There was a time before billionaire businessmen and Middle-Eastern Sheikhs when a manager could join a Premier League football club and not wonder whether his P45 would be in the post 12 months later.
It was a time when a chairman may have to use the Yellow Pages to find out the number of another football club to speak to his opposite number about recruiting their manager. There was respect, professional integrity, loyalty and an understanding that ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’.
Minor hyperbole aside, the Premier League was an almost gladiatorial arena, and while, perhaps, not on the same level as Rome, there were no side deals, illegal courting of players or knee-jerk boardroom reactions.
Fast forward 30 years and the Premier League has become a hunting ground for the wealthiest in the world, looking for their next shiny new toy. For all intents and purposes, top-tier football clubs in England have become vanity projects for uber richer and what they see staring back at them is a stark reflection that disappoints more often than not.
When Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea football club in 2004 for a reported £140 million, this was the dawn of a new era for England’s top flight. He could buy silverware with very little competition standing in his way and quickly became accustomed to winning.
What came over the next few years were other billionaires following suit – success became harder, Chelsea were no longer guaranteed victory, and Abramovich became impatient. Over the course of 18 years, the Russian oligarch appointed 18 managers in the pursuit of continued success (Jose Mourinho twice) – this becoming the most notorious job in club football.
To put that into perspective, Sir Alex Ferguson was Manchester United’s manager for 27 years (the longest-serving manager at a club in football), while Arsene Wenger served Arsenal for 22 years.
For both of these managers, they had to wait for their time in the sun. There were no blockbuster transfer fees (at least in the beginning), but an understanding that success takes time. Applying this principle, it saw the two go head-to-head in one of the Premier League’s fiercest rivalries during the late nineties and early 2000s, before Abramovich came along.
Both managers were effectively titans of their arena, earning the right to loyalty from owners who saw them as almost irreplaceable – both built footballing dynasties and left long-lasting legacies.
Since both managers retired (Ferguson in 2013 and Wenger in 2018), no Premier League manager can claim that they have been at their club for over eight years.
Indeed, Jurgen Klopp, following the dismissal of Burnley boss Sean Dyche last year, is now the league’s longest-serving manager at over seven years, having taken over in October 2015.
When Patience Works In The Premier League
Current Liverpool boss, (Jurgen) Klopp is a prime example of a club that were willing to be patient with their manager – the owners believing in the German’s philosophies, perhaps, largely based on his respectable track record.
It took Klopp over two years to fully implement his style and build a squad that could satisfy the owners on the pitch. They are perhaps a rare example of owners who understood this. In fact, over the course of seven years, with Klopp at the helm, Liverpool have won the full set of major honours – the first coming in the 2018/19 season when they lifted the Champions League trophy. That meant it took nearly four years for the Reds to win their first piece of (major) silverware under Klopp, which was the start of a period where many more followed.
This approach is a stark contrast to other football clubs, whose billionaire owners see (in some cases) one trophyless season as a disappointment.
Another club that could be seen to be turning a corner are Arsenal. Following the departure of Wenger, they hired Unai Emery, who lasted 18 months, while Freddie Ljungberg’s reign as caretaker boss spanned 13 months; during this time, there still appeared to be something not quite right.
When Mikel Arteta joined the club, leaving his post as assistant manager at Manchester City, this was seen by many as a big gamble. It does, finally, appear after just over two years in charge, the Spaniard could be the one to follow in Wenger’s footsteps. Currently, they look unbeatable, at the summit of the Premier League by a clear distance; seemingly, the board’s patience could be set to be rewarded.
What Do The Last Five Years Reveal?
The second-longest serving manager in the English top flight may hardly come as a surprise and is an example of another nation-state club that may have turned a corner. Pep Guardiola has been at Manchester City for just over six-and-a-half years, which has seen the club win nine major trophies, including four Premier League titles. A much sought-after Champions League win still eludes the club, however, having lost the competition’s final to Chelsea in 2021.
Apart from two other managers (Brendan Rodgers: Leicester City, nearly four years/David Moyes: West Ham, just over three years), every other manager in the Premier League has been at their club for less than 18 months – effectively starting from Patrick Vieira (Crystal Palace – 18 months exactly).
There are exceptions when you include promoted clubs. Fulham boss Marco Silva (18 months) and Brentford’s Thomas Frank (four years) are those.
Over the last five years, there have been multiple reasons for managers being sacked; Abramovich arguably being the owner who made the most dismissals, which included Antonio Conte, Maurizio Sarri and Frank Lampard, the former two having won silverware, while the latter reached the FA Cup final and qualified for the Champions League, finishing fourth.
Perhaps one instance which saw the then longest-serving manager of a Premier League football club dismissed since Wenger left Arsenal was when Burnley parted ways with Sean Dyche, who for eight years kept the club in the Premier League on a shoe-string budget, even guiding them to a Europa League place. Perhaps unlucky to be dismissed during a relegation fight that was far from over at the time, he may have been able to keep the club in the top flight had the board not panicked.
