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Premiership sack race: Which manager will be the first casualty of the new season?



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Some things in life are inevitable; Politicians will never win popularity contests. You will always have a soft spot for your first love. Police officers will look more and more like 15-year-olds the older you get and football managers will be sacked.

The demand for instant success ensures most managers will be sacked several times, with only two or three of them escaping the experience.

Premiership managers live in the spotlight almost 24/7 these days. Some take pressure in their stride whilst others constantly feel the strain and crumble underneath it. Managing at a big club the size of AC Milan or Real Madrid is a tall task, but outside a couple of clubs in Europe, there might not be a tougher place to manage in the entire world than in the Premier League.

The season hasn’t even started and already there are grumblings at a number of clubs regarding the current manager. But which one is destined to get the boot first? Well here’s my view on which Premiership managers are safe and those who could be looking for work before the end of the 2009/10 season.

Arsenal – Gooners fans are irritated by the club’s lack of silverware. Trophy-less for four years, Arsene Wenger’s legendary thriftiness in the transfer market needs to change if his growing band of critics are to be silenced. A blind man on a galloping horse can see a Vieira-like midfielder is essential and at least two more experienced players are needed too. Sack-race verdict: Still safe.

Aston Villa – Martin O’Neill’s men faded badly towards the end of last season when they looked like serious contenders for a Champions League spot at one stage. With several ‘big’ clubs sniffing around his younger players, particularly Ashley Young, the Irishman needs to hold on to these prize assets if Villa are going to move further forward. Sack-race verdict: Safe.

Birmingham City – Any manager of a newly-promoted club is vulnerable. Likely to yo-yo between the Premiership and Championship for the foreseeable future, avoiding relegation will be Blues one and only target this season. Alex McLeish is up for a scrap. You have to be resilient when you have ginger hair. Sack-race verdict: Safe (providing Blues are not in the bottom three at Christmas).

Blackburn Rovers – Sam Allardyce’s tactics suit Rovers perfectly. They are both boring. Hardly likely to challenge the top half of the table, I expect Blackburn to have another mediocre season with at least a flirtation with the bottom three at some point. Sack-race verdict: Vulnerable (though I wouldn’t want be the one who sacks him!)

Bolton Wanderers – Even if they won the Premiership this season and followed it by winning the Champions League, Bolton fans would still want Gary Megson to get the boot. Let’s face it Meggers has the charisma of a plant pot and he’s also got ginger hair. Not a great combination. Sack-race verdict: Very vulnerable.

Burnley – I’m old enough (unfortunately) to remember the last time the Clarets graced the top division with the likes of Steve Kindon and Paul Fletcher playing some very attractive football. Burnley thoroughly deserve their place in the Premiership and I hope they stay up. I fear they haven’t got a chance, though with Owen Coyle at the helm they will put up a good fight. Sack-race verdict: Safe (even if they do get relegated).

Chelsea – Big Phil was a big flop, Big Guus was a big hit and Big Chelsea need to win the Champions League. New man Carlo Ancelloti must deliver that elusive piece of silverware to the Kings Road pretty pronto. No-one doubts his pedigree, having won it twice as a player and twice as a manager, but the former AC Milan supremo will be under more pressure than any other Premiership manager. Sack-race verdict: Needs to win the Premiership at the very least.

Everton – David Moyes quietly gets on with the job and his reputation is growing all the time. Despite the lack of World-Class players, Everton’s 5th place finish last season is testament to Moyes qualities as a manager. Sack-race verdict: Rock solid (far more likely to go to a ‘big club’ than face the sack).

Fulham – Despite looking more like a favourite uncle, Roy Hodgson was arguably the Premiership’s top manager last season. Anyone who could transform rag-bag Fulham into a respected club must be admired. The Cottagers never really looked like being involved in a relegation battle and I believe they have enough quality to survive again this time round. Sack-race verdict: Safe.

Hull City – The second half of last season is likely to be mirrored throughout the entire campaign next time round. The Tigers victories at Arsenal and Spurs were tremendous. Treasured memories to be savoured, as it will be a long, long time before occasions like these come round again. Many consider Phil Brown’s infamous half-time blast of his players at Manchester City in December to be the turning point in Hull’s season. Unfortunately for the tanned one, it was an embarrassing turn for the worse. Sack-race verdict: Very, very vulnerable. A serious candidate for the first Premiership sacking of the season.

