Note: the following chapter refers to ‘cost per point’, which is explained in an earlier part of the book. Basically, it is the average cost of the XI over all 38 (or 42) league games of a season, with all fees converted into current day money (termed the ‘£XI’), divided by the number of points won.
Therefore, if the £XI is £100m, and the team racks up 50 points, then the cost per point is £2m. The £XI is the key figure in the book, because of the clear correlation between that and where teams are most likely to finish in the league. The overall squad costs, which are looked at elsewhere in the book, possess a far weaker link.
CTPP = Current Transfer Purchase Price, i.e. what the fee equates to in today’s money.
Chapter Three: The ‘Newcastle Effect’
As we’ve just established, Kenny Dalglish’s record took a nosedive at St James’ Park. But he’s not the only manager to find his copybook not so much blotted as obliterated on Tyneside.
One of the strangest results to emerge from this analysis is the one that sees Bobby Robson marooned in 61st place out of the 61 eligible managers in the cost per point table, with an average a full £1m worse than the expected norm. In this case, it was the late manager’s only Premier League job, some 17 years after leaving Ipswich for the England national team. Following his scandalous treatment by the tabloids in the lead up to Italia ’90, he packed his bags for Holland, Portugal and Spain, winning the Dutch Championship twice with PSV Eindhoven, the Portuguese Championship twice and the Cup of Portugal with Benfica, and both the Copa del Rey and European Cup Winners’ Cup with Barcelona.
Although that success across the continent didn’t always appease the locals at his various clubs, Robson is rightly regarded as one of the game’s better managers, and certainly one of its true gentlemen. But by the time he arrived at his hometown club in 1999, Newcastle had been throwing money at the team for the best part of a decade. In his first season – which involved taking over from Ruud Gullit early in the campaign – the average cost per point was a staggering £2,273,715; the third highest in Premier League history.
Remove that, and Robson’s average drops from in excess of a million pounds above the expected figure to £707,917 over the odds; still not great, but it would all the same lift him off the bottom of the table. (Although only above two managers, one of whom is Gullit.)
Some managers inherit expensive, badly assembled or poorly balanced squads. This seems to be even more the case when there’s a rapid turnover of managers; and at Newcastle, in just the previous two years, Kevin Keegan, Dalglish and Gullit had all been in charge, and free to buy players who fitted their ideas. Between Robson’s dismissal in 2004 and their relegation five years later, Graeme Souness, Glenn Roeder, Sam Allardyce, Keegan again, Joe Kinnear, Chris Hughton and Alan Shearer all had spells in charge of the side.
At Chelsea, Gullit appeared to be a top-class manager in the making. He averaged 61 points in his two seasons, and won points at a respectable cost per point of £846,354. However, the two seasons on his Newcastle record yielded an average of just 49 points won at a cost of £2,167,320 each. His overall record shows he was ‘paying’ more than £800,000 over the odds for each point in four seasons of Premier League management, but at Chelsea, he was just £12,379 in the red. The damage was done at St James’.
And so, following Keegan’s ‘nearly’ great side of the mid-‘90s, which entertained and won the hearts of the neutrals but just failed to win the title, two managers with near-faultless reputations (Dalglish and Gullit) had moved in to replace him, and both left with seriously blemished records.
Next came Robson, who took the Geordies back into the Champions League, and between 2001 and 2003, averaged 70 points per season, won at a cost of one for every £1,492,876 spent: still £232,000 over the odds, but far better than the going rate at Newcastle in the years before and since. Then, as so often happens at St James’ Park, Robson hit a rough spot at the start of a campaign, and was unceremoniously dismissed just a couple of games into the 2004/05 season.
At this point it’s worth considering how Newcastle became so expensive in the first place. It began with their arrival in the Premier League in 1993, after spending their way out of the old Second Division. They finished with 77 points in 1993/94, with an £XI that cost ‘only’ £44m (much of it spent when in the division below). In this great opening to life back in the top flight, Keegan’s points cost a mere £580,190 each; more than £300,000 better than the average for the 70-79 point range in that decade. This was an inspirational manager in touch with the people of the city. This was boom time in Toon town.
