Burnley were last but eventually caught up with the rest the other week. All of the bottom five have sacked managers this season. They have to these days, because patience guarantees nothing with huge money at stake.
They are all hoping to do an Eddie Howe, because Newcastle United are the best example of something working following a change in management. I was up there on Saturday for the Liverpool game and Howe is really building momentum, you can feel it around St James’ Park.
They were the only team not to have won a single game, and found themselves five points from safety, when he was appointed in November. He had a tough time at Bournemouth towards the end but it’s become obvious that the Newcastle players have bought into his methods. Being able to spend a bit of money in the transfer market has helped too.
Burnley have won three in a row in their battle against relegation from the Premier League
Caretaker boss Mike Jackson is helping the Clarets towards an unlikely great escape
They might all hope for Howe but life does not always work like that. Sometimes it doesn’t click, for whatever reason, beyond the briefest of bounces. See the three managers Watford have been through this season for evidence of that.
But there is usually an immediate improvement and I find the psychology of that fascinating.
It’s always a fresh start for everyone. The first couple of weeks everything goes up a notch or two. There is a clean slate across the board, even for the players who had been picked by the previous manager. Training goes up and that translates to performances.
It doesn’t really matter who comes in at first, because standards do rise for a bit and the question is how long that can sustain itself for. It might only give you a couple of wins but those could be all you need. It’s clear why these clubs, especially at the bottom, fire and hire. By leaving it late, Burnley might have timed it perfectly, although I thought the decision was a big mistake and still do if we are looking long term.
Sean Dyche deserved better but you cannot argue with the results under Mike Jackson, three wins on the spin. Sometimes just a freshen up is enough, a different voice.
You can tell when teams down tools and lose faith in the boss. If you’re changing a manager halfway through the season you’re usually struggling.
It happened to me at Stoke and Portsmouth and Graham Taylor got the sack at Aston Villa as well. The first meeting with the successor is always so important. Do I get this guy’s gist or not? You can gauge it pretty quickly.
A proper speech can have you believing in him straight away.
But sacking previous boss Sean Dyche could still be a big long-term mistake for the club
I read in Sportsmail over the weekend that Jesse Marsch was applauded by the Leeds players after his first meeting with them. It must’ve been a rousing speech!
They’ve done fairly well since, unbeaten in five games before losing against Manchester City, and the trick will be whether they can go again after a promising start.
The new man does need instant rapport with his players, as time is usually of the essence.
Harry Redknapp nailed it at Portsmouth, as you can probably imagine, when taking over from Graham Rix.
I’ll also always remember Harry coming in at Southampton. We’d been struggling with Paul Sturrock and I hadn’t been playing. Harry just said: ‘You and Kevin Phillips aren’t starting? Why?’ His message was that as long as I was fit, I was playing. You can’t not buy into that!
There is also the element of professional pride as a player and I’ve always thought it should not really matter who the manager is, do it for yourself.
Tottenham look a different team under Antonio Conte compared to under Nuno Espirito Santo
Pep Guardiola says it all the time: players win or lose games. Tottenham are a good case study of this if you compare them now, under Antonio Conte, to Nuno Espirito Santo. Chalk and cheese.
A lot of this is psychology. It’s like playing home or away, that has always baffled me. Sure there are more fans who might happen to hate you but it is still a football pitch, why are we playing differently?
The attitude towards psychology is improving in the game — a lot of us used a psychologist at Burnley in my final year as a player — but there has always been a stigma associated with speaking to someone. Some almost view it as weakness, which is an old-school mentality.
Taylor brought in a psychologist at Villa and was ahead of his time. He asked me to write down my one-year, five-year and eight-year plan. I’m not sure where that is any more, but I did achieve those things — establish myself as a Premier League player, muscle into the England squad and win a trophy.
The lists at Everton, Burnley and Leeds will be far shorter at the moment — simply win next week.
Foden or Mo – I can’t call it yet!
Now I like being on the right side of history, so I don’t think it’s particularly wise to pick a Player of the Year before we know who has won what.
I’m often left surprised by how early they are generally done. The winner has to come from the best team and the best team is often unknown until May.
All the awards should be left as late as possible and I always thought voting for the PFA Player of the Year was done far too early, often months before the season finishes.
Phil Foden is a player of the year pick for me if Man City win the title and Champions League
It seemed strange timing to me, with so much of the league left to play, and I could never quite get my head around why voting was not electronic either. There should be an app for your phone that takes 10 seconds to complete. More players might vote then, too!
This year, if Manchester City win the Premier League and Champions League, you would have to pick Phil Foden or Kevin De Bruyne. I’d potentially go for Foden because he has consistently been a shining light for them.
There are plenty of others you could choose and the same goes for Liverpool. The performances of Virgil van Dijk have been an absolute joke. Sadio Mane as well, coming back from winning the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal and picking up where he left off. He has to be in the conversation.
I do seem to be skirting around the fact that Mo Salah — already crowned FWA Footballer of the Year — has the most goals and assists this season. Clearly he has to be in there, given how electric he has been throughout the campaign, even allowing for him going off the boil slightly in recent weeks.
Those five names are my list and it has to be one of them. If the two clubs trade trophies, Salah pips the others in my view for his sheer weight of goal contributions.
But Mohamed Salah (left) has to also be in the reckoning if Liverpool land the big prizes