What it's like being hired, fired or unemployed as a top manager

How Football Manager has provided a necessary distraction (1:40)

Tom Markham from Football Manager explains the role the game has played for fans and players alike. (1:40)

Sacking a football manager takes minutes. Months of stress and grind are reduced to a brief conversation and lawyers looking at a handful of termination provisions. Then comes the uncertainty.

There is no rulebook for how you deal with being fired by a club or when the time is right to get back into football's rat race. There are sleepless nights and the occasional slump into depression and frustration. Then comes introspection, then the itch to prove doubters wrong, and before the manager knows it, he is back in the hot seat, defending himself.

The manager market is now on hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic. The betting markets on which manager will be fired next -- the so-called sack race -- are paused, and those in the hot seats are spending their days using video conferencing tools and trying to plan for the future. All the while, the out-of-work coaches are sitting at home waiting for the managerial merry-go-round to start spinning again.

"Nine times out of 10, after leaving a job you need a break," Alan Pardew told ESPN.

Pardew has managed six teams in the Premier League -- Newcastle United, Crystal Palace, West Ham, Charlton Athletic, West Bromwich Albion and Southampton -- and is now in charge at Dutch Eredivisie side ADO Den Haag, a job he took 20 months after leaving West Brom in April 2018.

"We are constantly under pressure. It's difficult to have a nice time, you know, if results are bad or you're feeling the heat," Pardew said. "So yeah, that's the first phase after a job.

"The first sort of five weeks [after being sacked], you really take very little interest in football. The second phase is you start analysing what you did that either went well or went wrong and trying to make sense of what happened, if you want to call it that.

"The third phase is OK, rebuild. Let's start thinking about how we're going to go back in and, you know, what we'd change, staff and ideas and stuff like that. And then you get your motivation. You get approached, and you think, you know what?  Let's have a go at this."

"We're human beings. If you stick a knife in us, we bleed. You know that, right?" Sam Allardyce said, reflecting on the pain of losing a job you love. "People think we're superhuman, and we don't feel or we don't bleed or we don't react ... Of course we do."

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Allardyce is one of the most experienced and well respected managers in England, having taken charge at West Ham, Newcastle, Crystal Palace, Everton and Bolton Wanderers. He garnered a reputation for helping troubled teams escape relegation from the Premier League. He left his last managerial role with Everton in May 2018. That left a bitter taste, and he hasn't managed anywhere since, despite fielding numerous offers both abroad and in England, including from Newcastle United and Watford.

"If you think you deserve to get sacked, then you accept it's your responsibility, but when you don't -- and obviously, I truly believe I did not deserve to [get] sacked at Everton -- then you've got a bitter disappointment to get over," Allardyce told ESPN. "In the early days of my career, after getting sacked you're wondering how you're going to carry on in life -- or I did, anyway. How am I gonna cope? What am I going to do? 

"You have to get over it because there's one thing in football you can't do: You can't linger over the past."

Since the Premier League began in 1992, Newcastle United is the club with the highest turnover of managers. Current boss Steve Bruce is their 23rd in 28 years. The 2008-09 and 2017-18 campaigns were the most turbulent for managers, with Premier League clubs changing their top dogs 15 times in two seasons. Sackings have become more frequent since the advent of the big-money, high-pressure environment of the Premier League. In the inaugural 1992-93 season, there were six manager changes. But with the league now halted after 29 games due to COVID-19, this is, to date, the least cutthroat season since 2005-06, with only six managerial changes.

From 1998 to 2018, a head coach was hired every 2.4 seasons in the NBA, every 2.6 in the NHL and every 3.4 in the NFL. At present in the Premier League, seven of the 20 teams have managers who have been at the club for more than two years.

Pardew's emotions after leaving a team were dependent on his exit.

"The first focus is being realistic about the decision," he said. "You have to face that first. Family and friends are very important at that stage. You need that support and confidence they have in you to rebuild."

There have been departures after which Pardew felt "the board were hasty and should have been more patient, and other times where it was the right decision for all involved." Looking back, talking from Surrey after his return to his family during the coronavirus lockdown, he feels his Newcastle departure came at the right time. "I think the owner felt it was probably right, and we went, 'OK, it was a good run, we're done, let's move on.' That was the best-case scenario.