Another club that could be guilty of some managerial instability over the last three years, at least, is Tottenham, a club where something seemingly isn’t quite right at the moment. In 2019, Mauricio Pochettino’s four-and-a-half-year reign came to end, with his successor (Jose) Mourinho lasting just 15 months, while Nuno Espirito Santo lasted just four months. Over the last 14 years, though, the club has had seven managers, including current boss (Antonio) Conte, a sign, perhaps, that they are another club that will make a change if there isn’t enough progress.
Top 10 Current Longest Serving Premier League Managers
|Jurgen Klopp||Liverpool||7 years, 3 months|
|Pep Guardiola||Manchester City||6 years, 6 months|
|Thomas Frank||Brentford||4 years, 3 months|
|Brendan Rodgers||Leicester City||3 years, 10 months|
|Mikel Arteta||Arsenal||3 years, 1 month|
|David Moyes||West Ham United||3 years|
|Marco Silva||Fulham||1 year, 6 months|
|Patrick Vieira||Crystal Palace||1 year, 6 months|
|Steve Cooper||Nottingham Forest||1 year, 3 months|
|Antonio Conte||Tottenham||1 year, 2 months|
It is perhaps astonishing that over the last five years, only two managers have reigned in their post for longer, though, this perhaps does not come as a surprise, when you factor the success that both Klopp and Guardiola have had.
While Frank, Silva and Cooper, can perhaps be considered anomalies due to them bringing clubs up from the Championship, it does seem encouraging for the former if he can continue to keep Brentford in the Premier League on limited resources.
Perhaps there are some in the bottom half that can have long lifespans at their clubs. Certainly, if Arsenal keep on going the way they are, there could be hope for Arteta, though he will know that other top clubs will challenge and rebuild over the next couple of seasons. Unless anything drastic happens, such as consistent finishes outside of the top four, the writing could be on the wall, though there does appear to be some kind of stability at Arsenal.
Meanwhile, Conte is a manager that may well have found a club where he can settle for a few years if he can steer Tottenham in the right direction in the immediate term, while (Patrick) Vieira may have found a home at Crystal Palace; a club that has consolidated mid-table status over the last few years, without any major investment.
10 Shortest Premier League Manager Reigns
|Les Reed||Charlton Athletic||41 days|
|Rene Meulensteen||Fulham||75 days|
|Frank de Boer||Crystal Palace||77 days|
|Bob Bradley||Swansea City||84 days|
|Quique Sanchez Flores||Watford||91 days|
|Terry Connor||Wolves||91 days|
|Colin Todd||Derby County||98 days|
|Tony Adams||Portsmouth||106 days|
|Claudio Ranieri||Fulham||106 days|
|Steve Wigley||Southampton||107 days|
While the above table does make grim reading, there are some instances where managers were either unlucky or ‘thrown in at the deep end’ to try and alleviate a desperate situation. However, perhaps the standout is (Frank) de Boer, who arrived at Crystal Palace with so much promise following an impressive six-year stint with Ajax. After just five games, in which he won once (in the EFL Cup) but lost four Premier League matches, the Eagles clipped his wings and parted company with him.
The difference between the two tables undoubtedly paints an interesting picture and brings into question several theories about different variables. Klopp arrived at Liverpool with a certain reputation (not exclusively as a serial winner, based on achievements), but as someone who the owners thought highly of and realised the potential.
Guardiola was perhaps the obvious candidate based on his record with Barcelona and their place among the serial elite, combined with spending power. Klopp has delivered what Guardiola has not yet managed – a Champions League-winning accolade, while the latter has demonstrated his clear expertise triumphing, almost with a tunnel-vision mentality at winning league titles consistently. Both exhibit reasons as to why they are currently the longest-serving managers in the Premier League when you factor in contributing variables, such as resources.
What Lessons Can Be Learned For The Future?
Without a doubt, the evolution of the Premier League has been a multi-storied journey over the past 30-plus years in many ways, and there have been many variables that have played a part in this.
What does seem clear, based on the trends of the last decade, is that any Premier League football club, with at least some modicum of financial appeal, will be the subject of a billionaire takeover for years to come.
As a result, it would mean that one of two approaches would need to be taken from a managerial perspective. Todd Boehly’s recent takeover of Chelsea, could herald a new era, should he decide to take a more patient approach – levying new manager Graham Potter’s past success and experience at Brighton (who did not have such resources), to trust that he can guide the club back to the top.
Perhaps, new, potential owners are beginning to realise that they are now competing with similar levels of investment and that this does not make much of a difference in the top flight of English football.
Good things take time – in all aspects of life. Disturbing a current equilibrium can work, at least in the short term, if you are the first to do so – as exemplified by Abramovich, who shook up the ‘status quo’, but when others emulate this, the ‘quick fix’ will no longer work, as he swiftly found out and, as such, changed managers with as much frequency as the temperature in West London.
Perhaps the next decade will see a period of longevity for Premier League managers as ‘rich’ owners realise that steady continuity, based on a set of defined variables, is the key to success in the long term. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it’s certainly made its mark on history. Just ask ‘Fergie’.