Just one season later, the £XI had shot up to £63.6m, but the points fell to 72: £883,266 each. On the whole, though, they were adjusting well to life in the top flight, once a little of the euphoria had ebbed away; and investment was almost certainly necessary to avoid becoming a one-season wonder.
By 1995/96, the £XI was £80.9m, and the 78 points came at a rate of one every £1,037,230. So far so good, although it was the season when Newcastle ‘blew’ the title from a leading position, and the manager had an apparent meltdown live on TV in response to Alex Ferguson’s jibes.
One year further on, and the £XI was now up to £107.8m – but the total points amassed had dropped to 68 (which was nonetheless still enough to finish in 2nd place, seven points behind United and level on points with Arsenal and Liverpool). In the space of four seasons, the £XI had more than doubled, and Newcastle’s cost per point had virtually trebled, from £580,190 to £1,585,523. This final season is the point when Keegan made his exit, and Dalglish arrived (at the beginning of January). By the time Dalglish ended his first full season in charge – 1997/98 – the Geordies had made it to an FA Cup Final, but a disappointing 44 points in the Premier League cost £1,961,106 each; close to the £2m-per-point range.
So in came Ruud Gullit – replete with promises of ‘sexy football’ – and Newcastle registered just 46 and 52 points in the two seasons in which he was associated with the club. The cost per point continued to rise: £2,060,925, and then £2,273,715.
While this was the peak of their poor return, even now Newcastle have yet to really escape the £1.5m-per-point range; hovering just below or above it, and racing back up towards the £2m mark in the season of relegation in 2009.
Following Robson’s dismissal in 2004, the next to damage his standing in the game while at Newcastle was Graeme Souness. After an awful time at Anfield between 1991 and 1994, he’d gone some way towards rehabilitating his reputation in the following decade, enjoying periods at Southampton and Blackburn when he punched above his weight in terms of points achieved, not least when guiding the Ewood Park club to 60 points in 2002/03, at a cost of just £571,592 each – almost half a million pounds better than the expected figure for such a points total.
But again, the move to Newcastle proved disastrous. Spending £8.2m (£14.9m Current Transfer Purchase Price, or CTPP) on Jean-Alain Boumsong was not a good omen; a player with a fine pedigree, but who had an horrendous time in the Newcastle back line, alongside £5m Titus Bramble (£8.1m, signed by Robson in 2002). Finding good centre-backs – and overspending on those who subsequently fail – seems to be the recurring theme; no sooner had £9m Jonathan Woodgate (£14.5m CTPP) settled into the side and started to look the real deal than he was sold to Real Madrid, albeit for a nice profit (£13.4m/£24.4m CTPP).
Signing overpriced, injury-prone stars has been a recurring theme for much of the past decade and beyond. Worst of these was Michael Owen, a player whose signing by Souness was greeted like a trophy, but whose £31m CTPP fee (and stellar wages) dwindled down to zero and a free transfer, as he failed to start six out of every 10 league games between 2005 and 2009.
Using only CTPP fees, Hugo Viana cost £13.7m in 2002 and left for a genuine loss in excess of £10m. Laurent Robert cost £13.8m, but left for nothing. Spanish centre-back Marcelino cost £13.6m, and was later released. Duncan Ferguson cost £17.1m, left for £6.7m. Kieron Dyer cost £14m, and was eventually sold for a £7.3m genuine loss. Albert Luque set the club back £17.5m, but only £2.3m was recouped. Obefemi Martins cost £17.4m, and was sold for £9m. Carl Cort’s CTPP works out at £12.5m, yet the value of the money recouped translates to less than a third of that figure. So much money, so badly invested.
Glenn Roeder had a brief spell in charge following Souness’ sacking, before Sam Allardyce – the ultimate Premier League overachiever – was appointed. Surely he would break the pattern of failure? In six seasons at Bolton, Allardyce had averaged 51.2 points at a cost of just £213,138 each. More recently, at Blackburn he has averaged 45.5 at a cost of £495,587 per point; not as good, but still better than the norm. But at Newcastle, in his one season (of which he was in charge for eight months, including the full pre-season), the club won just 43 points at a cost of £1,427,028 each – almost seven times as costly as his Reebok average, and almost 18 times as expensive as his best two seasons there.
