Poyet, Pulis or Sherwood – who had the biggest impact?

Even by the Premier League’s often crazy standards, the high turnover of managers in 2013-14 has been a defining feature of the season.

At the time of writing, seven of the bottom 10 clubs have had more than one boss this season (Fulham alone have had three!) – add in Spurs, and that brings us to a total of 40% of teams changing their manager within a single season. But as we enter the final furlong of the campaign, which bosses have had the biggest impact?

One way of assessing this is to set out what the league table would have looked like had the season begun when a new manager arrived. Entirely hypothetical though the results are, doing so does give us a sense of the success, or otherwise, new managers have had during their spell in charge, separated from the league placing they inherited.

Let’s see how three of the Premier League’s new bosses compare on this measure of impact.

Gus Poyet, Sunderland
Date appointed: 8 October 2013
Matches in charge – 27; Points won – 25; Points per game – 0.9

When Gus Poyet took over from controversial Italian Paulo Di Canio after just seven league games, the Uruguayan may have had time on his side, but the challenge he faced to lift Sunderland off the bottom of the table was considerable.

Having gathered just a single point to that point in the season, Poyet inherited a bloated squad, distorted by yet another summer of transfer mistakes from the Wearsiders, and riven with divides caused by Di Canio’s unorthodox methods.

So, how has Poyet fared, and where would Sunderland be now if the season had started afresh upon his arrival?

Figure One: The Premier League table when Gus Poyet took over (left), compared to a hypothetical Premier League table had the season started upon his appointment (middle), and the actual league table as of 18 April 2014 (right)

Poyet epl tables

Many fans may look at the table on the right, and the table on the left, and observe that the gap between Sunderland and salvation remains exactly as it was when Poyet took over. Disregarding the fact that Sunderland still have games in hand on their rivals, the middle table shows that despite that gap remaining consistent, Poyet has undoubtedly had a positive impact since joining the Black Cats,

Had the season started when he joined the club however, the Wearsiders would be sitting outside of the relegation zone, albeit by just a single point. Indeed, only 13 clubs have garnered more points than the Uruguayan during this period.

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However, with the club’s form taking a significant downturn in recent weeks, this overall improved performance ultimately looks unlikely to be sufficient to drag the Black Cats to safety come the end of the season.

Nevertheless, the impact of Poyet, over and above the previous regime at least, should not be underestimated.

Tony Pulis, Crystal Palace
Date appointed: 23 November 2013
Matches in charge – 22; Points won – 33; Points per game – 1.5

Although many may deny it now, most football fans expected Palace to go down at the beginning of the season. Indeed, in many senses, promotion had come too soon for the South London club who had endured successive seasons of turmoil on and off the pitch. When Ian Holloway walked out on the club so early in the season, the Eagles looked to all of the world to be doomed.

But not to Tony Pulis, who snatched the chance to return to top flight management following five highly successful years with Stoke City, which were  brought to an end the previous season. Known for his “back to basics” approach, the consensus upon his appointment was that it was a sensible, if ultimately futile, appointment.

So, how well has he done, and where would Palace be if the season had started on 23 November 2013?

Figure Two: The Premier League table when Tony Pulis took over (left), compared to a hypothetical Premier League table had the season started upon his appointment (middle), and the actual league table as of 18 April 2014 (right)

pulis league tables

Of course, as we all now know, Tony Pulis has been a huge success this season, and having recorded four straight victories, has now guaranteed another season of Premier League football for the Eagles.

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However, as if their current placing of 11th is not impressive enough, had the season begun at the time of Pulis’ appointment, Palace would in fact be pushing on for a European place, only four points behind defending champions Manchester United!

Given the difference in wage and transfer budgets between Palace and the seven clubs who have accumulated more points than them since Pulis’ appointment, he simply must be a leading candidate for manager of the year.

Tim Sherwood, Tottenham Hotspur
Date appointed: 16 December 2013
Matches in charge – 18; Points won – 33; Points per game – 1.8

Once again, fans of Tottenham have endured a rollercoaster of a season. Having lost talisman Gareth Bale to Real Madrid in the closed season, the club invested tens of millions on seven new signings.

Expectations remained very high going in to the new season, but when previous manager Andres Villas Boas failed to replicate the goals of last season (and led Tottenham to a series of drubbings against rivals for the top spots in the league), Chairman Daniel Levy turned to former Spurs, player, coach and technical director Tim Sherwood to take over for the remainder of the season.

Sherwood’s arrival was greeted by a strange mix of media hyperbole (mainly from critics of AVB), and bemusement from other parts of the football world who wondered how a 45 year old man with no previous managerial pedigree could be the right candidate for the job.

So, has Sherwood been a triumph or a disaster, and where would Spurs be had they started the season with their current boss at the helm?

Figure Three: The Premier League table when Tim Sherwood took over (left), compared to a hypothetical Premier League table had the season started upon his appointment (middle), and the actual league table as of 18 April 2014 (right)

sherwood league tables

The answer is neither. Sherwood’s record is almost identical to Andres Villas Boas’ before him, even down to the sides’ capacity to capitulate in games against the top four. This should not be a surprise, given what we know of the marginal role most managers tend to have in determining team performance.

Having managed two games more, Sherwood has collected just six additional points, meaning Spurs are two places higher than when he took over, but a point further away from the Champions League places that Daniel Levy covets so readily.

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Even if the season had begun when Sherwood took over, Spurs would still be outside of the top four, albeit closer to breaking into it than they currently are.

Given Sherwood will not be staying with the North London club next season, it remains to be seen whether he has done enough this year to persuade another top flight chairman to take a gamble on him next season.


  1. […] To cap it all off, Pulis won Premier League Manager of the Year award. Indeed, had the season began when Pulis took over, the Eagles would have finished in the top half of… […]

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