Featured News ‘Sack the manager’ call supported by science

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Fri, 26 Feb 2021

‘Sack the manager’ call supported by science

Football ground
Image: Michael Lee

Firing the manager or coach when things go wrong is a common tactic for soccer teams looking to improve, and new research from James Cook University shows it works – for a while.

Associate Professor Anthony Leicht from JCU’s Sport and Exercise Science said the aim of the study was to compare a team’s performance under the new and old coaches, and investigate the impact of a coaching change on a team’s performance, considering factors such as coach experience and team budget.

“We looked at 411 in-season coaching changes from the 2010–11 to 2017–18 seasons within the top level of the Spanish, French, English, German and Italian professional leagues,” said Dr Leicht.

He said the researchers found a team’s short-term performance was improved significantly with the change to a new coach.

“The number of points and the moving average of points awarded per match were significantly greater after the coaching change. Also, the winning effect due to the new coach was independent of coach-related factors such as coaching experience or the new coach being a former elite player,” said Dr Leicht.

But he said it had a short-term effect.

“The improvement lasted for at least ten matches but was absent at 15-20 matches. In fact, team performance under the old coach would have been better at the 20 match mark, as a result of other factors,” said Dr Leicht.

He said the other big factor in success during this period was how much money the team had to spend.

“This result supported prior work which showed that resources were a key contributor to team success, and possibly greater than that of a coach’s playing and/or coaching experience,” said Dr Leicht.

He said the findings could potentially help a team in a tight, end-of-season race to gain momentum by simply firing their manager, appointing a new one and getting a potential ten match bump in performance from the mere fact of the change.

Dr Leicht said other factors may impact this type of organisational decision, but the current results have shown a benefit across a range of professional soccer leagues, worldwide.

“One of the most interesting things we found is that the impact of the new coach was dependent more on the change itself rather than on the characteristics of the new coach – above a minimum level, they could be of any skill set or level of experience,” said Dr Leicht.


Associate Professor Anthony Leicht (Townsville)
E: anthony.leicht@jcu.edu.au