Allardyce’s style was unpopular with Geordie fans, who wanted more attractive football. The Newcastle fans we spoke to were deeply unimpressed. The modern scientific approach was forward-thinking; the tactics were not. But his appointment, and subsequent dismissal, epitomises Newcastle’s ‘lurching’ policy: from one extreme to the other. Kenny Dalglish succeeding Kevin Keegan made sense, although neither the free-flowing football seen at Anfield nor the more basic but equally exciting attacking football seen at Ewood Park were on display, as Dalglish tried to shore up the defence first and foremost. So the cry went up for the aforementioned sexy football, and out went a ‘dour Scot’ (who, incidentally, had bought well with players like Dietmar Hamann, Gary Speed, Shay Given, and Nolberto Solano) and in came a young, up-and-coming Continental Cosmopolitan with dreadlocks (a fashion that Dalglish was thankfully never tempted to adopt).
When that approach ‘inevitably’ failed (and I say inevitably purely because it’s Newcastle), they switched to the likeable, local and experienced Bobby Robson; as diametrically opposed to Gullit as you could get. He did well for a few years, but then he too suffered the chop after a bad start to the season (the usual procedure). Apparently he was too ‘nice’; a tough bastard was needed. Step up Graeme Souness, for whom that epithet could well have been invented.
But Souness wasn’t a top-class manager. He applied an erratic buying policy and failed to connect with the Newcastle public. When he was sacked in February 2006, Glenn Roeder – a former captain, and at the club as the head of their academy – became caretaker manager; a good end to the season saw him appointed on a full-time basis, but he left before the last game of 2006/07. He understood Newcastle; but perhaps he was just too nice.
That’s not an accusation that’s ever been levelled at Sam Allardyce, or his teams. He’d toughen them up. Except, within a few months, fans were chanting “You don’t know what you’re doing”. He knew what he was doing; they just didn’t like it, and it wasn’t quite working.
And then, when all else had failed, Newcastle went with the sentimental. Bring back the Messiah! First time around, Kevin Keegan had averaged 73.8 points, at a cost of just over £1m each. Upon his return, the points dropped to just 38.5 – more or less half his previous average – and the cost rose to £1.65m each. The reunion didn’t last long.
If Keegan was the sentimental choice, selecting Joe Kinnear was simply bizarre. This is no slight on the manager’s record in the ‘90s, simply an acknowledgement that he’d been out of work for so long, and was known to have heart problems. Also, his association with Wimbledon didn’t exactly promise the aesthetic delights the Geordies craved; but maybe, just maybe, he’d be able to dig them out of a hole. In seven seasons with the London ‘crazy gang’ he had averaged 51.1 points, at a cost of £411,062 each, £236,688 better than the norm: he was another manager adept at punching above his weight at a smaller club. But at the North East’s crazy club, in a season for which he was only partly responsible, the Magpies registered just 34 points, at a whopping cost of £1,868,676 each. Even the ultimate fan-appeasing appointment – local hero Alan Shearer – couldn’t save the club from relegation. Thankfully, for those long-suffering supporters (a description they could almost copyright), and for those who like to see the biggest clubs in the land play each other twice a season, they were back in the top flight 12 months later. With any luck, lessons will have been learned along the way.
Beyond the ‘Barcodes’
The Newcastle Effect, while it clearly affects many managers on Tyneside, isn’t confined solely to St James’ Park. There are a whole host of other examples of managers whose fortunes reversed as soon as they went to a bigger club.
