On the 8th January 2011, Roy Hodgson was sacked by Liverpool. The former Inter manager has proven tactical nous but had failed to win the fans over or raise the morale of the broken Liverpool team.
One month later he was appointed as manager of relegation-threatened West Bromwich Albion. Unbeaten in his first six games at the helm, he steered the Baggies out of troubled waters as he did so amazingly with Fulham three years ago.
West Brom benefited from the move, as did Liverpool and Hodgson himself. But in Serie A this would have been impossible. Why? Because it is in the FIGC rules that no member of the management or coaching staff of a football club is allowed to work for more than one Italian team per season.
Under the Italian FA’s rules, if Hodgson wanted work he would either have had to twiddle his thumbs in the vain hope that the Dalglish revival proved a false dawn and Liverpool realised how good Roy actually was, or move abroad. Knowing Hodgson he would probably take the latter option, but I digress.
The reasons for putting this rule in place are somewhat unclear. The FIGC think that it may prevent club presidents from firing coaches if they know they can only replace them with a handful of people. This may be true in Juventus’ case – Luigi Delneri, who has recently announced he will be leaving the club, could well have been axed midway through the season but the best managers to replace him were at other Serie A clubs.
But often managers become virtual slaves to their trigger-happy presidents. Once the fickle patron gets sick of his toy and wields the axe, the manager on the receiving end has three options. The first: take up a job offer from overseas and change his whole family’s life by moving abroad. The second: remain unemployed until the next summer when he can be employed by another Italian club. The third: come back to the place where he had been, often with humiliating words from the president, dismissed.
Massimiliano Allegri has gone from rookie coach to the best manager in Italy in just a few years. The rule affected him early on; he was going to join Udinese’s coaching staff but had been Grosseto boss in the same season, so could not. Instead he waited a few months before taking charge of Sassuolo, which set him on his way.
But a much more important reason for Allegri’s success was that Cagliari president Massimo Cellino stuck by him at the start of his first season in Sardinia, despite Cagliari losing their first five games. After that terrible spell, the Rossoblu embarked on a terrific run, and the Allegri star continued its rise to the heavens.
Is this an indication that the managers unaffected by the ‘one club per season’ rule become the best ones or evidence that Cellino was put off by the prospect of searching for the handful of coaches available as a result of the rule? It’s hard to say.
The cases of past and present Palermo managers Francesco Guidolin and Delio Rossi are also interesting to study. Guidolin had four different stints at the Sicilian side. His second spell ended when he was sacked due to Palermo’s poor form but, rather than hang around waiting for another coach to be given his marching orders, as he may well have done had the rule not been in place, he was rehired by the notoriously fickle Maurizio Zamparini after just two games.
While some people would say that the pain of swallowing his pride to return must have been too unjust for any reasons advocating the rule, he was allowed to come back as a hero as Zamparini realised what he was missing. He could learn from his mistakes and improve, and he ended the season on a high with the Rosanero.
The same story applies to Rossi. After being told by Zamparini that he had ‘ruined his Palermo’ he was axed despite the fans’ pleas to keep him. One month – and three defeats – later, the president brought him back and Rossi was given a hero’s welcome. The former Lazio tactician stopped the rot and Palermo ended the season with a narrow Coppa Italia defeat to Inter, after which Rossi left the club with an even better reputation than when he arrived and when he was reappointed.
The aforementioned Delneri situation offers arguments for and against the rule. One could say that the rule prevented Juventus from bringing in a better manager to turn the situation around but, on the other hand, in another situation their decision not to sack him (presumably influenced by the rule) could have given time for an upturn in fortunes. He may have turned the club around and all would be well again. In reality he didn’t, but anything that gives a manager a fairer amount of time to prove himself must have some advantages.
There is a lot to be said in the ‘one club per season’ rule’s favour, but the fact remains that a coach can currently be given just a few games at a club before he is sacked, and once he is sacked, he will spend a year frozen out of the Italian football league unless his club tries to rehire him – he is completely at their mercy.
Perhaps a compromise would work. A coach, once he leaves a club, cannot work for another Italian club for, say, four months (or until the end of the season, if the end is less than four months away). This gives them the option of sitting it out for a decreased time instead of moving abroad, while still making club owners think twice before sacking a manager.
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