The Sacking Hiring of Coaches In the Ethiopian Premier League

It is common to see the firing and appointment of many coaches in the Ethiopian Premier League, in which 16 clubs are participating currently. Even in the 2017/18 season, 12 premier league clubs have terminated and hired coaches. However, most clubs still struggling not to be demoted from the league. Insiders believe that the new trend of sacking coaches exposes the incompetence of the country’s football administration. EBR adjunct writer Abiy Wondifraw looks in to the issue.

In the Ethiopian Premier League, where 16 teams compete, there is only one winner. And the winner takes all. The remaining competitors are left with little. The difference between the second place team that just missed out on the title and the last team in the league table which fought until the final week to survive in the division is modest. The champions collect ETB 150,000, which ironically fails to pay the monthly salary of one highly paid player. With this competitive backdrop, it is becoming increasingly common to hear that teams are sacking their coaches. In 2017/18 season alone, 12 coaches have been dismissed and hired in the league.

At the end of December 2017, Wolaita Dicha and Arbaminch Ketema football clubs wrote letters of contract termination to their head coaches in the same week. When Dicha decided to begin life without their longest serving coach, Mesay Teferi, who managed the team since 2009 and promoted the club into the premier league in 2014, he was preparing the team for the CAF Confederation Cup 2018. The reason behind Mesay’s termination was the team struggles in the domestic league. 

On the other hand, Tsegaye Kidanemariam’s spell at Arbamich ended after eight weeks of play which left the team in the relegation zone. Within a few weeks, Mesay and Tsegaye secured jobs in the same league, with other relegation fighters, Wewalo Adigrat University and Fasil Ketema.

Gebremedihen Haile, one of the country’s football legends, has been coaching different sides for the last 22 years. Gebremedihen, who has never been sacked in his long career, believes Ethiopian football is increasingly affected by short-termism. “When you compare now to previous times, you can see the growing intolerance to coaching. Everyone looks for short term success. Fans and club officials moan whenever the team drops a point,” he explains.

After sacking Tsegaye, Arbaminch assigned their former player, Eyob Malle (a.ka Amokachi), to the job. They also made some major changes in the club’s administrative staff and the technical department, which led many to think a reform might be underway. With the new coach on the touchline, the team looked like it was performing well. After 11 games, after just three months, Eyob learned of his dismissal from the media.

Studies show teams often enjoy a honeymoon performance boost in the short term after a coach leaves. Later, the old performance returns. Omar Chaudhuri, head of London based Sports Consultant told Reuters recently that luck plays a role in teams’ performance before and after the sack. “It is like calling tails five times in a row in a coin toss and losing each one. The next person calls tails and wins. It is the same with a football manager [coach].”

Yonas Azeze, sports journalist, believes the new trend of sacking coaches exposes the incompetence of the country’s football administration. “Most lack a clear vision. 

They hire a coach because they have a team. There is no realistic goal expected from the coach. They fire him whenever they feel things seem not to be working, then hire someone from the same pool [Ethiopian premier league].” 

The newly appointed coaches, who more often than not have recently been sacked from other teams, take the job expecting another dismissal if they fail to make the club officials and fans happy. They want to do it at any cost. 

“When you do your job thinking of possible dismissal, most of your decisions go wrong. A work environment like that will not bring out the best in coaches,” says Gebremedihen. “If you do not give the coach enough time to do his job, he will not give young players enough time to play because he might think the mistakes from the inexperienced young players would not just cost him results, but his job too.”

The mounting pressure for quick results shapes coach recruitment. Yonas suspects the trend partly contributes to coaches’ strange decisions to recruit unconvincing foreign players. “This kills the hope of our youngsters. It also lowers our football standard further,” he says.

With all the bad outcomes of sackings, there seems one big reason for club officials to keep looking for new coaches one after the another as the team goes down to the bottom of the league table. “It is not just the bad result or relegation they fear, they worry about the club’s existence afterwards,” says Gebremedihen. In recent years, some corporate clubs, like Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE), Muger Cement, Nyala, Harar Brewery and Dashen Brewery, dissolved after relegation from the premier league. In a similar fashion, teams from regional states fear life after the league as their supports and sources of finance dry up. 

When Arbaminch hired Tsegaye in the summer, the coach’s record of relegating CBE was not a secret. When they let him go after a quarter of the season, Welwalo took the same risk of hiring him. Now both teams are struggling to stay in the league. Dicha has kept struggling in the league even after sacking Mesay. And Fasil failed to climb up on the league table with him either.

6th Year . June 16 - July 15 2018 . No.63



Abiy Wendifraw

Special Contributor

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