Why the EFL Manager of the Month award is a blessing not a curse
Football philosophy and stats from Kevin Pullein
On Friday the EFL will announce the Sky Bet Championship, League One and League Two Manager of the Month awards for August. Whoever wins will have had a good August. September probably will not be as good.
“You’re on a roll, kid,” said an old trader in the film Wall Street. “Enjoy it while it lasts. Because it never does.” Usually it does not last.
The latest Managers of the Month will be selected from these shortlists. For the Championship: Marcelo Bielsa of Leeds, Lee Bowyer of Charlton, Steve Cooper of Swansea and Lee Johnson of Bristol City.
For League One: Danny Cowley of Lincoln (now Huddersfield), Simon Grayson of Blackpool, Paul Lambert of Ipswich and Mark Robins of Coventry. And for League Two: David Artell of Crewe, Mike Flynn of Newport, Michael Jolley of Grimsby and Matt Taylor of Exeter.
The recipients of an award, in all likelihood, will post worse results throughout September than they did during August.
I investigated EFL Managers of the Month in the ten seasons 2009-10 to 2018-19. For every month from August to April an award was given to a manager in the Championship, a manager in League One and a manager in League Two. So there were three awards for nine months over ten seasons, a total of 270.
I noted the results of a recipient’s team in the month for which the award was given, in the next month and in all other months that season.
In the month their manager won the award teams averaged 2.6 points per game. The next month they averaged 1.6 points per game. That was a huge drop. It should not be surprising, though.
A team who averaged 2.6 points per game over a whole 46-game season would finish with 120 points. The record total in the EFL is 106 by Reading in the Championship in 2005-06. A pace of 2.6 points per game is super-fast. Only rarely will a team keep it up even for a couple of months.
I have heard people call the Manager of the Month award a curse. It is not. The month of the award is a blessing, for the manager, his players and their fans. Afterwards, more often than not, things become whatever is going to pass for ordinary.
Over the next month, as I said, teams averaged 1.6 points per game. Over the rest of the season – that is to say, every month apart from the month of the award and the next month – they also averaged 1.6 points per game.
So we can make this general statement: the Manager of the Month award is given for an exception, after which results return to normal. The strange thing is not any downturn following the award but the upturn for which it was given.
Daniel Kahneman is a psychologist who won a Nobel Prize in Economics. Many years ago he gave a talk to flight instructors in the Israeli air force. Afterwards someone in the audience raised their hand.
“On many occasions,” they said, “I have praised flight cadets for clean execution of some aerobatic manoeuvre. The next time they try the same manoeuvre they usually do worse. On the other hand, I have often screamed into a cadet’s earphone for bad execution, and in general he does better on his next try.”
For Kahneman: “This was a joyous moment of insight. The instructor was right – but he was also completely wrong. The inference he had drawn about the efficacy of reward and punishment was completely off the mark.
“He praised only a cadet whose performance was far better than average. But the cadet was probably just lucky on that particular attempt and therefore likely to deteriorate regardless of whether or not he was praised.
“Similarly, the instructor would shout into a cadet’s earphones only when the cadet’s performance was unusually bad and therefore likely to improve regardless of what the instructor did. The instructor had attached a causal interpretation to the inevitable fluctuations of a random process.”
Of course we do not know who was the best manager in a month. Awards are given for something else: being a manager whose team got good results. The EFL Manager of the Month awards are decided by a panel who take into account results in cup competitions as well. Sometimes a manager will be honoured for a good knockout result. Nearly always, though, their team got good results in their league.
If there was a booby prize for managers whose teams got bad results during a month – a formal acknowledgement of the scorn from pundits and fans – we would find that in the next month results usually improved. Some managers, though, would have been sacked before they had the opportunity to welcome happier times.
There is an old Kris Kristofferson song about a man who spent his life “never knowing if believing is a blessing or a curse” or if “the going up was worth the coming down.” Believe this: the month for which a football manager is given an award is a blessing, not a curse. Everyone should enjoy it while it lasts.
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