Giving Managers Time: The Stories of 5 Managers Who Turned it Around

Time is a sparse commodity for football managers these days. Unless you deliver instant results, you’re generally hounded out of the door, with not a second thought given to whether you were ever capable of turning the tide back in your favour.

But perhaps any bosses feeling the heat can look to history for living proof that, if allowed to, a bad run of form doesn’t always prove terminal for the men in the dugout, as these five examples have showed:

Sir Alex Ferguson (Manchester United)

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You’d think that Ferguson, one of the greatest and most successful managers in the history of the game would never have had to worry about losing his job, and certainly during his 26 years at Manchester United, right?

Wrong. Ferguson’s second full season in charge at Old Trafford, 1988-89, saw the Red Devils finish in a disappointing 11th, and the next campaign hardly started much better. Despite hefty signings including Mike Phelan, Paul Ince and Gary Pallister, United floundered, suffering an early-season run of six losses and two draws in eight games.

Indeed, a banner stating: “Three years of excuses and it’s still crap … ta-ra Fergie” was unfurled at Old Trafford, with many calling for Ferguson to lose his job. He later described December 1989 as “the darkest period [he] ever suffered in the game”, with United ending the decade just outside the relegation zone.

But a 1990 FA Cup final replay win over Crystal Palace is said to have saved Ferguson’s job, and from then on, the trophies kept on coming; this was the first of the 38 pieces of silverware he would win during his incredible tenure at the club.

Howard Kendall (Everton)

Widely regarded as one of Everton’s greatest players (as part of the ‘Holy Trinity’ with Alan Ball and Colin Harvey) and managers, it wasn’t all plain sailing for Howard Kendall on Merseyside, either.

He returned to Goodison Park in May 1981, initially as player-manager, before signing the likes of Neville Southall, Trevor Steven and Peter Reid. Kendall oversaw decent finishes of eighth and seventh in his first two years, but after a poor start to 1983-84, winning just six of Everton’s first 21 league games, he was said to be on the brink of the sack with the Blues verging close to the drop zone.

But he oversaw a remarkable turnaround thereafter, winning the FA Cup that year thanks to a 2-0 win in the final against Watford, before winning the league title with a 13-point margin and the European Cup Winner’s Cup in the following campaign.

In fact, so good was the Everton team he assembled himself, it is widely regarded as one of the greatest sides to grace the 1980s. He left in 1987, frustrated by the European ban on English clubs after Heysel, to manage Athletic Bilbao in Spain, but returned to Goodison in 1990. That was a far less successful reign for Kendall, though, and he resigned three years later after a dreadful run of form and reportedly clashing with the board.

Nigel Pearson (Leicester City)

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OK, so it was only a temporary reprieve before the axe eventually fell on him, but Nigel Pearson still presided over an incredible change in fortunes for Leicester having been walking the managerial tightrope for much of his Premier League campaign in charge of the Foxes.

Pearson was reportedly sacked by newly-promoted Leicester in February 2015 after a 1-0 home defeat to Crystal Palace, during which he grabbed the throat of opposition player James McArthur. That loss left his team bottom, three points adrift, but the club then denied he had, in fact lost his job and he remained in charge.

There was no immediate improvement in results; indeed, six weeks later, a 4-3 defeat at Spurs left them seven points off safety with just nine games to go. Leicester looked doomed for an immediate return to the Championship, but then came a spell of title-winning form to clinch survival.

The Foxes took 22 points from the remaining 27 on offer as Pearson spearheaded one of the most miraculous escapes from relegation in history, but he would lose his job the following June after an incident during a close-season trip in Thailand proved one high-profile misdemeanour on his watch too many.

Leicester, of course, would defy the odds and win the title under Claudio Ranieri the following year, but Pearson’s escapologists deserve great credit for that achievement, too; indeed, many laud him for laying the foundations for their 5000-1 triumph the season later.

Maurizio Sarri (Chelsea)

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A wonderful start, an appalling middle and an ultimately happy ending: Italian Sarri’s only season at Stamford Bridge could be split up into these three main bulks.

After 11 games, Chelsea were right in the mix for the title; level on points with Liverpool and only two behind leaders Manchester City, but it was Pep Guardiola’s side who would eventually leave Sarri on the verge of the sack the following February.

A 6-0 hammering at the Etihad Stadium, at which point Chelsea had plummeted to sixth, proved Sarri’s nadir in a dismal mid-season spell, with disillusioned fans growing tired of him and his dull style of play.

He looked to be the latest Chelsea manager to incur the wrath of Roman Abramovic, but to his credit, Sarri oversaw a much-improved final three months; Chelsea were only beaten by City in the EFL Cup final on penalties, finished third in the league, and thrashed Arsenal 4-1 to win the Europa League.

He left to return to his native Italy in June, taking over at Juventus, but Sarri departed Chelsea with far greater credit in the bank than it looked like he ever would on that dark day at the Etihad.

Lee Johnson (Barnsley & Bristol City)

Finally, a manager who has staved off the sack not once, but twice already in his fledgling career as a number one; Lee Johnson answered his credits both during his time as Barnsley boss, and then again at Bristol City.

During his time at the Tykes, Johnson presided over eight successive League One defeats, equalling the club’s record, as well as being embarrassed by non-league Altrincham in the FA Cup in November 2015.

But in the space of three months, Johnson took Barnsley from 22nd to 12th, and leading them to Wembley after an EFL Trophy semi-final win over Fleetwood Town. He would leave for Bristol City in February, with Barnsley going on to achieve a double of EFL Trophy glory and a once-improbable promotion back to the Championship via the play-offs.

Then, in his first full season at Bristol City, a club Johnson’s dad, Gary, led to the Championship play-off final in 2008, his team started well, and were fifth in the second tier after 11 games. But a torrid winter run of 13 defeats in 16 matches left many of the Ashton Gate faithful calling for his head.

Johnson turned it around to keep them up, though, and since then, has constantly had the club on the coat-tails of the play-offs once again.

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