And our best manager is ….. : an analytical review of SAFC bosses

John McCormick: master of dodgy numbers.
Jake says – John McCormick: master of dodgy numbers.

John McCormick writes: In a response to one of my posts Sobs wondered if it might be possible to use substitutions and tactical changes to rate our managers. No chance, I thought, as I headed off to Spain. But, one baking hot day, when I was idly contemplating the frothy, chilled bottles calling my name from the fridge and wondering if it was too early, Sobs’s comment came back to me out of the blue. I began to wonder how we might compare managers. What stats would be needed, what would someone look for?

This led to the question “What does any SAFC fan want from a manager?” and thence to some priorities:

  • Keep us up.
  • Beat the Mags
  • Win something
  • Play attractive football
  • Don’t bankrupt the club.

That’s where things might have stayed had I not had another week of blazing heat and enforced idleness, during which I decided I would rank our managers using these categories and from this identify the best.  Here’s how it ended up:

Keep us up

We are one of two teams to have been relegated with over 40 points and we’ve stayed up with fewer. Nevertheless, I decided that would be my benchmark. I worked out the number of games each manager had taken to achieve 40 points, starting from Roy Keane’s first premiership game. Paolo Di Canio hasn’t yet got to 40 points and Ricky Sbragia never did, so I made projections for those two.

Games to get to 40 points:

Keane Sbragia Bruce MON Di Canio
40 42 35 29 35
Ranking 4 5 2 1 2

Beat the Mags

Every one of our last five managers has had at least one game against the Mags so I divided the number of points they won by the number of their games to calculate an average for each:

Average points per derby:

Keane Sbragia Bruce MON Di Canio
1.3 1 0.3 1 3
Ranking 2 3 5 3 1

Win Something

We’re a Premier League side, we should be capable of making a league cup quarter final or the FA Cup last 16, and I thought about awarding points for progress against expectations. This would have required an effort so I thought about awarding points just for progress in cup competitions (e.g. getting to the fourth round of the FA cup would be worth one point). It didn’t help Sbragia and Di Canio but at least it was simple. In the end, though, I decided Keane, Bruce and O’Neill had all let us down in cup competitions and none of them deserved anything.
Nil Points!

Play attractive football

For this I worked on the premise that attractive play would lead to bigger gates. I ranked each manager according to the average Premier gate during his tenure:

Average gate (thousands):

Keane Sbragia Bruce MON Di Canio
41590 40491 40194 41339 41577
Ranking 1 4 5 3 2

Don’t bankrupt the club

There have been loans galore since 2008, not all fees have been reported accurately, if at all, and one manager has often benefited from another’s dealings, so it’s a complicated situation. Roy Keane spent a fortune. Some of that fortune got us promoted and was therefore good business but what of his subsequent deals? Then Sbragia not only spent nothing (as far as I can remember), he got back what we paid for Chimbonda (according to Malcolm) and also shipped out two or three others and therefore ended in the black. Expensive players left during Steve Bruce’s reign, boosting his financial record. MON bought players who helped us stay up but also made some poor decisions which cost us points. The best I could do to make sense of all of this was to estimate the points gained per net £million spent by each manager while in the premiership. It’s not ideal, especially as Di Canio’s in the list, but here it is anyway:

Premiership points earned per net £million spent:

  Keane Sbragia Bruce MON Di Canio
0.99 infinite plus a profit 31 4.5 infinite
Ranking    5 1 3 4 2

Points per game

I added two more categories to try to be a bit more objective. It’s hard to refute any argument that the best manager would have the best record, so I worked out the average points earned per game by each of the managers and used that to rank them:

Average Premiership points earned per game:

Keane Sbragia Bruce MON Di Canio
1.02 0.96 1.17 1.26 1.14
Ranking    4 5 2 1 3

Depreciation factor

Can you recall your feelings when Bruce left and MON arrived? How goodwill stayed with MON and how it eventually went? It has been like that with all of our recent managers. I remember a TV interview after a Ricky Sbragia victory when one of the players said “give him the job”. The club duly did but weren’t we all glad when, just after we limped to safety, he resigned?

To take account of this I’ve developed a depreciation factor. This divides points averaged over the whole tenure by the average for the first seven games. Paolo Di Canio has only been boss for seven games and must therefore score one, which might be unfair to the others.

