Pulis latest victim as Premier League bosses become endangered species
It took until Feb. 23 last season for the fifth Premier League manager to lose his job, when Claudio Ranieri was fired by Leicester. There was only one more dismissal after that. Perhaps the owners of the Premier League had suddenly located that elusive elixir called patience.
It's been different this season, though. After his sacking by West Brom, Tony Pulis followed Frank De Boer, Craig Shakespeare, Ronald Koeman and Slaven Bilic into the murky and uncertain world of managerial unemployment. The stopper is back in the elixir bottle, it seems.
This is the first Premier League season in which five managers have been sacked by Nov. 20. The same number left their jobs in 1994-95, 2004-05 and 2007-08, but they all included managers departing of their own volition. Never before have those who wield axes in the Premier League done so with such gusto.
So why have clubs been distributing P45s like confetti this season? De Boer's is perhaps the only dismissal that was significantly influenced by a personality clash or philosophical difference, and can perhaps be regarded as an outlier: you won't often see a club appoint a manager to overhaul the way a side plays and then change their minds five games later.
West Brom's decision to remove Pulis was partly dictated by their style of play and, if reports are to be believed, unrest in the dressing room, but had they been getting results then ugly football and complaining players would have been relegated to side issues.
But teams often go on bad runs and start seasons poorly, so why the rampant blood-letting now? One explanation is that expectations have been raised among teams below the "big six". The financial power of the Premier League means even those clubs of previously modest means have more money behind them, levelling the playing field somewhat.
Last summer, West Ham spent nearly £25 million on Marko Arnautovic, Everton £40m on Gylfi Sigurdsson (their transfer kitty obviously significantly boosted by the £75m Romelu Lukaku money) and Palace eventually shelled out £26m for Mamadou Sakho. These are no longer teams forced to scrabble around for scraps and bargains: they can spend big money, and it's inevitable that with such spending, expectations are raised. When those expectations aren't met -- or at least it doesn't look like they're going to be met -- changes will be made.
And then there's the motivating factor of these teams wanting to continue receiving their money. When you're used to a certain standard of living, it's an awful wrench to lose it. Being a Premier League football club has never been so lucrative and owners want to keep it that way. The dark, looming prospect of relegation can cause action, or if you prefer, panic.
Perhaps clubs are simply becoming more decisive. In theory, the earlier you make changes the longer teams have to improve. When you know or sense that something isn't working, it's better to act rather than dither. Those financial concerns can really focus the mind.
Another common factor in these early dismissals is they all carried some element of correcting errors made in the summer as rapidly as possible. De Boer and Crystal Palace were obviously never suited to each other. West Ham probably should have got rid of Bilic at the end of last season. You sense the Leicester board never really wanted Shakespeare.
Koeman was perhaps unlucky as Everton's mistakes were made in player recruitment. And while it's very easy to say this in hindsight, the signs were there that Pulis was stagnating and becoming unpopular at West Brom, so not allowing him to start the season would have been a bold move, but the right one.
Could it be that Premier League clubs are almost sacking managers out of embarrassment? That they made mistakes and are now looking to cover them up, giving the impression that they're doing something?
Sacking managers is one of those things a club can do to make it look like they're trying to change things, despite the fact that it doesn't often work. Last season six managerial changes were made across five clubs, but only Palace replacing Alan Pardew with Sam Allardyce could be regarded as an unqualified success, and the gloss was taken off even that one by Allardyce's subsequent resignation.
Hull City and Middlesbrough got rid of their managers but were relegated anyway. Swansea were 17th when Francesco Guidolin departed then 19th by the time they lost patience with his replacement, Bob Bradley. Paul Clement kept them up, but there's every chance he'll be the next one on the chopping block and their prospects of avoiding relegation this season look grim.
Shakespeare oversaw an initial upturn in Leicester's results, but even though he took them from 17th to 12th the signs were there that the revival wouldn't last, as they won just two of their last eight league games. Neither were long-term solutions. Still, the alternative is inertia, clubs running the risk of looking like they're asleep at the wheel.
Even by the standards of modern football and the Premier League, clubs this season have been particularly trigger-happy. The record for Premier League clubs sacking managers during a season is 10, in 2013-14. They're already halfway to that figure with not yet a third of the season gone.
Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.