The sacking of Paulo Di Canio yesterday, by English Premier League team Sunderland Football Club, got me thinking about how long Head coaches/managers should be given by team/franchise owners before they look to make a change?
There are a number of perspectives from which the timing of this sacking can be viewed. In terms of the 2013-14 season Di Canio has been sacked after just 5 games, or 36 days. In total Di Canio had been manager of Sunderland for 4 ½ months and in that time had played 13 competitive games (winning only 3). But he did come in at the end of the 2012-13 season and help the club to avoid relegation. The club also backed him over the summer when he was allowed to spend £20 million bringing in15 new players, with a further 11 leaving the club. So, at that point the club must have trusted Di Canio to build a new team. So the question is what changed? Surely a professional sports club should be giving a new team longer than just 5 games of the season to show what they can do. Also, the transfer window only closed 3 weeks ago, so the current squad was only fixed at that point.
This lack of time afforded to coaches and managers in football is becoming increasingly common. In many cases club owners simply become ‘twitchy’ during poor runs of form, in the main because of the financial loses that are associated with dropping down a division, particularly from the English Premier League to the division below (The Championship). This then would account for the knee-jerk reactions often seen towards the end of the season (such as the decision to appoint Di Canio in the first place), but not account for a sacking so early in the season.
What ever the reasons behind the sacking one thing is for sure, the ‘team’ that Di Canio put together would not have had time to really realise their potential as a unit. This is because effective team strategies are built upon shared mental models and a shared understanding, which take time to develop. You can of course set up practice to help the development process but it still takes time. Players need to appreciate each other’s strengths, the roles each member of the team fulfils and develop good role clarity, role acceptance, and role performance. Over such a relatively short period of time the formal and informal leaders in the team might also still be establishing themselves, and the cultural architects bedding in to their roles. Also, with such upheaval in the team they could still be in the transition phase where there is still conflict and uncertainty, particularly between the old and the new. So, it is also interesting that there is a suggestion that the decision to sack the manager followed a disagreement between the manager and some of the players. You would hope that the club having supported the manager over the summer in overhauling the squad to continue to support him through the residual conflict.
All of which makes me think that either there is more to this story than meets the eye, or Sunderland are not the employers you would want to work for as a football manager. If you don’t get given enough time for your changes to take effect why take the job . . . . . . although I am sure the pay off softens the blow!