Liverpool – The Reds astonishing victory at Old Trafford proves they can beat anyone on their day. The problem is ‘their day’ doesn’t come round as often as it does for Manchester United, as illustrated by the two tame 0-0 draws against Stoke City. Every season is billed as a make-or-break season for Rafa Benitez, and with the distraction of huge financial problems at Anfield, the situation is unlikely to change. Rafa needs to do all he can to keep Torres and Gerrard fit. Liverpool aren’t the same when they’re missing. Sack-race verdict: Vulnerable.

Manchester City – With a seemingly endless supply of cash burning a hole in his pocket, Mark Hughes should be feeling like the proverbial kid in a sweetshop. Unfortunately for Sparky when it comes to charisma he’s a close second to Gary Megson, with an expression akin to a politician caught fiddling expenses. Unless World-Class players are attracted to Eastlands, and City are in the top six by the end of September, Hughes may be looking for alternative employment. Sack-race verdict: Put your shirt on Hughes being the first Premiership manager to be shown the door. Perhaps even before the season starts.

Manchester United – For my money United’s defeat in the Champions League is the best thing to happen in English football. Apart from the Old Trafford faithful, who wants to see them win everything year after year? Certainly not me. Hopefully, the endemic arrogance which runs throughout the club has taken a knock. With endless talk of Tevez walking and Ronaldo’s Real Madrid move perhaps United won’t be as invincible in the Premiership. Even if they had Deidre Barlow and Rita Sullivan playing in the centre of defence they’d still be the team to beat. Need I say anything about Sir Alex Ferguson’s job security? Sack-race verdict: More likely to sack the board than the other way round.

Portsmouth – It all started to fall apart as soon as Harry R ran off to White Hart Lane. Whoever took the decision to promote Tony Adams as Redknapp’s successor clearly had a sense of humour. Everyone else knew it would be a disaster. Latecomer Paul Hart did a good job in steering Pompey to a very creditable 14th place finish, but he’s likely to be overlooked for the manager’s job by prospective new owner Sulaiman al Fahim. Sack-race verdict: Vulnerable (whoever is in charge).

Stoke City – The Britannia Stadium was an absolute fortress last season and the Potters can afford to drop plenty of points away again if life at home remains the same. If you’ve ever had a night out in Stoke you’ll know what a hostile place it is. Visiting teams just don’t like it there. Tony Pullis made sure his charges played to their strengths and, providing City don’t suffer from second season syndrome, they’ll be OK. Sack-race verdict: Safe.

Sunderland – Like Birmingham City, Sunderland have become a yo-yo club bouncing between the top two divisions. Appointing Steve Bruce as the club’s new “Gaffer” could be a real masterstroke. He’s never had a lot of money to play with and should be fine working without a massive budget. He has the skills and experience to stabilise Sunderland and keep them in the Premiership. Brucey may have been a better bet for Newcastle than Shearer. Time will tell. Sack-race verdict: Safe.

Tottenham Hotspur – I was genuinely surprised when Harry Redknapp turned up at the Lane. I didn’t see that coming at all and wasn’t convinced it would work out at the time. Shows what I know! An inspiration appointment. Having steadied what was fast becoming a sinking ship last season I expect Harry to take the club further this time round. Sack-race verdict: Rock solid.

West Ham United – With the “under new ownership” sign going up on Monday, it will be interesting to see how everything maps out at Upton Park in the next few months. The club’s new Chairman, Andrew Bernhardt, has already publicly backed Gianfranco Zola, but that is often the kiss of death. Hopefully the new owners will bring stability to the club, allowing the Hammers to move forward with optimism and confidence. Sack-race verdict: Vulnerable.

Wigan Athletic – Chairman Dave Whelan overcame his disappointment at losing Steve Bruce to Sunderland by bringing in Roberto Martinez from Swansea City. Martinez was a huge hit during his playing days with Wigan and the little Spaniard’s popularity could sky-rocket this time around. Swansea fans were devastated to see him go as his brand of free-flowing football won the club many admirers over the last couple of years. Bruce is a hard act to follow, but Martinez should be more than capable of building on his legacy. Sack-race verdict: Safe.

Wolverhampton Wanderers – Like all newly promoted clubs, Wolves will inevitably find it tough. Having tasted the Premiership a few seasons ago may help, but the lack of quality players will inevitably make Wolves one of the favourites to go straight back down into the Championship. In Mick McCarthy they have a manager who has seen it and done it all before and his experience will be invaluable if they are to survive. McCarthy “tells it like it is”. An admirable quality in any man, but a policy which sometimes gets him into trouble. Sack-race verdict: Very vulnerable.

It will be interesting to see how my thoughts map out over the coming months. One thing is for sure; there will be a few casualties! Some may come as a shock to all of us. Place your bets now.