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07th Oct 2019

Solskjaer, Pochettino, Silva: Who’s next in the Premier League sack race?

Kyle Picknell

As the world groans in unison at the prospect of 12 (twelve!) full days without molten hot Barclays coursing through our veins like Irn Bru on a hangover, three, possibly four, managers go into the international break with a far more ominous cloud hanging over them

In messieurs Solskjaer, Pochettino and Silva the Premier League has a new Cerberus of sack candidates chomping at the bit for a P45 and a holiday in Cancun. In Ralph Hasenhüttl, a floppy-haired Austrian man once termed the ‘Alpine Klopp’ but now, with two league wins in his last 13 games, must surely be the ‘Alpine Pardew’, it has a fourth candidate for the proverbial blunted axe.

Thanks to a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Manchester United on Sunday, Steve Bruce has not only bought himself some more time in Newcastle but hastened Solskjaer’s inevitable departure as Old Trafford disintegrates to rubble around him with nothing other than Harry Maguire’s head left for future generations to ponder. A once-great football team used to play here. Now there is just this, the giant stone carving of a £70 million centre-half’s bonce and the faint outline of a famous parking space left unused.

Javi Gracia, of course, was fired by Watford exactly one month ago on September 7 – smack bang in the middle of the last shapeless void we fill with semi-meaningless qualifying fixtures. Given that he was replaced by Quique Sánchez Flores, who himself had replaced Slaviša Jokanović before being let go and replaced by another vague, presentable European man (Walter Mazzarri. You don’t remember Walter Mazzarri at Watford do you? Good. Nobody does) and then another (Marco Silva – are you sensing a theme? I’m beginning to notice a theme), I am choosing not to treat it as a proper sacking.

Watford have a type and not only that, they cycle through them like a horny University fresher with a paid Tinder subscription. The kind that gives them a million super likes but still always results in the messaging of ‘U up?’ to the same four or five people they felt the briefest, dimmest flicker of affinity towards at 3 am on a Tuesday. Watford and Watford managers do not count. Nobody manages Watford expecting to stay there and Watford seemingly only hire managers so have the brief joy of firing them. And then replace them with the exact same man, just with a slightly different parting in their haircut and a grey cardigan instead of navy one.

Knowing this, who of Solskjaer, Pochettino and Silva will go, the first lame horse to be taken to the shed and patted, and whispered to, and reassured one last time before this misery comes to an end?

The Case for Ole

First of all, the following image.

This, let’s be perfectly clear, is the sight of a once normal, once happy man slowly descending into his own personal nightmare. This is Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker. This is ‘I”m fine, this is fine, everything’s fine honestly don’t worry about me at all I am fine it is you you need to worry about actually’ writ large via human facial expression. This is, unfortunately, what Manchester United Football Club does to the psyche. It grinds it down, wears it thin and then all it leaves behind is a puddle of goo swimming with names, unsolvable problems.

Fred, Marcos Rojo, Nemanja Matic, Fred, whatever Juan Mata is now, Fred again, The Artist Formerly Known as David De Gea, Marcus Rashford shooting like he’s not a £250,000 a week striker, starting fullback Ashley Young, an injured Paul Pogba, an injured Anthony Martial, the big Romelu Lukaku-shaped hole in the wall, Fred a final time.

It happened to David Moyes. It happened to Louis van Gaal. It happened to the famously resolute José Mourinho, who became a ghost in a hotel ordering room service omelettes and muttering Hegelian philosophy to himself. If Manchester United can break these unbreakable men, it can certainly break Solskjaer, the baby-faced assassin with new wrinkles on his forehead and bags under his eyes wearily staring down the barrel now pointing back at him.

Second of all, and this is the most important so do pay attention, Solskjaer has won just five competitive games since the heady euphoria of that night in Paris. Four of those games were won by a margin of one goal. One of those games was against Astana at Old Trafford. United currently sit 12th in the Premier League table, on the same number of points as newly-promoted Sheffield United, and play runaway league leaders Liverpool once the actual football resumes in a fortnight. His team doesn’t look like scoring a goal, demonstrated by the beyond-woeful tally of one shot on target in their last two games against the mighty, impenetrable defences of AZ Alkmaar and Newcastle and ‘the boardroom are inept’ excuse for his own form of ineptness – tactics and things – is starting to look every bit as palatable as the stodge of football he is dishing up.

The Case for Poch

First of all, the following video turned viral meme.

