Overtime: To Fire or Not to Fire

Whether for just reasons or not, three of soccer’s biggest clubs are facing major managerial questions, with two getting the boot and one living to see another day and the hope that new leaders will be given more of a chance to succeed.


Nuno Espirito Santos was the latest high profile manager to be fired after a run of poor performances (courtesy of Twitter).

Being a soccer manager is one of the most intense jobs in sports. Not only does its grueling schedule require playing up to three times a week, but managers are under immense pressure from both club fans and owners. In the past week, three managers from top clubs have been facing the threat of being fired, with the first two actually getting the boot: Barcelona’s Ronald Koeman, Tottenham’s Nuno Espirito Santos and Manchester United’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.   

Take Barcelona for example. Honestly, they are no longer the powerhouse that they were just five years ago. It seems as though they were entirely dependent on Lionel Messi, who is now gone. Koeman got the job last year after Barcelona fired its previous manager on the spot after losing to Bayern Munich 8–2 in the Champions League quarterfinals, the team’s heaviest European defeat in their history. During Koeman’s year in charge, Barcelona changed its president after a vote of no confidence. The new president, Joan Laporta, actively looked to replace Koeman. Now, the new coach will apparently be former Barcelona player Xavi, one of the best midfielders to have ever played the game.

Last year, Tottenham fired Jose Mourinho mid-season and had an interim coach finish out the season. When the summer came around, they were looking for a top manager. Tottenham asked manager after manager, and a starting 11 of options all said no. This led to Espirito Santos joining in the summer. Four months have passed and he has been fired. 

There were several indicators that foreshadowed this, but the biggest was striker Harry Kane. Kane wanted to leave the club and even had a “gentleman’s agreement” with the owner that allowed him to leave in the summer. However, this dragged on the entire transfer window with uncertainty over what would happen. He ultimately stayed at the club, but the damage was done. 

Another indicator was that Nuno was not the club’s first choice. Tottenham has always played an attacking style of soccer, but Nuno is more of a defensive coach. At first, it seemed like a perfect pairing, topping the table after one month and claiming all nine points that were possible. However, from then on, it went downhill. This Sunday’s defeat against United was the tipping point. Now Tottenham has hired Antonio Conte as its new manager. Ironically, Conte was Tottenham’s top choice back in the summer, but he declined it at first.

Solskjaer has faced calls to be fired for years. Fans have claimed that Solskjaer is not good enough to manage a club with United’s stature, and this year has not been perfect. United has some of the best players in the world such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes, and Rafael Varane. However, the results on the pitch have been disappointing. Prior to United’s victory against Tottenham, the team only got one point out of the previous four Premier League matches. This included a 5–0 defeat at home to one of its biggest rivals, Liverpool. Liverpool fans mocked Solskjaer in this thrashing, singing one of United’s chants.

United lost to BSC Young Boys in the Champions League. The team beat Villareal and Atalanta, but both were come from behind victories where they conceded early and had to claw back and scrape their way to the win. The fans’ outcries for firing Solskjaer are now as high as they have ever been. After the Liverpool match, the United board was close to firing him but decided to give him a couple of games to recover. That first match was against Tottenham, and Solskjaer will live another day after a 3–0 victory.

While unfortunate for the managers, it might not be their fault at all. Some simply were at the wrong place at the wrong time. As for others, they have the backing of the board and are safe. For the new managers, I hope that they are given the time for their plans to be put into effect. They need to be given faith from both the board and the fans because if not, then their stints will be relatively short.