Depreciation factor:

Keane Sbragia Bruce MON Di Canio
0.89 0.67 0.68 0.68 1
Ranking      2 5 3 3 1


Adding up the rankings gives each manager a score:

Keane Sbragia Bruce MON Di Canio
Ranking totals  18  23  20  15  11

My simple conclusion is that, ignoring Di Canio, there’s not a lot between our previous managers. MON appears best, although Roy Keane comes close, and aren’t you glad Ricky Sbragia didn’t stay? You’re free to disagree, of course, but before you do I suggest you read on.

This was meant to be a bit of fun. My calculations, especially adding the rankings, are seriously dodgy. However, some of the underlying figures  made me think. Continuing to ignore Di Canio, where it’s too early to tell, there has been no improvement in the five years since Roy Keane brought us up.

As they have gone on, all of our managers have declined in performance instead of improving. Their cup runs have been minimal and they have underperformed against our horse-punching neighbours. They’ve done this while spending money and moving players in and out like there’s no tomorrow.

There is one bright spot: the record shows that, through all of this and a recession that has hammered the region, the fans have kept the faith. Our first season back saw crowds average 42,000 and they’ve been near that ever since, even though the football hasn’t always been attractive. Take a bow, SAFC fans. If anyone deserves to be ranked number one it’s you.

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5 thoughts on “And our best manager is ….. : an analytical review of SAFC bosses”

  1. Best,Reidy for me in modern times . Worst? the Wilkinson/Cotterill ” dream team” . My depression of hearing Reids replacement was going to be Wilkinson was only matched when I learned Sbragia would be Keanes ( nothing personal against Ricky he did a good job as a coach but was never a manager which he will admit).As for the recent short term crop since promotion , Keane got us there and kept us there ( good job, spent a kings ransom).Sbragia was a near disaster , but the mags and Boro went down that year so we tend to forget.Apparantly Bruce finished tenth? with a team of loans and we were found wanting when they went back home and the heroic Bent/Gyan duo left for bigger clubs, cough. O’Neill saved our bacon but didnt realise it was 2012 not 2002 and was sadly yesterday’s man as I had quietly feared.On to Di Canio, another fire fighter who has to prove he can manage and rouse this snoring giant, positive early signs and a complete change of philosophy might at long last give us the team we want, here’s hoping, again.

    • Drummer – I’ve been quietly hoping [ praying even ] for more years than I care to remember.
      I was desperate for Clough to manage Sunderland. I just somehow knew that he would be special, but sadly, it never happened.
      I agree in recent times, Reid – like many before him he failed to capitalise, and toward the end began to make awful decisions.
      PDC? Who knows? I think a lot will depend on his first few games. If they go well, he could become a North East legend. I think his best asset will be the fact that he seems to have a competent team of staff around him. I think both Bruce and O’Neill were too fond of appointing their mates.

      • William , if O’Neill had replaced Reid way back then it could have taken off. A different time, O’Neill was young , current , exciting , we were ready to push on, enter Wilkinson and inertia.Clough would have been our dream manager at the time he revolutionised Derby/Forrest and I believe he was interviewed twice for the job as was Bobby Robson.This was around the late 70’s to mid 80’s and was told by former director Ted Turner in a recent issue of The Legion Of Light. Anyway we didn’t get Clough or Sir Bobby we got Mackemenemy instead , sums us up!

  2. I only looked at the last lot of managers – those since promotion.

    Reid does bear comparison in most areas. He not only took us up (twice) and kept us up as long as R Keane, but he also took us down, did he not?

    He bought Sir Kevin and Sir Niall and also T-A Flo.

    I don’t know how he did in all of the derbies but I think his record compares well.

    Like the recent mob, he depreciated towards the end.

    Maybe in a year or two, if PDC’s still around, I’ll compare the two.

  3. My first reaction is Reid was the best manager in my view,though by no means perfect…but let’s face it who is perfect(except Alex Ferguson).

    We have has some very ordinary managers(when they were here).Keane was very good at making effective substitutions I recall.He had a knack of identifying who to take off and who to bring on.The number of games we won that first season where the sub scored or we scored in extra time was as impressive as I have seen under any manager.Pity he blew a fuse as he had the potential to be a great manager…..sadly too many demons in his head.

    MON was heartbreaking,it should never have ended like that.But he lost something after that Everton FA cup defeat and he never really got it back again.Out of that lot I’d have to plumb for Roy.

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