The Memo: The strange world of football’s managerial dismissals

Group 723.png

Sacked in the morning: The strange world of football’s managerial dismissals

James Westmacott – 19 June 2023

It’s no secret to anyone who follows football that you’ll see more managers sacked than you’ll have hot dinners. One of the most insecure jobs on the planet, a recent study concluded that the average tenure for a football manager in Europe’s top five leagues lasted between 35 and 69 matches. That’s before they are subsequently replaced and the managerial merry-go round continues. Whilst shouts of “they’re out of their depth!” and “they’ve lost the dressing room!” are familiar rallying cries from fans to get an under-performing manager sacked, the reality is that clubs and their coaches remain firmly entangled in a whole host of legal implications that complicate things just a little. 

With your typical manager perched on the ever-present precipice of being sacked, you might be quick to feel sympathy for them, with job insecurity a constant burden, difficult family arrangements, and an inability to put down roots. But that’s until you uncover the very healthy financial compensation they receive in light of their contract termination. Jose Mourinho – often dubbed ‘the king of payoffs’ - has received two of the top five largest contractual pay offs in Premier League history - £16 million after being dismissed by Tottenham Hotspur 2021, and £19.6 million from Manchester United two years prior. Never has losing your job felt so good. 

But how does it get to this point? Ultimately, the amount of compensation paid to a manager in light of being dismissed completely depends on what is stated in their employment contract. Whilst a range of factors within the contract can contribute to determining the total, it’s the amount of time remaining on the current contract that stands as the most crucial factor. If a manager has signed a two-year contract, and is dismissed merely two months into that period, the club will then be legally obliged to pay them the amount they would have earned had they seen the contract through.   

With clubs eager to avoid exorbitant payouts, football clubs generally have two options when it comes to limiting their managerial dismissal expenditure. Either they can bite the bullet and continue with their current manager, perhaps in spite of their underperformance, in order to get closer to the end of the initial contract. Or, as has been seen more recently, football clubs place particular clauses into the contract ensuring that in the case of dismissal, the managers themselves must pay for the losses as a result of their early contract termination. You might think that’s harsh, but trust me they can afford it. 

The addition of Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations in recent years has added further complications. FFP rules, in short, make it more difficult for clubs to disperse of coaches willy nilly, because they place limits on the amount of money a club can spend. As legal firm Mills & Reeve note, it has therefore become increasingly common for clubs to include so-called ‘underperformance clauses’ in a manager’s contract, which cap potential compensation to protect clubs from having to splash out in the event of prematurely sending their manager packing. 

But what if a manager doesn’t actually deserve to be sacked? After all, the clubs have a duty to fulfil their side of the contract too. This is where ‘unfair dismissal’ comes into play. With foresight of a coach’s dismissal in mind, one of the clauses often placed in a managers contract is to refer potential disputes to the Managers’ Arbitration Tribunal – English football’s port of call for contractual disputes. Yet unfair dismissal isn’t something you’ll come across very often in football. So, why is this the case? After all, underperformance on the pitch might not necessarily mean the coach isn’t up to it. 

Once an employee has offered their services to an employer for two years, they have the right to bring this claim. Whilst football managers do, in theory, have every right to file a claim, the difference is that they are simply not in what you would describe as a ‘normal job’. The extent of their salary and the nature of the sport means that managers will rarely go through any appeal processes regarding the illegitimacy of their dismissal. The right of appeal in law comes under The Employment Rights Act 1996, something that applies to every employee in any job. But with the next job usually right around the corner, and the hefty financial compensation that comes with it, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that most managers will save the fight for another day. 


More like this: 

18 April - The Barclays Premier League and tax: Tales from a toxic relationship

6 February - Blue in the face: how Chelsea’s January spending could send the team south