these things happen, I gave up my footballing career in the middle of a season - I couldn't get to the end of the season.
"Nobody looks at Pochettino's sacking and thinks that it wasn't the right decision for both parties, because if Mauricio had the energy to carry on, I think he would have carried on. He obviously wouldn't have wanted to be sacked, but part of me feels like the decision suited him at this moment in time.
"Sometimes these decisions suit both parties and they are decisions that have to be made, they cannot wait.
"You cannot sack a manager at the first instance of something not being quite right, you have to see it through a period where you know it's not right. You cannot sack someone after a bad run of games, you've got to let them come through it and back them because you appointed them."
Emery, Silva, Pellegrini, Flores - who next?
With the pressure mounting on Unai Emery at Arsenal, Marco Silva at Everton, Manuel Pellegrini at West Ham and Quique Sanchez Flores at Watford, Neville explains what could spark a managerial change...
"It's all down to what's going on behind the scenes whether clubs decide to part with managers that are currently under pressure.
"Is good quality work going on behind the scenes that isn't bearing fruit just yet? Are the board aware of that? Do the board think things can change, or are things set in stone?
"If you go through a period of three, four or five months of real sustained dip, you've got a real problem. Then a manager might get given a period of time to resolve things, and after that point the club has a decision to make.
"But that cannot be in the first 12 months, can it? Maybe it can. But it feels to me that managers do get given less time, clubs are less patient, and it's all driven by financial reasons.
"If the drop between the Premier League and Championship financially wasn't so huge, you wouldn't get the panic that sets in."
'Don't choose your club, choose your owners'
As Sir Alex Ferguson famously said, managers should choose the owners they work for, not the club. It's a point Neville agrees wholeheartedly with, but accepts it's a luxury afforded only to the very best, like Pochettino...
"The very best managers still have that luxury, the very best can pick and choose and do what they want. But the majority of people in football will take the next available job, it's a merry-go-round and the same people are linked with the same jobs.
"Mauricio Pochettino will get linked with every single job in the next three months. I think he is in a position where he can select where he goes next, he's in a strong position and his next job will be one of the super clubs in Europe.
"Arsenal would be interesting. It's happened before George Graham going the other way. Would Spurs fans like that? Would Mauricio do that? Would Arsenal do that? I'm not sure Mauricio would want to do something like that to Spurs.
"Taking over at Arsenal would be similar to the job he just left at Tottenham, in the sense that there is some investment and spending, but it's limited. He's not going to go to Arsenal and win the league in the next two years.
"Whatever the next job Mauricio takes, he will want to win trophies, that will be the most important factor in the decision."