David Jones: The stats that show new managers make little impact – can Allardyce buck trend?

Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce.
Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce.
Have your say

The cult of the football manager shows no sign of abating.

We have long been obsessed with the men in long coats who patrol the technical area, readily taking the adulation and vitriol that comes their way depending on the success or failure of the 11 players they have selected.

These men who, win or lose, must face the TV, radio and newspapers after a match to explain every decision.

And in these men we place our faith; a good one we feel can transform the fortunes of our clubs, a bad one can send us spiralling down the leagues.

They come in all shapes and sizes: experienced and wise or young and dynamic; suited and booted or tracksuit and muddy boots; noisy and demonstrative or circumspect and cerebral; tanned and exotic or craggy and grey.

And, at the top level, all are paid well, all have a privileged lifestyle and, I’m sure if you asked their employers, all have massive egos.

But, in reality, what difference do they actually make?

In one episode of The Footballers Football Show on Sky Sports, we explored the use of statistics in football.

Coincidentally, Sam Allardyce, then in charge of West Ham, was part of our panel, knowing as we did how much he relied on numbers to analyse the game.

Alongside Sam was an academic called Chris Anderson – recently appointed as chief executive of Coventry City – author of a fascinating book on statistics in football called The Numbers Game.

In the programme, we learnt that the value of clean sheets over the course of a season outweighed scoring a goal, which Sam heartily agreed with, along with the emphasis Allardyce placed on “entries into the final third”.

There were other revelations too, such as the fact that, based on their success rate, attacking corners were largely a waste of time and some managers, Roberto Martinez being one, saw defending corners as a prime opportunity to launch a counter-attack.

But most interesting was Anderson’s agreement with a conclusion reached in another book, Soccernomics, that football managers make only 10 per cent difference to a team’s fortunes.

That is to say if your club won 50 points one season, a good manager could get you to 55 the following season and a bad one would still make it to 45.

Sunderland would be a case in point. From Martin O’Neill through to Paolo Di Canio, Gus Poyet and Dick Advocaat, our fortunes haven’t really altered.

As Ellis Short has discovered, changing a manager can have a short-term impact, but nothing changes in the long-term.

A study by Sunderland fan Dr Sue Bridgewater, who lectures the next generation of bosses for the League Managers Association, confirmed just that: generally a change in manager produces a brief upturn, but results soon plateau to the average points return of their predecessor.

It doesn’t stop clubs trying though: a third of Championship teams have already sacked their managers this season.

Of course, there are always exceptions and sadly Sunderland face one such on Monday night when they take on Crystal Palace, who have been transformed by Alan Pardew.

Last season, they were stumbling blindly towards relegation under Neil Warnock, but now they look a different team, largely with the same personnel.

Pardew has built a side with the emphasis on a powerful defence and rapier-like pace going forward.

He persuaded Yohan Cabaye to return to the Premier League and his class is helping them become more than the counter-attacking team they’ve been labelled.

The Palace owner, Steve Parrish, would argue that the foundations were already in place and it just needed the right manager to unlock their potential; it certainly appears to be a very well-run club these days, but Pardew has proved to be the perfect fit.

So let me return to Sunderland; are all those who’ve failed at the Stadium of Light bad managers or, as Gus Poyet famously said, is there something rotten at the club which no manager can fix?

On Monday night, I was in Dublin to witness the Republic of Ireland qualify for Euro 2016 and see Martin O’Neill hailed a hero.

You can see the old sparkle is back in his eyes and you can feel his energy and drive again on the touch line; you can see how much his players want to win for him.

But not even O’Neill’s alchemy could affect change at the club he grew up supporting.

Nor could the passion of Paolo, the possession play of Poyet or the guile of Advocaat.

As a disciple of statistics, Sam Allardyce is only too aware of how difficult the challenges are ahead.

To succeed, he must buck the trend and remind us why we put so much faith in the man on the touchline. But if he fails is it really his fault?