Surviving Relegation: The numbers from the last decade

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Fans of the Premier League, those fortunate (or astute) enough to support a team that survives the dreaded seasonal drop, the Darwinian culling of the weakest specimens at the end of any given May, spend their British summers and Australian winters contentedly looking forward to the opening day of the next season. The grit of last year has been wiped away, replaced with a clean slate brimming with hopeful potential. For now the looming spectre of relegation is so distant, it doesn’t bear thinking about.

But then there are those who had to suffer the ordeal of relegation that season, who, sitting in the rain, hoped in vain and who were finally ensconced in the red zone, finishing in 18th, 19th or 20th place. Their off-season is one spent nursing their wounds and hoping to retain whatever star players that were dragged down with the team. They now face the depressing prospect of away trips to Millwall, whose home ground sits next to a waste treatment plant. This is when a fan’s loyalty is truly tested. Will you watch as many games, know as many names on the teamsheet, or will your dedication slowly trickle away, like the effluence tends to in the plant next to Millwall’s stadium? It is a difficult transition, one that some of the more fickle supporters do not survive. Similarly, a lot of relegated managers also fail to hold on after the drop. Of last season’s demoted teams, Norwich have started life in the Championship with a manager in his first full season, Neil Adams, who replaced Chris Hughton in April before Norwich were relegated. The managers of the remaining two clubs, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Cardiff and Felix Magath at Fulham, currently feel the icy hand of redundancy resting on their shoulders. Solskjaer may well be out of a job by the time this article is published. But what are the numbers when it comes to managers surviving relegation?

Three teams are relegated at the end of the season, 30 teams over the last ten years. Of those 30 teams, 26 of them went down with managers who had been in charge since before the new year. Of those 26 managers, only 10 managed to survive the next season, the rest either resigned or were immediately sacked after relegation, or they left or were relieved sometime during the next season. Of those 10 surviving managers, 7 led their teams to finishes of 6th or better in the Championship, either clinching automatic re-promotion or securing a place in the playoffs. Of those 7 teams, only 3 achieved an immediate return to the Premier League the next season; Steve Bruce, relegated in 05/06 then promoted with Birmingham City, Alex McLeish, relegated in 07/08 then promoted also with Birmingham City, and Harry Redknapp, relegated in 12/13 and then promoted with QPR.

The numbers from the last decade show that the trauma of relegation is an incredibly difficult thing for a manager to simply survive, let alone overcome and achieve immediate promotion. Owners often feel that, in keeping with the inevitable change in the playing staff that occurs after relegation, a clear out of the management is also a necessary action, despite the fact that a failed single season in the top flight is no iron-clad indication that repeated failure in the second division will also occur. Sometimes managers just don’t fancy a year in the Championship and will leave in search of a more attractive position, like McLeish did when he jumped ship to Aston Villa after he was relegated with Birmingham in 2011. Often the calibre of a manager doesn’t befit life in the second division, and they are snapped up, like Roberto Martinez was when he left Wigan for Everton last season. But these are rare occurrences, largely the fate of a relegated manager involves a sacking or an ignominious resignation.

This is, of course, in opposition to the concept behind the parachute payments that relegated teams receive, which, in theory, should equip them better than all of their competitors in the Championship. Premier League teams proposed this year that relegated clubs should receive £60 million in parachute payments over the two years post-relegation, helping to cover the cost of a wage bill that, with the Premier League television money gone for the moment, is usually far too big. In reality, relegated teams generally make wholesale player changes anyway, and the wage bill is cut significantly by that alone. Arguments have been made saying that the payments give the relegated teams an unfair advantage over the teams already in the Championship, but if this is the case, why have so few teams made immediate returns to the top flight recently? Relegation might just be too heavy a blow to recover from. For the manager it almost certainly is.

The data is below.

 03/04

Relegated clubs

  • Wolverhampton Wanderers (managed by Dave Jones)
  • Leicester City (managed by Micky Adams)
  • Leeds United (Eddie Gray, since November)

The next season:

  • Jones: Sacked in November.
  • Adams: Sacked in October.
  • Gray: Was not retained by the incoming regime, relived of managerial duties in May 2004.

