10 games minimum
We often hear that you shouldn’t judge a season until after 10 games but that hasn’t stopped a significant portion of Derby fans calling for the sacking of Philip Cocu after 5 games. So how long should you give a manager?
It’s instructive to look at the 2013/14 season. Derby sacked Clough after 9 games, which does not seem unreasonable. Hardly knee jerk you might say. In those 9 games Derby took 11 points and scored 1.6 goals per game. Later that season we played that same 9 teams again, because that’s how it works, and took 12 points. Overall we averaged 1.8 goals per game in the remaining 37 fixtures, so one point more and one extra goal every five games. Given the narrative of Clough being a failure / McClaren a success it is instructive. This is the point where fellow Derby fans steam in and say ‘style of play’, ‘attacking football’ ‘Non-league Nigel..etc which is fine, I have no axe to grind, but if we focus on tangible things like points and goals per game then we should ask was even 9 games enough to draw a correct conclusion?
The 9 teams in questions comprised 5 of the final top 8, so in hindsight it was quite a tough start but crucially no-one knew it was a tough start. Stop someone in the street, anywhere from Saipan to Singapore and the two things they are likely to be able to tell you are: Messi is good at football and anyone can beat anyone in the Championship. It’s become so self-evident that it’s often used as a selling point for the league. But despite knowing this we still rank clubs in the; ‘we should be beating them,’ category, primarily based on the size of support and history. So, who is to say what sort of start is easy and which is hard? In those 9 games we lost or drew with these ‘teams we should be beating’. Leicester, Brighton, Burnley, Reading, Blackburn. Now in hindsight you can see that they were pretty good teams but at the time our fan base would quite reasonably expect us to beat all those teams. It begs the question, is the same true of today? Fans are calling for Cocu’s head because we have lost to Reading, Luton, Blackburn as ‘we should be beating them’ and Watford and Huddersfield. With Reading now 5 points clear at the top, Blackburn being widely talked up and Luton solid, it does highlight the problem with recency bias when deciding if the manager should stay or go.
Another factor to consider is the circumstances around the club. Back in 2013, the manager was tasked with massively cutting the wage bill. The likes of Savage, Vardy, Leacock, Shackell and Brayford, had been shipped out over the previous two years and Richard Keogh, Chris Martin, Johnny Russel, Craig Forsth, and John Eustace brought in, supplemented by home-grown talents in Hendrick, Hughes, and O’Brien.
Forward wind 6 years and repeat. Cocu lost the 3 best players in Tomori, Wilson and Mount alongside a number of other experienced pros plus Keogh early in the season and has replaced them with half a team of new signing and bedded in Knight, Bird, Sibley, Buchannan and Sibley. Could this year’s vintage take off in the same way as the 2013 team? There are enough parallels for some guarded optimism and reason to think that 5 games is a bit too early to be pulling the trigger.
This is probably the point where many would say:
“But it’s not 5 games, he’s had a year to sort this out.” And yes, that’s true. Can anyone sense a ‘but’ heading over the horizon? That logic assumes that a manager has been able to buy his own players, developed a reasonably settled team, and has them playing his brand of football.
Only two players from Cocu’s first game in charge featured in the first game of this season. Matt Clarke who played 90 minutes in both games and Jason Knight who played 12 minutes as a sub in the Huddersfield game. It is clear that this is a work in progress, and I guess the issue is whether you feel that progress is happening fast enough.
Finally, there is always the comparison with someone else, someone better. A common stick used to beat a manager with is that they are not as good as so and so at such and such. I recently read someone complaining that Bielsa managed to turn Leeds around with no money so we should sack Cocu. Leaving the argument about whether Leeds have spent any money to one side, just think that through. Bielsa is a better coach / manager than Cocu. Yes, I think most people in football, from Guardiola down would agree with that. But unless you are planning to replace Cocu with Bielsa, so what? There is always going to be someone doing better somewhere else but unless you are planning to poach them then it seems like a pretty poor reason to sack your manager.
How long is too long? It’s hard to say and each manager obviously has a shelf-life, whether you are Paul Ince or Arsene Wenger but I’d argue that Cocu has not had long enough.