Is this not the best encapsulation of the devastatingly grumpy energy Mauricio Pochettino now exudes? Is this not, now, the exact same vibe; a disgruntled P.E. teacher watching his class kick basketballs around and swing from the ceiling ropes and throw beanbags at each other and make a complete mockery of his sports hall knowing deep within himself that it is not just that he no longer has the energy nor the desire to stop it, he also no longer knows how?

You see it’s not just Manchester United that can have this effect on managers. Pochettino too has been ground down like an artisan coffee bean by his own slowly-advancing tornado of nonsense at Spurs. Things like signing Moussa Sissoko for £30 million on deadline day even though you didn’t really want him but it was either that or nothing. Things like Moussa Sissoko not being very good for a while. Things like having to play Moussa Sissoko at right-back more times than you’d like, which is once. Things like Moussa Sissoko being very good for a while and maybemaybe being your actual best player during a fairytale run to the Champions League fun. Things like Eric Dier and Victor Wanyama having their powers stolen by the aliens from Space Jam as though they were planning on defeating some cartoon animals in a game of five-a-side exclusively by using the rather moderate talents possessed by hefty defensive midfielders. Things like Hugo Lloris getting worse every season and Christian Eriksen giving up that little bit more and the idea of Dele Alli – increasingly forced to play deeper, or out wide, or nowhere at all – vanishing further into the ether.

Spurs and Poch, Poch and Spurs… they have done all they can for each other. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement, an exciting young manager with a philosophy of high-pressing, fluid attacking football given room to grow with one another. There was little added pressure in the form of trophy expectation nor was there the burden of superstar egos to manage in the dressing room for Poch. There was a little financial burden for Spurs, which I guess has always been quite important for Spurs, and the chance to catch a superstar manager in the nascent stages of his ascendency long before the eventual transfer demands came.

Now, however, the relationship has grown stale. Now Pochettino eats dinner in his car parked on the drive. That’s if he eats dinner at all. Sometimes he doesn’t feel like it. He sleeps on the sofa. He buys the kids expensive presents because he feels bad, not for them but for himself. Spurs… they always knew he would walk out on them. They always knew it would be a matter of time. Not if but when. And now he is stalling? Avoiding the unavoidable? They might just pack his things for him and throw the suitcase on the lawn to hurry things along whilst everyone is temporarily distracted by the non-spectacle of games against the Czech Republic and Bulgaria.

Or maybe, just maybe, Solskjaer will be the first domino to fall, opening up the path to that long-rumoured rendezvous and ensuring that this – Pochettino’s exit from Spurs – is the second.

The Case for Marco

Everton’s run of four straight defeats could well mean that Marco Silva beats both men to the punch. All the hallmarks of a classic Premier League sacking are here: a dismal run of form, heavy investment in the summer transfer window that raised expectations and hasn’t paid dividends, lots of possession in games mixed with a complete lack of attacking threat, or goals, and, but of course, an eminently sackable manager.

Unlike the other two, who wear their pained expressions like men with at least some fight against their inescapable fates, Silva seems to have fully embraced the ‘moping around in your boxer shorts and drinking straight out of the milk carton’ stage of the breakup. Yes, Everton are Everton, and Everton seemingly will always be Everton, a club endlessly fluctuating between hope and despair, pride and embarrassment, joy and agony. Sometimes in the space of a few months but also sometimes in the space of weeks, days, minutes and seconds. But there is only so much even they can take, this fanbase of punching bags brutalised over and over again by the sheer Everton-ness of it all. There can only be so much before even they, emotionally hardened as they are through precisely this unique, constant kind of footballing turmoil, start to ask for some relief from it all. “Hey, maybe we could like, I don’t know, score some goals? Win some games? At least resemble a semi-competent football team whilst those eternal rivals we share a city with are embarking on their latest radiant odyssey as the definitive best term in Europe? Would that be so much to ask? Would it?”

Being Everton, of course, Silva’s fate (an abrupt sacking this week or immediately following a 0-0 draw against West Ham in two Saturday’s time) will only bring more hope, and then more pain. He is the most likely to go as it stands, priced slightly better than Evens to be dismissed before Ole and Poch but the truth is it’s hard to see any of them making it into the New Year.

They are spiders circling the bathtub drain, clinging, limbs akimbo to the faint hope that things might get better whilst we, seasoned Barclays veterans, sit, and watch, and wait knowing full well that they won’t. And that this is the only way they will.