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The 26 maddest managerial sackings ever in football

On Sunday, Watford made the bizarre decision to sack Nigel Pearson with two games left to run of this season.

Twitter seemed bemused. Hornets fans were not happy. Pearson himself took to social media to thank those who joined him in the journey with a "thanks, Nige" at the end of his message. 

But though Pearson's dismissal was strange in its timing, it's nowhere near the oddest sacking in football history. 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...

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.

Awkward.

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.

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

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.”

“You devil’s butthead. I’ll kill you”

Leo Grozavu is a kind of Romanian Barry Fry: a decent player in his day who’s now better known at home for having an especially foul mouth and volcanic temper. His manic zenith came with FC Botosani in 2015, where during a difficult spell he was recorded making the following – perhaps overly harsh – statements:

“Plamada! Cretin!” “Miron, you devil’s butthead. I’ll kill you.” “Bordeianu, your brain is empty!” “Patache, arseh**e, I’ll beat you to death, you idiot.”

Drawing the line at death threats, club owner Valeriu Iftime initially came up with the understated statement: “I have told Leo to be more upbeat,” but then dismissed him later in the campaign. It wasn’t over, though – far from it.

A year later, Grozavu returned, and his highlights reel included rocking up at a press conference with some pickles (“Look at my pickles. This is the state of Romanian football. We’re the smaller pickles!”) and punching a player.

A load of codswallop

We’ve heard of the managerial carousel, but David Stride didn’t even have the chance to get on the ride properly before being hurled off it. Stride took charge of Southern League Division One South & West side Bashley during 2015-16’s pre-season. It wasn’t going well for the New Forest-based cloggers: they had already lost four straight preparatory matches without scoring. 

But after just 40 days, and two more defeats, Stride was toast. “We made a tough decision to change things around,” muttered chairman Tim Allan. Stride suspected Allan had located another boss he would prefer, Steve Riley, shortly after appointing him.

“They already had someone in mind to replace me but waited two weeks before telling me,” Stride grumbled. “I was given the guarantee I’d be left alone for a season.” The ex-Chelsea and Millwall defender did sign off brilliantly, though, with the parting shot of: “It’s absolute codswallop.”

There’s not enough codswallop in football for our liking.

Jozo hits the bottle

We’ve all been there. The Easter holidays are fast approaching and you want to get some booze in to help you through the long weekend. So you pop into the dressing room, swipe someone’s discarded wallet and use their credit card to purchase a whopping 36 litres of Jagermeister at a cost of £450.

No? Just Precko Zagreb gaffer Jozo Gaspar, then. The former Dinamo Zagreb midfielder was caught on CCTV in April 2013 attempting to pay for his herbal liquor with a card half-inched from the bag of a player from NK Sparta Elektra, who share their training facilities with Precko.

Already alerted to his masterplan when the card was declined at the till, police arrested Gaspar later that afternoon when he tried to score another 10 litres at a second shop. 
Gaspar’s dismissal followed soon after.

By then, the one-cap Croatia international really did need that drink.

“You’re sacked — enjoy the promotion”

Former Celtic and Scotland legend Jackie McNamara has got a bit more about him than your average gaffer: FFT once interviewed the defender about a script he’d written for a footy-themed sitcom called The Therapy Room. Nevertheless, he’s still subject to the same whims as any manager, and his experience with York City was a very odd case in point. 

Having joined the then-League Two club in November 2015, a rotten run of form resulted in the Minstermen’s relegation. The following October in the National League, a 6-1 humping at rock-bottom Guiseley left York languishing in 20th place. It was agreed that McNamara had to go, but he stayed on as the caretaker boss while a new man was located.

But when Gary Mills was appointed, things got weird: instead of being told to pack his satchel, McNamara was actually promoted – to chief executive.

“Jackie will focus on all operational aspects of the club with specific attention paid to the development of a communication strategy, administration management, the academy, the foundation and commerciality,” read a statement. Fuel for another sitcom, surely.

