The Premier League is the undisputed top football league west of Spain, requiring clubs to spend and strategize like no other, just to stay in the top flight. When the bottom three clubs, the weakest links in the league, get relegated every spring, three managers are likely to get the axe, that is if they haven’t been fired or “leave by mutual consent” during the winter.
Those clubs struggled in one of the most competitive leagues in world sports, but there’s yet another obstacle coming up round the bend – the EFL Championship, the second tier in English football.
It’s an entirely different animal from the Premier League, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any easier. Whether you’re perennially fighting relegation or you’re newly promoted to the first division, you know that falling back to the Championship by no means guarantees a quick bounce back up.
The Premier League is a treasure trove of money, and these smaller sides that go in and out of the top flight bask in the glory for as long as they can. Even when you’re up at the top division for just a year, your take home pay far exceeds those of Championship sides. But, if you only stay up for one season and go straight back to the Championship, your parachute is a lot smaller than if you’d stayed up longer.
All the more pressure to stay up in the first place, and all of it is fixated on the manager and his players (but mostly the guy in charge).
Take Alex Neil, for example. After guiding Norwich City to the top flight after taking over in January 2015, his side were subsequently relegated back to the second tier. Fast forward to today, and he was sacked following a poor run of form, including a 5-1 beating at the hands of Sheffield Wednesday.
Norwich were pretty bad last year, winning on 9 occasions, but this year hasn’t been too bad. Or has it?
Neil came in during the winter transfer window and brought Norwich up after beating Middlesbrough in the playoffs, an amazingly intense competition that determines the third and final side to be promoted to the promised land.
Norwich finished the 14/15 Championship campaign in third, a decent finish but it doesn’t mean you’ll survive at the top. Clearly, Norwich were not a true Premier League side and suffered as a result; without deep pockets from years of raking in the dough from lucrative TV deals, a newly promoted side is going to have a tough go of it with the big boys.
Once a club falls to the Championship, it’s hard not to look back and wonder when you’ll see your share of £10.4b again. Of course, it’s not necessarily the manager’s fault that their side gets relegated; injuries can take out key players, other clubs – like their relegation rivals – may swoop in and buy players, or sides may see weeks without a win, setting them on a course for destruction.
Championship sides that see quick relegation envision themselves as on par with other sides that may have managed to stay up for another year, and the managers get sacked as a result. The thing is, that usually isn’t the case; to stay up is beyond the norm.
Alex Neil managed a Norwich City squad that was a Championship side. The club desired promotion and saw itself as a top 6 competitor, but forgot that once they saw promotion. After that, there’s an expectation to stay up, as if Norwich have the quality of even a lower mid table side.
They didn’t have anything near that, and got the boot as a result.
Did Neil’s performance change the club’s expectations from him or his players? Now that they’re sitting in eighth with ten games to go, a promotion playoff battle is looking quite unlikely. With their manager sacked, the club are now looking to the summer transfer window, as if they’ve completely given up the chase.
So, Norwich, you realize you’re not a club that can reasonably achieve promotion, a true Championship side. Alex Neil gave you more than that, only it wasn’t long enough.
Back to reality.
Championship clubs dream of making it to the top flight, playing amongst some of the most distinguished outfits in the world, and once they do, they don’t want to go back.
Who wouldn’t? But once that dream has been extinguished like a match in a wind tunnel, whoever is in charge is probably not going to see out the following season, that is if they make it through the summer.
Alex Neil wasn’t bringing down the club once they were relegated, and he hadn’t lost the vision once Norwich settled in their current position in the table. If you ask Cameron Jerome, Norwich’s players don’t respect the club, which he’s attributed to the Yellow’s lackluster campaign.
Neil’s win percentage after 108 matches in East Anglia was 41.6%, not bad but not great either. For your second managerial gig it’s alright, especially considering the tools at his dispense.
He took some Championship-quality players to the Premiership, and got beat up a bit. To do so was truly beyond his side’s capabilities, and thus the club developed expectations no one could meet with the resources currently at hand.
Neil couldn’t keep his side up, and although many saw that coming, Norwich wanted him to get right back to the grindstone, guiding the club to another run to the top flight. That hasn’t happened, and although the season isn’t over, Neil apparently failed to meet expectations.
Expectations that could be unattainable. Maybe automatic promotion was expected. Regardless, a fine manager who hadn’t really done anything wrong was relieved of his services.
Is Norwich’s current status the fault of mismanagement, or is it, as one of the club’s pillars views it, the fault of the guys on the pitch?
Maybe, it’s the money.