Indeed, it’s hard to find too many successful managers at the top end of the Premier League table who first built over-arching empires at one of the minnows; most have either come from abroad, having already proven themselves at the top end (although they obviously had to work their way up first) or were already proven commodities when the league was formed (such as Dalglish). In the case of Alex Ferguson, it was a bit of both: success achieved at Aberdeen in the early ‘80s, before being given time at United to overcome four largely shaky years at the start of his tenure that would not be tolerated today. To date, no manager promoted from an unfashionable club to a bigger one has finished within the top two since 1993. In that time, those positions have been attained by Ferguson, Dalglish with two clubs, Keegan (first job), Wenger (non-UK), Houllier (non-UK), Ranieri (non-UK), Mourinho (non-UK), Mourinho/Grant (non-UK), Benítez (non-UK) and Ancelotti (non-UK). Of course, much of the time these prime jobs went to continental coaches. However, on the occasions when clubs with the potential resources to break into the top two have appointed someone from a smaller English outfit, the tactic has failed. More than that, too often they’ve failed to even meet more modest expectations at clubs with realistic aims of the top four or top six.
We’ve mentioned Allardyce, Kinnear and Souness, who all had at least one season of really punching above their weight at a less fashionable club, only to falter when given the chance at a bigger one (twice, in Souness’ case, although his first job in English football was with reigning champions Liverpool). But there are plenty of others. Why is this?
Is it purely down to the pressure involved at the top end? Or is it the greater patience shown by clubs outside the elite, where an empire can be slowly constructed – providing relegation doesn’t befall them (although even then, this can see a club that retains its manager coming back stronger the next time; see Alan Curbishley and Charlton).
Time certainly seems to be a factor. Take Mark Hughes, whose reputation seemed cemented after several impressive seasons at Blackburn. However, his tenure at Manchester City was brief; and in fairness, he was sacked while possessing far from the worst record around – it just wasn’t anything special, and too many games were being drawn. At Blackburn, Hughes averaged 53.8 points, at a per point cost of £584,081. In 18 months at City, he averaged 58.5 points (with Roberto Mancini collecting some of those with Hughes’ team) – better than at Blackburn – but only marginally, and coming at a cost of £1,557,045 each.
Martin O’Neill is perhaps regarded as the ultimate overachiever, but even he hit a brick wall at Aston Villa. A decade earlier, at Leicester, the Ulsterman had averaged 51 points in four top-flight seasons, at a cost of £453,849 each, and, rather impressively, had won two League Cups for the Midlanders. By contrast, his 59-point average at Villa came at almost £1m each; and the 64 points of what turned out to be his final season came at one for every £1,133,892 of the £XI – higher than the average (albeit only fractionally). On the whole, he pretty much punched his weight at Villa Park, and it has to be noted that he took over a club that was struggling at the time and got them to the level where they ‘should’ have been. However, even his purportedly great powers of motivation could not get Villa to overstretch themselves; at times they broke into the top three, only for his team to hit a wall in the spring almost every season (perhaps because he was not rotating his XI anywhere near as much as his rivals). He did a good job, but no more, as the side became increasingly expensive.
At both Birmingham and Wigan, Steve Bruce’s £XI averaged £25m, and he won points at a virtually identical rate: £617,985 and £613,370 respectively. Historically, Sunderland are bigger than both (based on honours, points won in the top flight and average attendance), and Bruce’s current employers have provided the funds for him to field an £XI (£52m) more than double that of his previous clubs. The result? In his one full season to date he won points at a rate of £1,176,778; a very poor performance for a team towards the bottom of the table.
Roy Hodgson is another example, although his is a back-to-front story: bigger job first, smaller job a decade later. In some ways he also qualifies as ‘continental’, as that’s where he made his name, although he did so with the very British approach of the FA’s 1970s coaching guru, Allen Wade. (Hodgson changed his European teams from their continental sweeper and man-marking centre-backs to a method of zonal marking in open play; i.e., defenders not following strikers around the pitch as a libero acts as a spare man, but two centre-backs picking up whoever comes into the zone.) Recently installed as the Liverpool manager, it is Hodgson’s previous two jobs in English football that provide one of the starker contrasts available. At Fulham he averaged 45 points, at a cost of £602,702: very respectable stuff, with a great run to the Europa League Final thrown in to boot. But despite a promising first season at Blackburn in the late ‘90s, his time there ended up proving somewhat disastrous. He took over just two years after they won the league title; and although the wheels had come off somewhat since the high of 1995, he spent almost £75m in today’s terms in just 16 months, with only one success: Stéphane Henchoz.
