Few last long in little patience league

CHRIS LAKEY Wanted: Manager for Championship football club. Short-term contract only... The bookies have a list as long as your arm if you want to take a bet on who the next Norwich City manager will be.


Wanted: Manager for Championship football club. Short-term contract only.

The bookies have a list as long as your arm if you want to take a bet on who the next Norwich City manager will be. But what on earth are the candidates - not just the usual suspects who have no real chance of landing at Carrow Road - getting themselves into?

Football management has always been a precarious occupation. Witness Dave Sexton, sacked by Manchester United in 1981 - despite winning his last seven games.

But making a success out of managing a Championship club is worse, much worse, than trying to make it in the top flight.

Of the top 40 longest serving managers in the country, only eight are currently with Championship clubs. Nigel Worthington, axed on Sunday, had been in the top 10, but his tenure of six seasons was well above the Championship average - and well above Norwich's own average for managers.

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City have had 36 managers in their history, beginning with John Bowman, back in 1905. The average lifespan in the Norwich hot-seat is 2.72 years. The longest tenure was that of Bob Young, who served seven years, from 1939 to 1946.

While it would be fair to assume that pressure on football managers is at its peak for those serving in the Premiership, it seems the top flight is actually a safer place to be.

A report published earlier this year by Dr Sue Bridgewater from Warwick Business School at the University of Warwick, contains detailed research showing just how tough life not quite at the top was.

The figures are not just staggering, they are damning too.

t Between the formation of the Premiership in 1992 and December 2005, more than 500 managers from the four English divisions were dismissed

t There were 678 management changes - 94 are still in post, 48 resigned, 536 were sacked

By the time of Dr Bridgewater's presentation, the average life span of a manager last season was just 1.72 years - down from an average of 2.7 years in 1992/93.

Tellingly, though, lower league managers have lost their posts at more than twice the rate of the Premiership. In 2003-04, three times as many managers were parted from their posts in Championship clubs than in the Premiership.

It's a trend that doesn't appear to be changing much either.

Since the end of last season an incredible 14 of the current 24 Championship clubs have changed the man at the help, compared to two in the Premiership.

Since the season got underway Premiership bosses have uniformly stuck with what they've got, the last to go having been Aston Villa's David O'Leary in July.

But there's little such patience to see how things settle in the Championship with West Brom's Bryan Robson, QPR's Gary Waddock and Kevin Blackwell of Leeds incredibly sacked in the space of two days in September before Nigel Worthington's time was deemed to have run out last week.

What Dr Bridgewater's research does show, is that chopping and changing managers as often as the kit design isn't good for a club's health, which is probably why Premiership clubs are where they are and the rest feed off the scraps.

It's not always successful of course: Dario Gradi has been at Crewe since June, 1983 but couldn't keep them in the Championship last season. However, the mere fact that he got Crewe into the Championship in the first place was a huge achievement for such a small-town outfit and owed much to Gradi's ability to produce and then sell on young talent -one-time Canaries striker Dean Ashton among them.

Sheffield United kept faith in Neil Warnock for eight season, despite a couple of high-profile failures to make that tantalising, final jump into the Premiership - and it paid off last season when the Blades finally got there.

The longest-serving Championship manager now that Worthington has gone is Steve Bruce, at Birmingham, where he has been in charge since December, 2001. he's 11th on the overall list, Mike Newel is next at 15th -he's been in charge at Luton for three years. Then comes Steve Tilson (22nd) with almost three years under his belt at Southend, and Steve Cotterill, at 29th with two and a bit years at Burnley. Paul Sturrock has just celebrated two years at Sheffield Wednesday to put him 33rd on the list, while the others - Micky Adams (Coventry), Andy Ritchie (Barnsley) and Dave Jones (Cardiff) are still in their first full season in charge.

It's a precarious trend - and one which Norwich City's board of directors will be happy to buck when they reveal their choice as the next manager.