“There’s one more thing before you go…”

It’s no fun losing your job – unless you’re an investment banker whose pay-off is enough to finance your personal choice of a massive house, Caribbean (preferably tax-haven) island or enough weapons to stage a coup d’état. 

Thankfully, when the P45 hits us mere mortals, we head straight for the stationery cupboard, then the exit door. However, Carl Fletcher still had to perform his post-match press duties on New Year’s Day 2013, even though Plymouth Argyle’s owner James Brent had just given him the heave-ho. 

“Brent has just done it, and that’s my last game today, so that’s me got the sack,” lamented the ex-West Ham, Crystal Palace and Argyle midfielder following a 2-1 League Two defeat at Bristol Rovers. He then broke down in tears. “I would rather be one of those people that tries and fails rather than doesn’t try at all.”

The ultimate post-promotion hangover

Jorn Andersen achieved a real rarity: a post-promotion sacking during pre-season. The Norwegian had seemed like a decent candidate to fill Jurgen Klopp’s size-13 boots after joining Mainz in the summer of 2008 and his team finished runners-up to Freiburg in his maiden campaign, taking the Rhinelanders into the Bundesliga.

But as they prepared for a season in the top flight, Jorn couldn’t agree with the board on how they should play. “We explained in frank terms to Anderson what the philosophy of the club was,” said Mainz president, Harald Strutz. “We found we are no longer in agreement on our views about the working partnership,” countered Jorn.

The former Norway striker was dismissed just six days before the campaign kicked off, and Andersen’s woes continued at his next job – Larissa in Greece – where angry fans apparently pelted the team coach with rocks and yoghurt. He lasted 24 days there and has since headed for safer climes... as manager of the North Korean national team.

Daum’d if you do…

With his Chuckle Brother moustache and fondness for madcap facial expressions, Christoph Daum is one of the German game’s prominent ‘characters’. He first entered the British consciousness in 1992, after a disastrous European Cup clash against Leeds in which he fielded an ineligible Stuttgart player, earning him the tabloid nickname ‘Christoph Dumb’.

However, he was usually a canny operator, later taking Bayer Leverkusen to loftier heights, and in 2000 entered into an agreement with the German FA to succeed caretaker boss Rudi Voller as the next main man for Die Mannschaft

Inconveniently, the German tabloids now lurked, claiming Daum had been taking part in cocaine-fuelled orgies. He submitted some hair for drug testing, only for the results to come back positive – upon which Daum denied the hairs were his.

Facing jail time, Christoph eventually fessed up and lost the job he hadn’t even started. Voller stayed on as Germany boss instead, taking them to the 2002 World Cup Final. Daum most recently managed Romania and fell out with their press as well, claiming the papers were only good for “wrapping fish”.

“You’re  s**t, and we know you are…”

Donald Trump be warned: hell hath no fury like a Kim Jong-un scorned. Even single-celled amoeba expected North Korea to lose all three group-stage games at the 2010 World Cup – against Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast – yet manager Kim Jong-hun’s efforts still weren’t enough for the heir-presumptive of ‘Dear Leader’ Kim Jong-il.

Accused of “betraying” Kim Jong-un following the 7-0 defeat by Portugal, boss Kim Jong-hun was called to a six-hour public meeting with the North Korean sports minister, during which he was shamed in front of 400 people.

Team members were invited to criticise their erstwhile coach, who was subsequently stripped of his membership of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea and sentenced to hard labour at a Pyongyang construction site.

“Considering the high hopes North Korea had for the World Cup, the regime could have done worse things to the team than just reprimand them,” a source told a local news outlet. Presumably he would have been strapped to a nuclear warhead had the People’s Republic lost to the likes of Iceland.

Calling ahead

Chichester City were 2-1 up in the second half of a Sussex Charity Cup match against local rivals Redhill in October 2010 when manager Mark Poulton’s phone rang. It was Gary Walker, one of the club’s directors, so he thought he’d better answer it. “He said he was sorry to interrupt me and then said I’d been sacked,” Poulton huffed at full-time.

