Tuesday 12 January 2016

Manager of the Month. Do You Really Want to Win It?

The cup competitions usually provide the only realistic routes for minor Premiership teams and their managers to win any tangible trophies and gain recognition for their talents and endeavours.

The prolonged 38 game marathon that is a Premiership season may be short enough for an occasional dark horse to slip into a top five finish, but as the financial gap between the elite and the rest remains, it is highly unlikely that all of the top sides will finish below an unexpectedly lucky mid table team. Although Leicester are currently stress testing this to the limit.

Even the FA Cup has increasingly been dominated by the big four, so only the league cup, in its many guises remains as a viable target for mid table Premiership teams. 

However, the manager of the month award also provides a minor, if achievable victory for any Premiership side, no matter how small.

The format is heavily tipped to favour an upset. It comprises just a handful of games, with a new competition beginning regularly, against often heavily skewed strengths of schedule. The vagaries of luck can see teams produce results that would be unlikely to be repeated over the longer stretch of 38 matches, when talent increasingly overpowers good fortune.

Since January 2000, nearly half of the monthly awards have fallen to the manager of either Manchester clubs, Arsenal, Chelsea or Liverpool. By contrast these clubs between themselves have won each and every Premiership title. 

So their dominance on a year to year basis isn’t repeated over a monthly cycle.

51 different managers and 30 separate teams have been crowned the month’s best performer in the 142 individual competitions since New Year’s Day 2000. 

Owen Coyle, Phil Brown, Brian McDermott and Garry Monk have been feted alongside more usual recipients, such as Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger. Reading’s McDermott even winning a monthly award in the season that his side was relegated and just 33 days before his sacking.

The relative democracy that small numbers of matches can bring to the Premiership was neatly demonstrated by the last two recipients of the award during the 2013/14 season.

Brendan Rodgers lifted the award in March 2014 as Liverpool fought for the title and Tony Pulis won in April, as Crystal Palace escaped from the relegation zone. The two sides then met in May and the underdogs Palace fatally undermined high flying Liverpool’s title challenge in a single, unpredictable match.

So small sample size can temporarily elevate inferior sides above their more illustrious rivals and while gaining more points that your rivals in a calendar month doesn’t always guarantee the manager of the month award, it is obviously a huge contributing factor.

The first two months of the current season rewarded South American managers, Pellegrini and Pochettino winning awards for their results at Manchester City and Spurs respectively. 

The former was a clear winner in August. Simulations from shot models for all 40 matches resulted in City topping the table on points and if necessary goal difference over half the time, with their nearest virtual challengers, Arsenal, Manchester United and Swansea trailing well behind.

September was less clear cut. Shot models project Spurs as the most likely side with the best September Premier League record, but Southampton and Everton run them close.

The volatility of a small number of matches is evident in Everton's first two months of the campaign. Hugely unlikely to have topped the table in August they chased home Spurs and Southampton during the following month. Similarly, runaway winners in August, Manchester City fared only slightly better in simulations than did Newcastle in September.

Such a run at the beginning of the season is obviously most evident because it will be mirrored in the current league position of a side and it is easy to make unmerited assumptions without realising how likely this is to happen just by natural variation within a small number of games.

The sight of a manager of any team lifting a manager of the month award may elevate expectations. When this new "norm" fails to be repeated, as it may well do if luck is a component, disappointment, as Brian McDermott discovered at Reading may quickly follow.  

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