Jol-ly hard luck

10th November, 2007

Dear Economist,
Were Tottenham right to sack Martin Jol?
A Spurs fan

Dear Spurs fan,

Let me explain to the unconverted that Martin Jol was the manager of Tottenham Hotspur, the second-most successful football club in north London. Jol inspired good results in the past, but the club’s recent performance has been poor.

Were Tottenham wrong to sack him? Many lament the rapid turnover of football managers, and note that the two most successful premiership sides, Manchester United and Arsenal, have the longest-serving managers. But how do the numbers stack up?

Christopher Hope is an economist at Cambridge University specialising in the costs of sacking football managers (and the costs of climate change). He estimates that when a manager is replaced, the typical team loses more than 10 league points from the disruption, equivalent to three wins and a draw. The cost of paying off the manager’s contract means less money to pay players and so a further modest points loss.

Nevertheless, Hope’s analysis recommends that clubs should sack their managers more often. He has concluded that the following algorithm would improve the performance of premiership clubs. Any new manager should have an eight-match honeymoon, during which time he is safe from sacking. After that, his average results should stay above a miserly 0.74 point per game; that average should be weighted to put about half the emphasis on the most recent five games.

Jol averaged 1.57 points per game last season, but just 0.7 points this season and 0.6 points in his last five games.

I believe Hope would have sacked him. But what would I care? I’m an Arsenal fan.

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