Or, what can Don Wakamatsu and Martin O’Neill possibly have in common, besides either newfound unemployment or having managed teams that I give a damn about (the Mariners and Celtic, respectively)?
Aston Villa manager O’Neill shockingly resigned with immediate effect only days before the season is to commence. Rumor has it that transfer policy this off-season sent him over the edge. Specifically, it looked as though Villa were about to lose two of their top players, James Milner (late of the England World Cup debacle) and Ashley Young, while O’Neill was not allowed to re-invest 100% of the proceeds from the sale, nor did ownership sanction the contract demands of Stephen Ireland, coming in part trade from Manchester City in the proposed / rumored Milner move to Manchester. O’Neill, perhaps correctly, interpreted this as a surrender of ambition, and walked away. O’Neill is highly regarded, and considered a hero by Celtic faithful.
His timing is crap for not only Villa, but also his own; walk out a couple weeks ago, and the Liverpool job is his.
Less surprisingly, the Seattle Mariners just fired their manager, Don Wakamatsu, and several members of his coaching staff.
Wakamatsu did not deserve this. Last year, he was regarded for his brilliance, if not for every tactical decision he made on the field, for his ability to actually manage the cast of highly paid athletes / egos under his supervision. This year, a 42-70 could have had the effect of attenuating the perceived brilliance, and his correctly showing Ken Griffey Jr. the exit door to his career made him close to universally unpopular. These are superficial, anecdotal pieces of evidence; the sabermetric literature (that I am familiar with, I am now a couple years behind I’m afraid, although there is some interesting stuff here) has had a difficult time establishing that the field manager of a ball club has much measurable effect at all, and is negligible at best.
If baseball managers do not have any (as of yet) measurable effect on the probability of team success, is the same true for soccer managers? Typically, soccer managers have a dual role from an American perspective: GM and field manager. Player acquisition / disposal, the starting lineups, and on field tactics are wholly under his (or her) control. This is not so in baseball, but also not the entire point. While analysis on this question is highly limited, my non-rigorous, unsystematic hunch informed by anecdotal evidence perhaps hobbled by some subconscious selection bias tells me that the manager has a measurable effect on the probability of success. Note, I’m not suggesting that the manager is the sole determinant of success, but that it is measurable. (That study does not quite get at my question, but it’s the most rigorous I’m aware of).
I suspect that a “name” baseball manager would have also walked if presented with the situation O’Neill faced: the classic ‘fire sale’ followed by a clear lack of ambition, because his reputation is on the line. However, the difference in the two cases is that the reputation of O’Neil is deserved, while the reputation of Wakamatsu, be it his brilliant 2009 or his miserable 2010, is not.