04/05

Relegated clubs:

  • Southampton (managed by Harry Redknapp, since November)
  • Norwich (managed by Nigel Worthington)
  • Crystal Palace (managed by Iain Dowie)

The next season:

  • Redknapp: Resigned in December, returning to Portsmouth, Saints finished 12th in Championship.
  • Worthington: Survived the season, finished 9th.
  • Dowie: Survived the season, finished in an admirable 6th place but lost in the playoffs. Left the club in May, joining Charlton Athletic.

05/06

Relegated clubs:

  • Birmingham City (managed by Steve Bruce)
  • West Brom (managed by Bryan Robson)
  • Sunderland (preceded by Mick McCarthy and Kevin Ball, they were managed by Niall Quinn officially when they went down)

The next season:

  • Bruce: Survived the season, and immediate promotion was secured by finishing second in the Championship.
  • Robson: Left the club in September, after starting life in the Championship slowly.
  • Quinn: Was manager for only a single month, presumably in a caretaker role, then stepped down. Roy Keane was appointed manager in August, and achieved promotion, finishing in 1st place.

06/07

Relegated clubs: 

  • Sheffield United (managed by Neil Warnock)
  • Watford (managed by Aidy Boothroyd)
  • Charlton Athletic (managed by Alan Pardew, since December)

The next season:

  • Warnock: Resigned immediately after relegation had been confirmed the previous season. Has been ranting about Carlos Tevez ever since.
  • Boothroyd: Survived the season, losing only one of their first 13 games, but then fell away and scraped into the playoffs in 6th place. Lost to Hull in the semi-finals.
  • Pardew: Survived the season as the also club started strong, losing just once in their opening ten games, but they too fell away and finished a lacklustre 12th.

07/08

Relegated clubs:

  • Birmingham City (managed by Alex McLeish, since November)
  • Derby County (managed by Paul Jewell, since November)
  • Reading (manages by Steve Coppell)

The next season:

  • McLeish: Survived, losing one of their opening 13 games, and achieved promotion, finishing in 2nd.
  • Jewell: Started the next season poorly, with the team languishing at the bottom of the table, Jewell quits in December and is replaced by Nigel Clough.
  • Coppell: Survived the season, finished 4th but lost to Burnley in the playoff semi final. Coppell resigned immediately after.

08/09

Relegated clubs:

  • West Bromich Albion (managed by Tony Mowbray)
  • Newcastle United (had three different managers, Kevin Keegan, until his September resignation, Joe Kinnear, until his resignation in April, then Alan Shearer)
  • Middlesbrough ( manages by Gareth Southgate)

The next season:

  • Mowbray: Left immediately after relegation, West Brom achieved immediate promotion under Roberto Di Matteo.
  • Shearer: Was not kept on as manager, was replaced by Chris Hughton.
  • Southgate: Sacked in October, replaced by Gordon Strachan.

09/10

Relegated clubs:

  • Portsmouth (managed by Avram Grant)
  • Burnley (managed by Brian Laws, since January)
  • Hull City (Iain Dowie, since March)

The next season:

  • Grant: Was not retained for the 10/11 season.
  • Laws: Sacked on the 29th of December.
  • Dowie: Having only been a de facto manager for the end of the previous season, Dowie was replaced by Nigel Pearson for the 10/11 season.

10/11

Relegated clubs:

  • West Ham (managed by Avram Grant)
  • Blackpool (managed by Ian Holloway)
  • Birmingham City (managed by Alex McLeish)

The next season:

  • Grant: Was sacked immediately after relegation.
  • Holloway: Survived the season, finished 5th in the Championship, but lost in the playoff final.
  • McLeish: Resigned before the start of the 11/12 season.

11/12

Relegated clubs:

  • Wolverhampton Wanderers (managed by Terry Connor, since February)
  • Blackburn Rovers (managed by Steve Kean)
  • Bolton Wanderers (managed by Owen Coyle)

The next season:

  • Connor: wasn’t retained for the 12/13 season, replaced by Ståle Solbakken.
  • Keane: Resigned after 7 matches, in September 2012.
  • Coyle: Sacked in October 2012.

12/13

Relegated clubs:

  • Queens Park Rangers (managed by Harry Redknapp, since November)
  • Reading (managed by Nigel Adkins, since March)
  • Wigan Athletic (managed by Roberto Martinez)

The next season:

  • Redknapp: Survived the season, finished 4th in the Championship, achieving promotion via the playoffs.
  • Adkins: Survived the season, finishing 7th in the Championship.
  • Martinez: Left to manage Everton.

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