The Indian Super League is one of the few footballing competitions that managed to finish its season before the covid-19 pandemic halted sporting action across the globe.

Thus, it has been business as usual for ISL teams who have been busy with their typical off-season transfer activity. Apart from players switching teams, the mid-season break that almost lasts as long as the actual season has seen the first managerial exit with Kerala Blasters parting ways with their Dutch coach Eelco Scattorie and appointing Mohun Bagan’s title-winning boss Kibu Vicuna.

It comes as a little surprise that the Blasters are leading the way on this front as they have been the team that has seen more managers than any side in the ISL, a competition with a surprisingly high amount of coaching changes for its rather short duration.

In Indian football, the federation, competition authorities, and clubs have usually adopted a short-term approach with uncertainty over the nature and existence of footballing competitions always prevalent. However, with the ISL being more organised and stable, a few clubs have found managerial stability.

Analysing the performances of all the ISL clubs across the six seasons, here’s what the numbers say on how managerial stability or the lack of it impacts the performances of teams.

Most managerial changes in ISL

Teams Number of managerial spells Matches per manager
FC Goa 3 36
Chennaiyin FC 3 36
Bengaluru FC 2 31
Mumbai City FC 4 25
Delhi Dynamos and Odisha FC 5 20
ATK 6 18
Jamshedpur FC 3 18
NorthEast United  6 16
FC Pune City 6 13
Kerala Blasters 9 11

Setting aside Hyderabad FC, who have played just one season in the ISL, Kerala Blasters are the most unstable clubs when it comes to the managerial position. They have seen eight different managers across nine coaching spells in just six seasons and are set for the tenth spell after Vicuna replaced Schattorie at the helm. NorthEast United and FC Pune City are the other teams that have changed their managers regularly.

FC Goa, Chennaiyin FC and Bengaluru FC are teams that have usually stuck with their coaches for a longer period of time, thus pointing towards managerial stability being a key reason for success in the ISL.

However, ATK, the league’s most successful side with three titles appears to be an exception having seen six managerial spells so far. However, it is important to note that the club was managed by Antonio Habas in three out of the six seasons albeit in two different spells. In those three campaigns, ATK won the title twice and reached the semi-finals in the other season. Without the Spaniard at the helm, the Kolkata club have found the going tough. So in a way, the managerial stability has had a say in ATK’s success.

With the ISL following a league and knockout format teams are more likely to convert a good spell of form into a title victory, but when it comes to consistency here is what the numbers say.

How managerial changes affects team performance

Teams No of managerial spells Win% Points per game Average League positions
Bengaluru FC 2 56.45 1.88 1.66
FC Goa 3 47.22 1.72 3
Chennaiyin FC 3 38.31 1.39 4.5
ATK 6 38.31 1.46 4.33
Mumbai City FC 4 38 1.38 4.83
Kerala Blasters 9 28.43 1.19 6
FC Pune City 6 33.75 1.25 6
Delhi Dynamos and Odisha FC 5 32 1.26 5.66
Jamshedpur FC 3 31.48 1.37 6
NorthEast United 6 27.55 1.12 6.83

If you look at the consistency Bengaluru FC, FC Goa and Chennaiyin emerge on the top of the table. These three teams have made few managerial changes and have a high win percentage and points per game in ISL history. Surprisingly, Mumbai City FC who have reached the knockout stages just twice in six seasons also have good numbers. They too have had just four managerial spells in six years.

Teams with poor performances across the seasons are the teams with more managerial instability. Even for ATK who are the competition’s most successful side, have found it tough without a stable manager at the helm. While poor results dictate the rate of managerial changes, it is also true the other way round.

Surprisingly, in the two our of the three seasons that Kerala Blasters didn’t change their manager mid-season they managed to reach the final of the competition. So Schattorie who is the only Kerala Blasters manager to last the full season without making the final can count himself lucky.

Managerial stability leads to squad stability

Another factor crucial in the success of a team is the stability in the squad. Across the world and also in the ISL, managerial stability is linked with high player retention. With new manager, clubs are forced to make changes to the squad according to the needs of the new coach.

In ISL, in the first three seasons, Chennaiyin, FC Goa and ATK retained the most number of players. While Chennaiyin and Goa had the same manager, ATK made just one change in that period. After 2017-18 season when the squads were reshuffled through a player draft, FC Goa and Chennaiyin FC have seen a lot of their players being retained, especially in the last two seasons.

Do mid-season managerial changes have a positive impact?

Mid-season coaching changes are mostly done when team isn’t performing well and are aimed at turning the fortunes of the team around. The Blasters have made a mid-season coaching change in three out of the six seasons. NorthEast United have done it twice, while FC Goa, Chennaiyin FC, ATK, FC Pune City and Hyderabad FC have done it once.

Here’s a look at how mid-season managerial changes impacted the performance of the team.

How teams fared after making changes mid-season

Teams Season Result
Kerala Blasters 2015 Finished 8th (last), failed to qualify for semi-finals
Kerala Blasters 2017-18 Finished 6th, failed to qualify for semi-finals
ATK 2017-18 Finished 9th, failed to qualify for semi-finals
NorthEast United 2017-18 Finished 10th (last), failed to qualify for semi-finals
FC Pune City 2018-19 Finished 7th, failed to qualify for semi-finals
Kerala Blasters 2018-19 Finished 9th, failed to qualify for semi-finals
Chennaiyin FC 2019-20 Runners-up, finished 4th in league phase
FC Goa 2019-20 Semi-finalists, finished top in the league phase
NorthEast United 2019-20 Finished 9th, failed to qualify for semi-finals
Hyderabad FC 2019-20 Finished 9th, failed to qualify for semi-finals

Mid-season changes have not been effective in the ISL with Chennaiyin’s appointment of Owen Coyle being the only case where the arrival of a new manager positively impacted the outcome of their season. FC Goa also did well after dismissing Sergio Lobera but they were already in a strong position to qualify for the semi-finals and also finish first in the table.

Kerala Blasters improved after they brought back David James in 2017-18, but it was not enough to get them a semi-final spot. The rest of the coaching changes almost had no positive impact on the teams’ seasons.

The results aren’t surprising as the short duration of the competition allows a new manager very little or no time to leave his mark on the team.

Globally, teams have had both failure and success in equal measure by changing managers frequently. Manchester United became the most successful club in English football history by keeping faith in Sir Alex Ferguson, but have struggled to be successful since and have seen four managers in seven seasons. However, clubs like Real Madrid and Chelsea have tasted quite a lot of success by making constant changes.

In ISL and Indian football which are a lot less complex ecosystems, clubs with managerial stability seem to benefit more than those that make constant changes.

A few clubs perhaps need to give coaches more time to make an impact but even more importantly they need to get their recruitment right. The ISL provides little opportunity to mend errors.