The 26 maddest managerial sackings ever in football

From cows on the pitch and Facebook firings to stealing 36 litres of Jagermeister, these gaffers got the boot in the most unusual of circumstances

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Illustrations: Martin Bowyer

Things get Iffy

Your average Premier League training ground’s perfect lawns were a far cry from what was presented to new Ethiopia boss Iffy Onuora during a March 2011 training camp.  “The lads led me and the players out through the brush, and that worried me right away,” the former Huddersfield, Swindon and Gillingham forward recalled.

I’m not aware of a single pitch the team trains in where you can find cows

- Melaku Ayele

“We came to this clear area and they said: ‘This is it’. I looked and thought: ‘Am I the only one who can see that herd of cows in the middle of the pitch?’ We had to clear the cows off before we could start training – it was barmy.”

When the Walias were beaten 4-0 by Nigeria in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier, Iffy was given the heave-ho for his bovine comments. “I’m not aware of a single pitch the team trains in where you can find cows,” countered Ethiopian FA spokesman Melaku Ayele.

Onuora at least saw the funny side. A year later, he released a diary of his time in Ethiopia, titled: There are cows on the pitch, they think it’s all over… it is now!

Poyet’s situation stinks

If you are one of the 469 people who watched Spain vs Nigeria on BBC Three in the 2013 Confederations Cup, your patience was rewarded at half-time. “While we’ve been on air, Gus Poyet has been told that his contract has been terminated at Brighton & Hove Albion,” declared host Mark Chapman, looking to his left at, er, Gus Poyet. “And you found out, Gus, because a member of our production team printed off the statement and gave it to you.”

It’s fair to say the former Chelsea and Tottenham midfielder looked more than a little miffed. “I think the BBC have got a great story, no?” the Uruguayan parped. “I’ve had no communication, text or phone call since I’ve been here. Nothing.”

Trouble had been brewing since the Seagulls lost the Championship play-off semi-final to rivals Crystal Palace. Poyet had sent a club-wide email after the 2-0 loss in the second leg, lambasting the handing out of 28,000 paper clappers to home fans and demanding the culprit who had smeared excrement on the floor of the away dressing room come forward.

What a s**t way to go.

Rossi: shaken and stirred

Fear is a good thing for a manager to have in his armoury. Players, so the theory goes, will run further and try harder if they’re scared of the coach’s reaction to an insipid display. Fiorentina boss Delio Rossi, however, eschewed such psychological warfare for, er, actual warfare, with the Viola 2-0 down just 32 minutes into a meaningless Serie A game against already-relegated Novara in May 2012.

Delio didn’t take too kindly to ex-Partizan playmaker Adem Ljajic sarcastically applauding him after being substituted, so the irate Italian smacked Ljajic round the chops and a knockout right hook was prevented only by the gaffer’s quick-thinking assistants.

President Andrea Della Valle sacked Rossi after the final whistle, with Ljajic visibly shaken. “My actions were deplorable, but understandable, humanly,” Rossi said. “I’m no saint, but I have never allowed myself to hit anyone, not even my children.”

Well, that’s OK then.

“Cihan from the boardroom is on line one  —  Cihan…?”

The football phone-in is a curious business – endless litres of hot air about passion and commitment without anything much really being said. So, when Sakaryaspor coach Saban Yildirim agreed to go on the Turkish equivalent of 606 in 2011, he probably expected to merely fend off some angry rants from supporters, at worst.

Instead, his afternoon proved fateful as the name of board member Cihan Yildiran popped up on the switchboard. And like a real-life episode of The Apprentice, Cihan bellowed: “Saban humiliated the club, so he is removed from his position immediately!” Both the manager and the show’s host tried to remonstrate, but to no avail.


Not hot enough for the Chilli Boys

Roger Sikhakhane’s time at Port Elizabeth-based side Chippa United is almost impossible to untangle. To cut a long story short, the South African had four different stints at the club over three years and was sacked after every brief spell by the Chilli Boys’ board, with whom he seemed to be constantly at war.

