The footballing world awoke this morning to news of Uwe Rosler’s sacking as Wigan Athletic manager late last night. Even the keen Wigan Athletic fans I know have been shocked at the sacking of a manager who saved last season through a miraculous FA Cup run to the Semi-Finals and being narrowly denied Premier League football by a late defeat in the Championship Play-off Finals just six months ago.
The manager’s position at the club appeared to be summed up a few days ago by the Chairman, Dave Whelan, who gave Rosler an enthusiastic vote of confidence by stating himself to be “100 per cent behind him” and there being “no question over his ability”. Unfortunately, mere days after his Chairman unequivocally stating “Uwe Rosler is a good manager”, Rosler found himself out of a job following a press release announcing they were letting him go despite his “incredible achievements of last season”.
Rosler’s experience has become commonplace for football managers in recent years. In the Premier League, the longest-serving manager (Arsene Wenger, appointed in 1996) has served an 18 year period as manager of Arsenal compared to the 31 years of all the other current Premier League managers combined. Indeed, during Wenger’s period in charge of Arsenal, each of the other 95 clubs in England’s top four divisions have sacked an average of eight managers each.
Part of the reasoning behind the current sacking culture is the influx of television money into the game, particularly the Premier League, which has resulted in much larger financial penalties for either not obtaining promotion or avoiding relegation. Whilst the majority of Chairmen intend to be patient and give a manager sufficient time to stamp their mark on a team, this has proved difficult to do in the face of large financial loss should a run of poor results not improve quickly.
So, in light of the frightening statistics above, is a career as a football manager a long-term career for most and do managers have sufficient financial protection in the event of their fixed-term contract unexpectedly coming to a close?
The answer appears obvious when viewed in light of the average compensation payment of £500,000 (approx) received by dismissed Premier League managers in the last 20 years. Indeed, on many occasions, a much higher figure than expected is requested from sacked managers in light of the various employment regulations and rules not followed during their employment and/or dismissal.
Whilst, it has almost become an expected byproduct of the industry that a manager will receive a pricey compensation payment, some football clubs could seek to reduce their compensation packages through more tightly-worded employment contracts and appropriate employment law and HR advice when seeking to remove a manager.
The most obvious example with regard to the financial loss suffered through compensation payments to sacked managers is Chelsea FC. Since their takeover by Roman Abramovich in June 2003, Chelsea have reportedly spent over £40 million in compensation to nine different managers due to averaging one manager a season. Indeed, it was widely reported that their most successful manager, Jose Mourinho, received £10 million alone in compensation upon leaving the club in 2007.
Contrary to popular belief, a football manager’s contract of employment is no different to most. They share the same statutory rights as most other professions, including the right not to be unfairly dismissed and the right to be given (or compensated for) the notice period they are entitled to under their employment contract.
The usual avenue of an unfair dismissal claim through an Employment Tribunal is open to football managers in the (now rare) event that they have been continuously employed by the football club for at least two years. An unfair dismissal claim must be brought within three months of the date of their dismissal.
However, due to the capped nature of unfair dismissal awards(currently £74,200), it would usually be preferable for highly-paid football managers to explore the avenue of breach of contract due to the uncapped nature of awardable damages and the six years available to them in which to bring a claim. In reality, their ability to bring employment claims acts as a bargaining tool in negotiating a settlement between their solicitors and the club’s legal staff.
The buzzword within football in dismissal situations leading to the successful negotiation of a settlement agreement is that the manager has ‘left by mutual consent’. Indeed, very few cases ever reach the courts or employment tribunals despite the high proportion of cases in which employment rights have been broken.
The main reasoning behind this is the attractiveness to both parties of a quick one-off payment and keeping any internal dispute out of the press. Football clubs are naturally keen to avoid protracted, public legal disputes which risk ‘airing their dirty laundry’ and damaging their reputation. Due to this, football managers normally have a relatively strong bargaining position and can obtain sums far in excess of those awardable in employment tribunals.
In this way, the world of football management proves different to most professions despite the industry leading to the breaking of many more employment rights and regulations than is usual in other sectors. In modern football, so it seems, image and good PR is key.
One interesting potential argument in future claims will be the question of mitigation of loss, particularly in extreme cases, such as David Moyes’ brief 10 month tenure at Manchester United following his signing of a six year fixed-term contract
A manager in Moyes’ situation may be able to successfully argue that he has not been able to mitigate his loss effectively by seeking employment at a similar football club, due to the large amount of damage caused to his reputation by the public nature of his dismissal. Indeed, David Moyes has only very recently obtained his next employment opportunity at Real Sociedad 6 months later.
However, Moyes’ comments in a BBC interview stating that he had been approached by ‘several clubs’ within the preceding weeks and months would, of course, act against him in any potential proceedings on this point.
Whilst most would presume that poor performance is a fairly easy provision under which to remove a football manager, an employer has a positive duty to try and support the manager and give him a reasonable chance to improve his performance. In most professions, a reasonable chance would be defined as a period of a few months, at the very least, in which to potentially agree a performance plan, aim to meet targets and demonstrate improvement.
Despite the above, it is difficult not to feel sympathy for Uwe Rosler. It is a sad reflection of the modern game where a popular manager extensively backed by the Chairman as being “a good manager”, there being ‘no question as to his ability’ and of the club being “100 per cent behind him” can be sacked 4 days later.