“There had been a lot going on ever since I started at Chichester and I feared it might end like this. It’s the most unprofessional and shambolic organisation I have ever been involved with. There are people there who aren’t interested in the good of the club, only in waging their own personal wars.”

Mark stayed in the dugout until the end of the game out of respect to his players – one of whom, young striker Nathan Paxton, had gone to hospital with a broken jaw, cheekbone, nose and eye socket having collided with the Redhill keeper – but Chichester lost 4-2. 

Poulton’s mind was probably on other things.

“Do you want chips with that?”

If they’re going to sack a manager face to face, most chairmen like to do so in private – call him to the office and deliver the news away from prying eyes. Not at Scottish lower-league outfit Cowdenbeath, where Peter Cormack was given his marching orders after being summoned to a roadside burger van near the Forth Bridge.

A two-time Liverpool title-winner as a player, and former manager of Anorthosis Famagusta and the Botswana national team, Cormack had been at the club for only 10 days and not taken charge of a single Blue Brazil fixture, reportedly upsetting his players by trying to change too much too soon.

"A football equivalent of a coup d’état took place and I am at a loss how they can justify getting rid of me," Cormack complained after his exit in 2000. “I’ve been made to look a fool.” On the plus side, though, £3.50 for a burger and chips is very reasonable.

Taking it out on the dugout

Sorin Cartu is a well-respected ex-Romania international with a lengthy CV in football management, but for many will be best remembered for his moment of madness while boss of Romanian champions CFR Cluj.

Deeply vexed to be trailing 1-0 to Basel in a 2010 Champions League clash, Cartu performed some enthusiastic venting on the perspex side panel of the Swiss club’s dugout. 

At first, Sorin indulged in a little light punching with his gloved hands, before realising that would not quite do the job and choosing to punt the damn thing through with his brogues. Resembling a crazy drunk, Cartu was eventually pulled away by his assistant.

“The values and image of our club cannot be associated with the actions of coach Cartu, and that’s why we’ve decided to part ways,” said the club’s board as they axed him the next day, presumably while wearing full suits of armour.

Sheridan lets rip

There was a certain jazz scat poetry to the rant at a referee that led to John Sheridan’s sacking as Notts County manager in December 2016. “You’re a f**king disgrace, you’re f**king useless, you’ve not f**king got anything right today, you should be f**king ashamed and you’re f**king s**t,” was his opening salvo to match official Eddie Ilderton.

He moved on to make the extraordinary claim: “My kids aren’t going to get any f**king Christmas presents because of you,” before aiming some more expletives at the fourth official. “You really are a c***,” he told Matthew Donohue. “I’m gonna knock you out, you c***.”

This gloriously despicable verbal volley was given as the reason for the Lancastrian’s exit by the Magpies’ chairman, after a run of nine straight defeats. Oldham Athletic were clearly impressed with his enthusiasm, though, and offered him a job shortly after. No doubt he was f**king delighted.

Norbert the nutter

You’ve seen the video, right? A player fronts up to an opposition boss; the manager pushes his not-insubstantial nose gently into the player’s face like a kitten nudging a ball of wool; and then, face contorted with indignation, the manager falls to the floor, where he’s soon joined by his quick-thinking adversary.

Koln’s Albert Streit was the star of the show in December 2005, hand to brow and collapsing like a Victorian lady experiencing an attack of the vapours, but Duisburg manager Norbert Meier was later punished in accordance with the playground ruling, ‘he started it.’ 

Having taken Duisburg up – though they would soon follow him by going back down – Meier was given his marching orders. And if you think today’s retrospective diving bans are harsh, consider this: the German FA banned him for three months.

Meier complained that they wanted to “set an example” ahead of hosting the World Cup finals six months later, suggesting he somehow knew what Zinedine Zidane had in store for Marco Materazzi.

“We’ll beat them, whoever they are…”

Alex Ferguson once gave his Manchester United charges a three-word team talk, simply saying: “Lads, it’s Tottenham.” Some 60 years earlier, another Scottish manager was similarly dismissive of opponents from north London.