Hodgson’s average points haul at Rovers was almost identical to that of his later sojourn by the Thames: 46.5. But the per point cost at Blackburn was a whopping £1.65m; splitting the difference between £1.35m in his first season, and £1.95m upon the Lancashire club’s eventual relegation. In fairness, Hodgson only managed the club for the first 14 games of his final season, but they were rooted to the bottom of the table at the time of his dismissal; indeed, one place below their eventual position. And of course, his sacking was, in part, a consequence of some of his bad signings, not least the £17m CTPP spent on Kevin Davies (subsequently a success at Bolton, it has to be noted). Hodgson now has the chance to prove he really can handle a club with higher expectations, and that he has learned from his previous failure. (At the time of going to press, his Liverpool team are in the relegation zone, with just six points from eight games; the pro rata cost per point so far is currently an horrific £2.84m … but it’s early days.)
Alan Curbishley, himself heavily tipped for a job at Liverpool (replacing Gérard Houllier in 2004), gained kudos for his excellent record at Charlton. In seven top-flight seasons he averaged 46.7 points, attained at a per point cost of just £436,007. And while West Ham was no longer one of the very biggest clubs in England, a move there was still seen as a fairly significant step up. And yet in the three seasons he worked at Upton Park he averaged 47 points – virtually identical to his time at The Valley. Only this time it was achieved at an average cost of £701,568 per point. While this is one of the less extreme examples, Curbishley’s ultimate failure to reinvigorate West Ham sufficiently still follows the general pattern.
To end this analysis, two examples from the early years of the Premier League. First, Mike Walker, father of Spurs’ goalkeeper Ian, who was a revelation at Norwich, taking them into the UEFA Cup with a 3rd-place finish. This earned him a shot at the big time: Everton Football Club, champions of England just seven years earlier. But again, the transition was painful; at Norwich he’d averaged 62.5 points in the Premier League’s first two years; in the next two seasons, following his move, Everton’s average was just 47. In Norfolk, points came at a measly cost of one every £219,451 fielded in the £XI, but at Everton, the average – at £1,072,364 – was almost five times this amount.
Finally, Gerry Francis. In three seasons between 1992 and 1995, Francis’ QPR averaged 61 points, won at a rate almost comparable with Walker’s at Norwich: £274,538. Spurs, at the time still seen as one of the traditional ‘big five’ (with Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Everton), would enable him to field a side with more than three times the average £XI. The result? In the four seasons in which he managed at White Hart Lane, Spurs couldn’t even get close to matching the manager’s average points haul at his previous club: at just 53.3, it was almost eight points worse. Given that the team was more than three times as expensive, the cost per point rocketed up to £1,010,091.
How could all these miracle workers at smaller clubs fail to translate their skills into success at more fashionable footballing institutions?
Of course, luck plays a part in any manager’s reign – injuries and blows to confidence can be hard to overcome, and can result in a downward spiral – but why, with the possible exception of Harry Redknapp, have all of the plucky little Davids turned into vulnerable Goliaths when their opportunities came along?
Bad owners/chairmen also play a part. Alan Curbishley was eventually compensated for constructive dismissal after key players were sold from under him – forcing him to resign – but this came at the end of his tenure; these were new men in control of the club, and therefore it doesn’t explain the relative failure up to that point.
Restless supporters don’t help, either. This is almost certainly one of Newcastle’s problems: so much passion and desire for success that, at times, it clouds judgement on the Tyne.
And could it be that increased expectations mean that tactics which often involve not getting beaten (good for mid-table sides) fall apart when a win is demanded almost every single week? Is the problem that both style and substance are demanded at the elite clubs?
Whatever the reasons, it does seem abundantly clear that managing at the top of the Premier League is a very different task to the one faced by those lower down. “You can be a very good manager of a corner shop,” former Manchester City player and director Dennis Tueart famously said, “but that doesn’t mean you can run a multinational. It’s a different skill set.”
