Saturday, February 12, 2011

It's harsh, but does it work?

West Brom are a popular club. They play entertaining football, they don’t expect to spend more than a few seasons at a stretch in the top flight, and when they play against local rivals Aston Villa I’d rather cheer with Adrian Chiles than David Cameron. ‘The Baggies’ is an endearing nickname, too.

In spite of these four good reasons to the contrary, I’m going to be booing West Brom for the rest of the season. I hope they go down ignominiously, and if they don’t get their act together and go back to being a club Chiles can be proud of, then I hope they spend a good few seasons in the doldrums where they can think about what they’ve done. And what exactly have they done? They’ve sacked their charming manager from his first big job after he’d secured them automatic promotion last season and had been meeting if not exceeding expectations in the notoriously difficult first season back in the Premiership. Then they replaced him, not with someone like Mourinho or Hiddink who really would have been a step up, but with the latest journeyman to find himself out of work. Sound familiar? It should do. Those paragons of realism Newcastle United did the same thing in December.

Now, the most successful English club in recent decades has been Manchester United, and they’ve stuck with the same manager over that time. Even the dimmest misinterpreter of statistics will realise that there’s a chance the managerial stability was caused by the success and not the other way round. So if you want to know whether clubs benefit from sacking managers who seem to be losing their stuff, it’s not as simple as comparing stability with success. We should also be wary of being overly impressed by bounces in performance after a sacking, partly because short-term results have a lot of random noise in them, and partly because it doesn’t take great results to do better than a series of losses, and usually managers are sacked after a series of losses.

I’d have a lot more sympathy for boards sacking managers so frequently if there was evidence that it was good business, but it’s hard know what to measure. I’m not sure how to do it, but I’d be surprised if Steven Levitt couldn’t work it out. It’s right up his street. It’s as if he read somewhere that Galileo said “measure what is measurable, and make measurable what isn’t” and thought “you know, that’s not such a bad idea!”. Freakonomics isn’t the best popular economics book I’ve read; Tim Harford’s The Undercover Economist is. But finding out whether sacking Di Matteo was a good idea is definitely Levitt’s department.

No comments:

Post a Comment