Johnny Cochrane managed Reading in the loosest sense of the word. “Just before a game,” revealed one player, “this man wearing a bowler hat, smoking a cigar and drinking whisky would pop his head around the dressing room door and ask, ‘Who are we playing today?’ We’d all chorus, ‘Arsenal, boss.’

Johnny would just say, ‘Oh, we’ll p**s that lot’, before shutting the door and leaving us to it.”

But while Ferguson remained at Old Trafford for 27 years, Cochrane lasted 13 days. A league and FA Cup winner with Sunderland, he was given a three-year contract by the Royals – ambitious, this being 1939 – worth £1,000 a year, only to be ousted £35 into that for, well, guess. His fortnight’s tenure brought one victory, four defeats and repeated absences due to ‘flu’. Hmm. 

Winning isn’t everything

Pressure defined Real Madrid long before Vicente del Bosque learned that winning two La Liga titles and two Champions League crowns in four years couldn’t save him from the sack (something to bear in mind, eh Zizou?).

Call them demanding, call them ungrateful, but the most successful club in football didn’t get where they are today by affording their managers time.

Still the youngest ever European Cup-winning manager, at 36, Jose Villalonga lifted Ol’ Big Ears with Real in 1956 and 1957, and probably would have lifted it in 1955 too had the competition existed then. Yet, winning the first two European Cups, plus two La Liga titles, in two and a half years wasn’t enough.

The seeds of Villalonga’s demise were sown in the first round of his 1956-57 European Cup triumph. With Madrid trailing to Rapid Vienna, president Santiago Bernabeu (the very same) furiously told the players at half-time he wanted to see “more balls out on the field”, painful as that sounds.

Alfredo Di Stefano duly delivered, but only by ignoring his manager’s tactical instructions.

Villalonga, undermined, was gone six months hence amid domestic and continental glory. He later led Atletico to derby wins in consecutive Copa del Rey finals and guided Spain to glory at Euro 64. Point taken.

Schumacher gets his comeuppance

What goes around, comes around. Harald Schumacher is forever associated with: A) his horrific foul on Patrick Battiston in West Germany’s World Cup semi-final
win against France in 1982; and B) his unrepentant response.

Told that Battiston had lost two teeth, he replied: “If that’s all that’s wrong, I’ll pay for the crowns.” Boo! Hiss!

So, the people who that year voted ‘Toni’ as the most hated man in France, just ahead of Hitler, no doubt enjoyed seeing him get fired from his only role in management halfway through a match.

Fortuna Koln’s Jean Loring proved to be the impatient boss in 1999, although few would criticise a chairman who had invested to the point of insolvency from 1967 to 2001 and once circumvented a stadium ban by going dressed as Santa.

Fortuna were 2-0 down to Waldhof Mannheim when Löring called Schumacher a “w**ker” and sacked him, before presiding over the second half of a 5-1 loss. He wasn’t any worse, then. 

We need to talk about Nigel

Hangleton Rangers’ Under-10s manager Dave Kinsell had a problem. In March 2009, he needed cash for a new training kit, so asked the local Sussex community for help.

Step forward, South East MEP – and UKIP knight in shining armour – Nigel Farage, who donated £150. The future Brexit crusader’s name was then splashed across the front of the shirts. Ruling the gift was political, not personal, Hangleton sacked Kinsell – whose son played for the team – for ‘contravening club policies’.

“It’s so unfair,” sighed Kinsell, who joined his local UKIP branch the following week. “I love the kids and we’ve been doing really well. All I wanted to do was get the team a new training kit and I’ve sponsored them in the past to pay for kit, goals and all sorts of things.”

Farage added, “Nobody from the club’s had the courtesy to contact me to ask whether it was a personal donation or a political one – the real losers here are the kids themselves.”

A quick look at your record in parliamentary elections might suggest otherwise, Nige.

This feature originally appeared in the January 2018 issue of FourFourTwo. While you’re here, why not subscribe to the mag - just £9.99 for the first six months, over £38 cheaper than buying it in the shops!

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