Martin O’Neill unlikely to take a ride on managerial merry-go-round
Ireland manager perhaps appreciates job security in a profession where it is lacking
The Premier League’s longest-serving manager Arsene Wenger, and one of the shortest, Alan Pardew. Photograph: Jan Kruger/Getty
We might still be waiting for confirmation that Martin O’Neill has signed his new deal with the FAI but the northerner, it seems, is in no hurry to get these things done and it is certainly hard to imagine that the chopping and changing in England’s top two divisions is the cause of the delay.
Having seen his team blow a good position in qualifying, done well as it recovered much of the lost ground then had a hand in a hefty play-off defeat, O’Neill has effectively emerged unscathed with John Delaney happy, it seems, for him to sign the contract that was on offer even before the games against Moldova and Wales. The new deal will get O’Neill back to the more attainable territory of qualification for the European Championships and saves the association the painful task of finding a replacement capable of actually doing better with the available players.
It is hard to know what long term options O’Neill might have had in the event he had departed but Chris Coleman’s decision to join the ongoing car crash that is Sunderland suggested that he had no better ones despite having guided Wales to a European semi-final.
The Welshman has made his presence felt at the Stadium of Light, taking goals out of the club’s games at both ends and almost doubling the points return, from 0.65 to 1.22, over the ine Championship games he has been in charge. Sunderland are currently on course for around 46 points and through that generally keeps a club up in that division, it would have been five off safety last season.
Much will, of course, depend on what money Coleman gets in January and how he spends it but even assuming he and his revamped team does enough to clamber up the table his longer term prospects are grim enough. There are more good managers than slots for success in the Championship. On average those currently in jobs have been there about 15 months but take just one man, Mick McCarthy, out of the equation and the figure comes down to barely more than 12.
Things are much the same in the three divisions below it with 28 of 72 managers appointed the past 12 months, more than twice as many as were in their jobs this day three years ago.
In the Premier League, where the stakes seem to grow exponentially with each passing season, things are a little better with clubs perhaps appreciating the advantages of stability even if a few are ultimately willing to press the panic button before the ship has actually made contact with the iceberg.
Despite this season’s hiring and firing, the 20 first team coaches currently employed in the English top flight have been in their jobs an average of almost three years although Arsene Wenger has been at Arsenal so long that if he departed tomorrow it would lop fully 12 months off the figure.
Eddie Howe and Sean Dyche, having achieved remarkable things at Bournemouth and Burnley respectively, are closest to Wenger in terms of longevity but it’s not much of a contest with the pair both having been appointed in October 2012 compared to the Frenchman’s September ‘96. Take the three out and the average is down to 17 months then remove Mark Hughes, as we might well be doing in the not too distant future, and you find that for the rest of the division you have a figure very much in line with the Championship’s 15 months.
Hughes has been tetchily rejecting the notion that Stoke might benefit from a change but his assertions about the progress made since he succeeded Tony Pulis and the advantages of sticking with a man who knows his squad, and its limitations, might sound more persuasive if they did not come at the end of a week in which he seemed to surrender one game so as to prioritise another, that was then lost at home to a team which had previously been lower in the table.
He might still have a point when he talks of these changes bringing only a brief bounce but the temptation to intervene is often too great for owners to resist. There are, as it happens, serial offenders. Five Premier League clubs changed manager mid- season in 2016-17, one of them twice. Two went down anyway and not one of the men who saw out the season at any of the five is still in place.
Two moved on of their own accord and both are back working in the Premier League and perhaps Hughes has Sam Allardyce in mind when he talks of a temporary turnaround with 10 of the 12 points Everton have earned since he formally took charge coming in the first four of eight games.
Few, though, doubt Allardyce’s ability to keep Everton up. West Brom’s owners, though, might be forgiven for having second thoughts about Alan Pardew’s capacity to deliver on that front at West Brom where the former Crystal Palace and Newcastle boss has overseen a significant improvement at the back - goals conceded have dropped from 1.5 to 1.0 per game - but not much else with the team’s points return actually declining even if the opening two games of the campaign, both won under Pulis, are excluded.
Claude Puel at Leicester, Roy Hodgson at Palace and David Moyes at West Ham, meanwhile, have all improved things to varying degrees but in East London it has been a very marginal affair with far fewer goals conceded but the same number scored and the same number of points secured from nine games since the change of manager compared to 11 before.
Despite the win at Watford, it is clearly too early to say much about Carlos Carvalhal at Swansea, a club that has come a long way since its owners seemed like such an asset just a few short seasons ago.
Stoke’s board, though, will be watching all of them anxiously. The club does not have a culture of taking these things lightly but the local paper is today floating the idea of getting O’Neill in until the end of the season, a challenge he might relish and something the FAI might actually be open to given the lack of international games between now and the summer, especially if they saved a few bob into the bargain.
Beyond that, perhaps O’Neill is still tempted by a return to the life he has clearly missed during his initial time with Ireland. His time in the job is clearly more widely well regarded in England than here but he did no better at Sunderland really than any of the other recent occupants of that job and after having been stung by his dismissal there, he might be forgiven, however, for having come to appreciate the job security he appears to enjoy in his current position.