International Soccer
By Chris Ravita, Soccer Editor - Archive - Email
England's sack race already heating up
The coming months are crucial to Paul Lambert and Aston Villa.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Did you hear that? That was the firing of the English Premier League's starter pistol to see which manager on the hot seat gets canned first.

Each club begins its campaign with the hopes of achieving its goals, whether its survival, a European spot or the title. But things don't always go according to plan, and if a team struggles, the manager is usually culpable.

The Premier League is a long and grueling 10-month ordeal. The sack race can be just as grueling for a struggling club, manager and group of supporters, but it is certainly not long.

Make no mistake: If the season is a marathon, then the sack race is undoubtedly the 100-meter dash.

Just ask Paul Sturrock. He was ousted as Southampton boss just nine days after the start of the 2003-04 season, even though the club had one win and one loss from Sturrock's two games at the helm.

Several teams have been slow off the starting blocks this term, but the manager's seat is getting particularly hot for three bosses due to the increased expectations of their respective clubs.

Alex McLeish managed Aston Villa for just one season, and perhaps it was one season too many. Guiding the Villans to just nine wins in 42 games across all competitions, McLeish holds the distinction of being the club's worst-ever manager with a winning percentage of 21.43.

Aston Villa staved off relegation last season by finishing two points above the drop zone, but it was certainly not good enough for club chairman Randy Lerner, who fired McLeish at the conclusion of the season and replaced him with Paul Lambert.

Lambert enjoyed a sublime season with promoted Norwich City last term. The Canaries were heavily picked to return back to the Championship, but they made a surprise finish, ending up with 47 points to ensure their top-flight status for another season.

Lerner took notice and brought Lambert to Villa with the hopes of returning to the glory days when the club competed for Champions League spots, but one draw and two losses to open the season may have the chairman rethinking his investment.

The Villans were atrocious in their defeats to West Ham and Everton, and it remains to be seen whether their 1-1 draw with Newcastle last time out, a match that inspired some confidence in the Villa Park faithful, proves to be an aberration.

The coming months are crucial to Lambert and Aston Villa. The club faces a tough stretch in November with successive matches against Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal, and if the Claret and Blue do not come in to these matches in good standing, Lambert could tumble from his perch.

Andre Villas-Boas is proving to be a victim of high expectations as well.

The Portuguese prodigy is one of world football's most promising young managers. He guided Porto to an undefeated season in 2010-11 but floundered upon making the move to Chelsea last term.

Villas-Boas swapped West London for North London to join Tottenham over the summer, but it looks as if he is having the same problems in white that he did in blue. Reports continue to circulate that Villas-Boas does not have much support from players in the locker room, calling his leadership capabilities into question.

Spurs have managed two points from their opening three games, though the argument could be made that they should be sitting on six points as both of the club's 1-1 home draws came about as a result of conceding late equalizers to West Bromwich and Norwich.

This is a defining post in Villas-Boas' legacy. His squad has been strengthened dramatically during the offseason with the additions of Moussa Dembele, Clint Dempsey and Gylfi Sigurdsson, and if he can't deliver the type of return that Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy is expecting, his next job, likely with a smaller club for less money, may be on the horizon.

In the most high-profile vacancy of the summer, the managerial responsibilities at fabled Liverpool Football Club were filled with on-lookers furrowing their brows.

Liverpool, which has not won a league title since 1990, replaced the legendary Kenny Dalglish with the largely unproven Brendan Rodgers from Swansea City.

Rodgers came to Anfield with just one year of top-flight managing experience, and that reflects in the club's first three results. Liverpool was humiliated in a 3-0 loss at West Brom to open the season, gifted Manchester City a point in a 2-2 draw thanks to Martin Skrtel's abysmal backpass, and played quite poorly in a 2-0 home loss to Arsenal last time out.

The 39-year-old boss is only now feeling what it's like to manage in the pressure cooker that is the English Premier League. He was playing with house money at Swansea City as no one anticipated the Welsh club to finish with 47 points. Now, he's like the teenager who just got his license but was handed the keys to a vintage Corvette. If Rodgers is not better prepared when he takes the car out of the garage, he could crash a classic vehicle.

A couple of other managers also haven't fared well so far this season.

Southampton is the only Premier League club without a point despite holding second-half leads against Manchester City and Manchester United, and QPR has conceded an average of three goals per games, but it's tough to penalize Nigel Adkins and Mark Hughes too much given the low expectations for their respective clubs. It's still early for them.

But time is running out for Lambert, Villas-Boas and Rodgers. They are closing in on the finish line of the sack race, a competition that no one wants to win.

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