Modest to a fault, Sam Allardyce clearly thinks he has what it takes to not just take on the biggest jobs in world football, but also succeed. His bizarre statement when Newcastle sacked him was the first of several to suggest he feels he can translate his approach to any club in the world. “Newcastle was not big enough for me,” he said. “It didn’t live up to my ambitions in the short time that I was there.” (And yet no-one bigger than Blackburn has come calling since.)
When, in 2008, England appointed Fabio Capello – with his glittering CV of silverware (including seven Serie A titles won with three different clubs, and two La Liga titles with Real Madrid) – ‘Big Sam’ was not impressed. “At the time I should have got the job and I really don’t know why I didn’t. It had to be political for me, rather than my credentials.”
Which, of course, leads back to the question of just what his credentials are. While research shows that Allardyce can do a brilliant job managing a corner shop, there is no evidence that he could cope with the demands of a multinational. It’s true that he didn’t get a lot of time at Newcastle, but he did not seem to be tailoring his approach to suit his new surroundings.
Undeterred, in the autumn of 2010, Allardyce went further. “I’m not suited to Bolton or Blackburn; I would be more suited to Inter Milan or Real Madrid. It wouldn’t be a problem to me to go and manage those clubs because I would win the double or the league every time. Give me Manchester United or Chelsea and I would do the same, it wouldn’t be a problem. It’s not where I’m suited to, it’s just where I’ve been for most of the time. It’s not a problem to take me into the higher reaches of the Champions League or Premier League and would make my job a lot easier in winning it.”
Despite his ability to punch above his weight with a rank outsider, and the fact that richer clubs are more likely to win the major trophies, that smacks of delusion. Even the richest and best-managed clubs fail sometimes. Even Alex Ferguson and José Mourinho don’t win the major trophies every season.
Allardyce also felt Mark Hughes was harshly treated during his time at a big club. “His Manchester City reign obviously was not long enough. A little bit like me at Newcastle, but I didn’t last quite as long as ‘Sparky’ though. He was given the chance and unfortunately at that stage of his career they decided to have a change. You look back on it and he’ll be very disappointed because they only lost two games I think [although they had dropped lots of points with draws]. But that is the way it is sometimes, there’s a perception that other people can do better than you, but often the reality is not the case.”
Perhaps Allardyce would adapt his approach at a club like Real Madrid, Manchester United or Inter Milan, but on the limited evidence seen at Newcastle, it’s still unlikely to prove sophisticated enough. While the long-ball approach works for smaller clubs, it’s impossible to recall a major Premier League side employing such tactics more than intermittently. The long ball can of course be the right ball, but there’s a difference between mixing it up with a technically gifted targetman (Didier Drogba, Peter Crouch), and a systematic loading of the team with giants in order to play a ‘set-piece’ game based on winning free-kicks and delivering towering long throws into the box. ‘Route one’ is a tactic that clearly works up to a point – or up to about 60 points – given that it’s the style of football preferred by many of the managers with the lowest cost per point values. It simply appears to hit a glass ceiling in terms of effectiveness. Allardyce wasn’t all about the long ball, but it has been a key weapon in his armoury.
Speaking in August 2010, Arsène Wenger – the ultimate purist – gave his take on managers like Tony Pulis (whose team he was referring to) and Sam Allardyce (whose team he was about to face): “When a team plays long ball, and head the ball, and become physical, I accept that completely and I respect that – but it has to be in respect of the rules. I believe everybody looks at his squad and tries to find a way where the game is most efficient and we [at Arsenal] developed one way. It is not the only way; I respect every other way as long as the referees get the rules respected. I saw some pictures last Sunday – you cannot say anymore it is football; it is rugby on the goalkeepers more than football.”
Most likely, a failure to transfer success to bigger clubs is a combination of some, or all, of the factors mentioned in this section. But next time a manager has great success at getting a smaller club to punch above its weight, don’t think that it will automatically translate to the top of the table. He may well be the right man for the job – after all, each case should be judged on its individual merits. But the vast majority of footballing history suggests that one should proceed with caution.
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