This is largely based on a post I wrote for my personal blog towards the start of last season, but the issue has been coming up again lately, so I thought I'd rework it a little bit and post in the FanPost section of WAGNH. A look at why "stability" in managers is largely overrated in the footballing world after the jump.
Undoubtedly, the most successful team of the Premier League era (and now arguably the most successful English team ever, although the still lack all the European titles of Liverpool) has been Manchester United. Since the dawn of the Premier League in 1991, Manchester United has won 12 out of 19 titles, 2 Champions League titles, and played in a further two Champions League finals (losing out both times to what many consider to be the best football team ever to play the game). People see this success, and immediately start to wonder what it could possibly be that has kept the team so competitive over such a long time span, with the identity of the team changing over time and the loss of superstars like Beckham and Ronaldo apparently having no serious effect on the team. They immediately notice the one thing that hasn’t changed at MUFC over the years: Sir Alex Ferguson. Surely, this must mean that stability is the key to glory, right? Well, actually, no.
See the difference between stability, and stability with Sir Alex at the helm, is that Ferguson is a tactical and scouting genius, and undoubtedly one of the greatest minds to ever coach the game. Would you want to be friends with him? Definitely not. Does he run his mouth about officials and cry about every non-call or bad call? Yes. But his status as a footballing genius is undeniable. It’s not that he’s been there for such a long time, it’s that he’s a phenomenal coach. And while it took him a few years in charge before any success actually, the sheer talent that he has a manager was there all along.
Now let’s take a look at the some other teams. The second best team of the last decade has been, without a doubt, Chelsea. And many are very quick to point out that Chelsea has had more coaches at the helm in recent years than Paris Hilton has had (insert inappropriate joke here). And you wouldn’t be wrong in pointing this out. Since the start of the 2007 / 2008 season, Chelsea is up to its seventh manager. Eighth manager if you count Ray Wilkins, who was the coach for one game between Scolari and Hiddink (so you probably shouldn't count him). Clearly, that’s about as far away from stability as a team can get. They’re averaging more than a manager per season. And yet, in that time, Chelsea has won the Premiership once, been runners-up twice, played in a Champions League final that went to EXTRA penalties, and won two FA Cups. Compare that to Arsenal, who have had only one manager in that time frame, but have 0 trophies, haven’t finished higher than third in the EPL, and have only one cup final appearance (and not even in the FA Cup). So Chelsea is significantly less stable than Arsenal, and yet much more successful over the last decade or so (2003 is Arsenal’s most recent title, while Chelsea has won it 3 times since then).
In fact, if Chelsea could hire "Interim Manager" as their permanent coach, they could well become the best team in the world. Some of the most successful runs in recent history have been under the combined interim managerial stints of Avram Grant, Guus Hiddink, and Robbie Di Matteo. Under Grant, they went on a 16 game unbeaten streak, played in the League Cup Final, and most memorably, were *THIS* close to winning the UEFA Champions League. Under Hiddink, the team lost only once in four months, won the FA Cup, and were robbed of a repeat appearance in the Champions League final by atrocious refereeing (thanks Ovrebo!). Most recently, under Roberto Di Matteo, Chelsea have only lost once and have pulled out some miracle performances in the Champions League and FA Cup. They are going to be in the FA Cup final against Liverpool on May 5, and have an actual chance of seeing out defending champions Barcelona in the semi-finals of the Champions League after winning 1-0 at home in the first leg. Having an interim manager is just about as unstable of a situation as a club can have, and yet Chelsea have been spectacular in those situations.
Finally, you need only look at another of the most successful coaches of recent times, Jose Mourinho, to see that stability is much less important than talent. In fact, Jose Mourinho is the epitome of the notion that stability is almost insignificant. He was at Porto only from 2002-2004, but in that time he won a Champions League and two league titles, including a record season where they were unbeaten at home. Then, from 2004-2007, Mourinho won two titles (including the team’s first in 50 years) and an FA Cup with Chelsea. Then he went to Inter, where in three seasons he won three Serie A titles, a Coppa Italia, and a Champions League. His time at Real Madrid is has been viewed as less successful, as in his first full season, he was only* able to end the team’s 18 year long cup drought with the Copa Del Rey, finish second in the league with a pitiful* 92 points (the second most in the club’s rich history), and take the team to only* the Semi-Finals stage of the Champions League (the furthest they’d been since 2003). Now in his second year in charge, Real Madrid looks favorites to finally reclaim the Spanish League from Barcelona, and are in the Champions League semi-finals for the second year in a row.*sense the sarcasm?
Stabitlity? Not so much. Try talent.