Two games to go in football’s English Premier League and whatever you think of professional football (from elite athletic performance in action to celebrity circus and soap opera) it’s a melting pot of highly visible competitiveness, relentless weekly demands and potential pressure.

Every season there are managerial sackings but this year it’s been fascinating to note the managerial changes that took place at the beginning of last summer, before the season started and during the season itself.

Here’s a potted history though if you’re not into your football skip the next three paragraphs but note that there have been huge changes of different types. There has been planned change where there has been time for the manager to create his stamp, there has been reactive change where the Board are trying to rectify what they see as a project going wrong (for those teams that have less technical quality this means a greater risk if there’s very little more to be extracted in terms of playing quality, though potentially a trigger for a change of mindset) and there has been a change of approach within an established environment where the leader is consistent or has a record of being there before.

Football’s managerial merry-go-round

As it stands two of the top four (Liverpool and Arsenal) have had the same manager for two seasons or more which represents relative continuity! Arsenal have the longest serving manager and look like they are going to finish in the top four for the 17th consecutive season. The other two in the top four, Manchester City changed manger from last season to this, but the manager had the pre-season to begin work and wasn’t picking up an already started project part way in and Chelsea have a new manager too who came in during the close season, but who is a manager returning to a former role where he’d been successful in the past.

The next three (Everton, Tottenham and Manchester United) are all adjusting to new managers this year. Manchester United have changed manager twice in the last 10 months having had no change for 27 years. Spurs sacked a manager within the season and are still unsettled over who might be managing in the long term. So these two have had new managers within the season, whereas Martinez at Everton came in during the close season and had chance to build and get a running start. The next team (Southampton) have again enjoyed relative success with the same manager as before.

At the bottom of the table the current bottom three have all changed manager during the season as a pretty drastic reaction to poor results in an attempt trigger an improvement. An unsuccessful strategy so far for them. Fulham changed twice, sacking Jol (having bought in Meulensteen as assistant, promoting Meulensteen, not giving him time to make an impact, before going for Felix Magath as an impact manager). Norwich sacked their manager and replaced him with someone untried at this level. Cardiff treated manager Malkay Mackay terribly and bought in someone who has shown little to suggest he would be a high impact manager? So the bottom three have seemingly made the poorest choices of how they’ve dealt with managerial change. Sunderland, fourth from bottom, replaced an obviously corrosive leader very early, acting quickly and sticking with the manager they bought in (Poyet), when they could well have done what Fulham did and sack him after a poor start. Several other clubs have also seen changes in the past 12 months in manager or key support staff.

Change in business

There are potential lesson to be learned about how changes in the environment and conditions can impact the performances of the individual players and the team whose technical and tactical capabilities have fundamentally stayed the same.

We see this in business too. Changes are constant, in goals, in leadership, in organisational structures, in processes, in personnel and even sometimes in culture and values.

There’s a strong argument to say that the ability to mentally and tactically deal with changes in the context in which you’re performing, to understand them, accept then, adapt, move on and to continue to focus on performing your job in light of those changes, as an individual and as a team, becomes an important differentiating factor in any business.

Whether you’re a footballer, a technician or financial accountant understanding that change is a part of the playing conditions in which you perform and actually proactively controlling change by accepting it and seeking it as a means of improvement, is a performance factor that will help make for more consistent and more sustainable performance. The ability to understand, accept and respond quickly and positively to change – is a marker of a high performer. Top level performers that we work with adopt a mindset around challenging or changing conditions as an opportunity to test themselves to see how good they are at responding as quickly/well as they can, to see how good they can be and what they can learn….

Learning to love the conditions, whatever conditions you find yourself performing in, can be a really helpful mindset to adopt, leading to more opportunities for discovery about performance rather than dead ends and frustration. There’s a real case to say that those that adapt to changes in the environment are more likely to thrive. Sounds a bit like evolutionary survival of the fittest. Now where have we heard that before?

Position Team

P

W

D

L

F

A

GD

Pts

1 Liverpool

36

25

5

6

96

46

50

80

2 Chelsea

36

24

6

6

69

26

43

78

3 Man City

35

24

5

6

93

35

58

77

4 Arsenal

36

22

7

7

65

41

24

73

5 Everton

36

20

9

7

57

36

21

69

6 Tottenham

36

20

6

10

52

49

3

66

7 Man Utd

35

18

6

11

60

40

20

60

8 Southampton

36

14

10

12

52

45

7

52

9 Newcastle

36

14

4

18

39

57

-18

46

10 Stoke

36

11

11

14

39

50

-11

44

11 Crystal Palace

36

13

4

19

28

43

-15

43

12 Swansea

36

10

9

17

51

52

-1

39

13 Hull

35

10

7

18

36

45

-9

37

14 West Ham

36

10

7

19

38

49

-11

37

15 West Brom

35

7

15

13

42

54

-12

36

16 Aston Villa

35

9

8

18

36

53

-17

35

17 Sunderland

35

8

8

19

37

57

-20

32

18 Norwich

36

8

8

20

28

60

-32

32

19 Fulham

36

9

4

23

37

79

-42

31

20 Cardiff

36

7

9

20

31

69

-38

30