For the past few seasons, an ignominious pre-season prediction has begun – affectionately known as “The Sack Race”, football fans have started a grossly understandable trend of guessing which of the 20 Barclay’s Premier League managers will be the first to be given his pink slip. While it is a sorry reflection on the state of English football that undermines the solidarity and passion invoked by the beautiful game… it’s good fun.
With Manchester United, Tottenham, Southampton and West Brom already opting for a managerial change of course (for one reason or another), who leads the way in the 2013/14 Premier League sack race (according to SkyBet odds)?
The favourite: Sam Allardyce (8/11)
Considering the pressure piled on West Ham boss Sam Allardyce at the tail-end on last season, it shouldn’t come as a major surprise that the Hammers head-honcho is favourite with SkyBet to be the first man out the door. His relationship with West Ham is a rich tapestry of love/hate, for reasons only West Ham fans will be able to explain.
Allardyce walked in to the Boleyn Ground back in 2011, picking the club up out of the Championship and leading them straight back to the Premier League at the first time of asking. He first received some publicised stick from his fan-base for failing to take the team up automatically – despite the top two (Reading and Southampton) undeniably and efficiently powering their way through the competition since Christmas time. His head was also on the block in their first season back in the top flight, with fans calling his “long ball” style in to question. Last season was much the same – more complaints about his tactics, coupled with a relegation scare in December/January, and the farce that has been Andy Carroll’s West Ham spell, surged in to whirlwind of displeasure and intolerance.
While West Ham haven’t set the world alight with their transfers, only further indicating that the West Ham Way will be long and over the top until Sam is disposed, there is one key factor some fans are quick to forget – the stadium move. With the club soon to be inheriting the Olympic Stadium, Premier League football will be vital. That is something you can guarantee with Sam Allardyce, and unfortunately for the West Ham doubters, I suspect THAT is the chain that binds Big Sam to his office chair. He may be the bookies favourite, but as far as I’m concerned, he’s got a job at West Ham until the club have moved house, and stayed up again.
Plan B: Paul Lambert (7/1)
Ever since he first arrived at the club, Paul Lambert has been a lightning rod for fan frustration. There have been times during his reign in charge where he has appeared dangerously close to getting a call from Randy Lerner (anyone remember that FA Cup humiliation a day after he suggested the tournament was outdated?).
It is just as understandable that Paul Lambert would be high on the odds list in this years sack race. As Wigan proved two seasons back, you can’t run forever. However, when you consider the situation at Villa, I’d have to question how sensible sacking Lambert really would be. With the club up for sale, it’s fair to say that Randy Lerner will have bigger decisions to make than the future of his manager. It would be far much safer to leave Lambert in his position, let him go about his business and look after the on-field duties, keeping the consistency, than to severe ties and go on the hunt for a new man. Far smarter, indeed, to let Paul Lambert fight for his job. Show everyone what he can do with a young team and a developing squad, so that when the new owner walks in, he can see what he’s got.
With this in mind, I think Aston Villa may be foolish to send Lambert packing. The only reason I give this idea credence is the appointment of former Sunderland boss, and Republic of Ireland assistant, Roy Keane. With Keane now as Lambert’s right hand, it gives a certain impression – is Randy Lerner keeping a ready-made replacement on hand? Is Roy Keane his plan B? Only time will tell, but fortunately for Paul, my money will be going elsewhere.
The Calculated Risk: Alan Irvine (9/1)
Now some of you may remember about a month ago, I did a piece entitled “The Curious Case of West Bromwich Albion”, in which I outlined the dangers of the Baggies’ decision to appoint former Sheffield Wednesday and Preston manager, Alan Irvine. I still stand by my sentiments in that article – it is nigh-on impossible to firmly say whether West Brom will sink or swim on the back of this appointment. But if I were a betting man, Alan Irvine would be where my money’s going.
This appointment – and any bets placed on him – was a calculated risk. The board will have known that, in choosing Irvine, they run the very real risk of seeing West Brom in a pickle much worse than that of Pepe Mel’s reign. But they also know that Irvine is a man determined to prove he’s not a managerial flop. That gives him an unknown factor which may help drive his side up the table and in to safety… but I just can’t convince myself of that. Every fibre of my being tells me that West Brom will live to regret hiring Alan Irvine, and they will correct that decision by Christmas.
So there you have it – those are the favourite for this year’s Premier League sack race. Feel free to leave us a comment below and tell us who your money is going on, or Tweet either myself (@rossbramble) or the official We Are Hooligans account (@WeRHooligansFS) with your opinions!