Inter The Unknown: Why Interim Managers Aren't Working In The Premier League

Caretaker appointments have been a trend this season, but it's hard to see why
11:00, 02 May 2023

Javi Gracia’s Leeds United lost again this weekend. So too did Ryan Mason’s Tottenham Hotspur. Frank Lampard’s Chelsea play league leaders Arsenal on Tuesday, but are coming off a loss to Brentford. Dean Smith’s Leicester City didn’t play, having managed a 1-1 draw with fellow strugglers Leeds a week ago. 

In fact, of the five Premier League clubs currently operating under some form of interim, acting or short-term manager, only Crystal Palace won at the weekend. Roy Hodgson steered his side to a 4-3 victory over West Ham United. The 75-year-old does skew the numbers a little though. This is Hodgson’s second spell in charge at Selhurst Park, with his first ending less than two years ago. The former England manager worked with many of the current squad during his initial four-year spell, making his appointment less of a wrench than the other short-term managers that have been hired this season.


Hodgson isn’t the only one returning to a former club of course. However, while the Palace manager can argue he has shaped much of the club’s modern identity, Frank Lampard hasn’t had as much impact at Chelsea. While the former midfielder can point to the work he did bringing through the likes of Mason Mount, it was widely-acknowledged he was out of his depth the first time. It has proven to be the case again, with Lampard enduring a record of five losses from five games thus far.

Other clubs have looked further afield for their fresh faces. Javi Gracia, formerly one of 1000 managers the Pozzos have hired at Watford, was appointed at Leeds. His hiring was termed “flexible”, with the club offering no commitment beyond the end of the season. Gracia has won just three of his 12 games in charge since replacing Jesse Marsch.


Ryan Mason is currently enjoying, or suffering through, his second go-round as Tottenham’s temporary coach. Spurs took the unusual step of appointing Cristian Stellini as acting head coach before sacking him from the role. Doubling down on their lack of commitment, chairman Daniel Levy has appointed another temporary boss rather than making a permanent hire. 

Brendan Rodgers had come to the end of his lifespan at Leicester City. Having taken them into Europe and lifted the FA Cup, the Foxes’ relegation plight was unacceptable. But bringing in Dean Smith as a firefighter until the end of the season seemed like an opportunity missed. Rather than building on Rodgers’ good work, the club appointed a man most recently seen taking Norwich City down before getting sacked in the Championship.

It is strange to see so many clubs afraid to commit. Each chairman in question has talked a good game, speaking about the importance of making the right appointment. But with each of these clubs in dire straits, surely the time to make that appointment is now? Instead, each club chose to place their season in a holding pattern or worse. Palace aside, who have benefitted from the return of someone uniquely suited to the role, none of these temporary appointments have worked.

The fabled “new manager bounce” effect is not as potent when a manager has been hired on a temporary basis. While Ole Gunnar Solskjaer catapulted into the Manchester United hotseat after impressing as a caretaker, usually players don’t buy in to a boss they know is halfway out of the door. The modern pro will generally not put themselves out knowing that the man they’re playing for won’t be in situ beyond the end of the season.

The standard of manager that will accept an interim job is often lower than you could land permanently too. No disrespect to Smith or Gracia, but most fans of Leicester and Leeds would want their clubs to aim far higher. The best managers generally won’t accept an audition though, meaning clubs turn to bosses who normally wouldn’t get near their dugout.

The broad failure of interim coaches this season will likely lead to an end to the trend. Football chairmen are generally pragmatists. They won’t keep doing something that isn’t working. It might be time for soccer’s decision makers to be brave and be more proactive in seeking out a new manager when they need one. The caretakers, interims and half-measures just haven’t worked.

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