After his second axing, he even called them racists. “They were not happy that we were winning and tried to sabotage us,” he said. “They did not believe in black coaches. I was offered a job as a scout, but it’s embarrassing to go from coach to scout.”

It ended chaotically in 2015: Sikhakhane was chopped for allegedly “smelling of alcohol” – only for the club to admit they couldn’t prove it (“They’re lying to the public,” said Roger. “How many times did I save this team?”). The club paid him significant compensation and he went off to coach Thanda Royal Zulu FC, where he lasted a year and a half.

“But it’s my birthday”

If you are anything like FourFourTwo, you stopped celebrating growing another year closer to death some time ago. But not even we’ve ever received a P45, instead of a card from Aunt Mildred, on our birthday.

Spare a thought, then, for Trevor Francis, who was sacked as Crystal Palace boss on the day he turned 49 in April 2003. “He just sat there quietly and said, ‘But it’s my birthday,’” recounted former Eagles chairman Simon Jordan in his autobiography. “I said, ‘Many happy returns, Trev’, and handed him his P45.”

The birthday boy swiftly headed for the training pitch to disseminate the information. “Well, lads, I’ve been sacked,” huffed Francis. “Have a good summer holiday.”

And to think Palace had beaten Grimsby 4-1 away the week before. 

“Stop calling me crazy”

Even by the standards of itinerant Brazilian bosses, it has been a rough couple of seasons for poor old Lisca. March 2016: given the elbow by Ceara. September 2016: sacked by Joinville. December 2016: sacked by Internacional, after a first relegation in the club’s 108-year history. September 2017: sacked by Parana, following some fisticuffs with an assistant.

Lisca was bummed by the way the press reported his promise to don the club’s mascot suit and jump in the river should Parana be promoted

Wait, what?

Parana president Leonardo Oliveira claimed that in a move even the LMA wouldn’t defend (probably), 45-year-old Lisca assaulted a fellow member of staff. This came shortly after Lisca had pleaded with local press: “Stop calling me crazy. It’s messing me up.”

Specifically, he was bummed by the way they reported his promise to don the club’s mascot suit – a blue crow, since you ask – and jump in the river should Parana be promoted. Typical gutter press.

This being Brazil, where the managerial merry-go-round is more of a managerial tumble dryer, Lisca is already back in work with Guarani – for a while at least.

The Bulgarian boomerang

Gossip mag fans! Remember the time Pamela Anderson remarried her ex-husband Rick, six years after they’d got divorced, and then filed for another separation before begging the judge to throw it out because they were back together and loved each other very much... then soon got divorced again anyway?

Hot-headed Tsanko Tsvetanov had a similar kind of relationship with Bulgarian side Etar’s owner Feyzi Ilhanli – somehow getting the boot three times in the same season. 

The first dismissal came in August 2012 after a defeat against Beroe Stara Zagora in the Bulgarian top flight, but he was reinstated after fan protests. A month later Ilhanli re-handed him his P45, but once more fan power boomeranged him back into the managerial hot seat.

Only another month elapsed before it was finally curtains for Tsvetanov, as the chief executive accused him of being involved in match-fixing – an allegation he quickly retracted. Tsanko is currently the assistant coach of Astana in Kazakhstan.

A brave face on Facebook

I didn’t know my comments would get so many likes

- Vladica Petrovic

Logging onto Facebook each morning can be a ruddy nightmare: that schoolmate you haven’t seen for decades posting the 1,587th picture of his new kid; the uncle who can’t spell demanding a hard Brexit; the co-worker who signs up for amateur triathlons but thinks he’s Alistair Brownlee and posts motivational quotes from Confucius. 

But spare a thought for former Drina Zvornik gaffer Vladica Petrovic, who went online one September day in 2015 expecting to watch cat memes, and instead found out that the Bosnian outfit had announced his departure on their official page.

Petrovic’s reaction was very dignified, mind. Instead of bombarding the page with curses and thumb-down emojis, he replied: “Thanks for the notice”, before liking a comment from a fan saying: “About time”. It sent him viral in Eastern Europe. “It was a laugh,” he said. “I didn’t know my comments would get so many likes.”