"There is no departure that is exactly the same, I found," he said. "But certainly, I still carry no bitterness toward anybody in terms of the decisions that were made. They're made, and you have to get on with it. I think that's where some managers fall down. They carry it, and you can't do that. It's a bit like a bad defeat: You have to bury it pretty quickly and move on to the next game."

There is a general acceptance by football managers at the top end of the game that when they lose a job, they do not, usually, face financial uncertainty -- Antonio Conte was paid a reported £26.2m when he left Chelsea in 2018, and Fabio Capello was said to have collected £10.5m when he parted from Russia in 2015 -- but that comes as scant consolation in the early stages. More often than not, the next time we see a sacked Premier League manager is in photographs of him sunning himself on a beach, hiding under a hat in the stands at a game or popping up as a pundit, like Jose Mourinho did after leaving Manchester United.

The pressures for unemployed managers are different at the other end of the football pyramid. Allardyce, Pulis and Pardew have all managed at different levels in the game, and Darrell Clarke is at the start of his journey in League 2.

Clarke was sacked by Bristol Rovers in December 2018 and was appointed manager at League 2 Walsall six months later. "As soon as you leave as manager, and you're clearing your office, the lads are training as normal," Clarke told ESPN. "That's the reality of it. They're getting on. They're professionals, and football goes on."

He says the mental shutdown after leaving a club is massive, as you go from living off pressure to having a huge drop in intensity. He spent the first couple of days talking to his former players, but that became more infrequent as weeks passed. "You're worried where the next job is going to come along ... because as a lower league manager, you definitely have bills and mortgages to pay ... so you certainly can't be out of the game for too long," Clarke said.

"But you do feel the lack of routine, waking up with no decisions to make. I've tried to programme my mind to enjoy pressure because that's how it is as a football manager. So then to come away from that, the intensity of that, I found it very difficult.

"I've never been able to handle losing football games. That's always felt like a loss in the family. That's probably a bit of an exaggeration, but I think when you leave your job, certainly you feel very, very low, and you need to try as quickly as you can to pick yourself back up, to reflect, to let yourself get over that disappointment, and it takes a bit of time."

Tony Pulis turned to Napoleon Bonaparte for distraction when he left his most recent post with Championship side Middlesbrough in May 2019. After 30 years of management, including spells at Premier League clubs Stoke City, Crystal Palace and WBA, he wanted to see more of his six grandchildren -- the seventh is on the way -- and develop interests away from football.

"I wanted to give myself the opportunity to open up my mind to everything else that's going on around my life, do things I've wanted to do but never had the time," he said. "I've been a great reader of history and of different leaders, and I wanted to be able to go and see different things. I know I'm very fortunate to be able to afford it and do it."

He travelled to Corsica in September 2019 to be at a celebration of Napoleon's 250th birthday.

"I was absolutely fascinated about how he had come from this small island, actually how he was like a foreigner in France and how he picked his way through to being one of the greatest generals really that ever lived," he said. "You can see that on a positive side or a negative side. I don't just read the good stuff about him. I read all the bad stuff about him as well. I'll make my own mind up then."

Pulis also spent time in South Africa and visited Rorke's Drift, where he learned about the Anglo-Zulu War. He's now researching explorer Ernest Shackleton. "He was described as a purposeful leader," Pulis said. "He wasn't necessarily an attractive leader but just got the job done."

Time and age taught Pulis the value of parking disappointment when between jobs and immersing himself in a new footballing project or one of his hobbies. "As you get older, I think you've seen most of the stresses and strains," he said. "You gain experience from it. No one forces you to be a manager. There's not a gun at your head saying you have to do it. You have to be strong enough and determined enough and understand your own structure as a person and your own strengths and your own weaknesses."

Allardyce always took a holiday after leaving a club. During the time away, he'd pick through the breakup and come back revitalised -- but only after making a series of notes.

"You learn from experience. It's done. It's dusted. Learn from it. What did I do wrong? What could I have done better? Just dot it down somewhere for the future. I've done many notes over the many years on all the jobs that I've had, and then you can have a little look at that when you go into a new job and just refresh yourself on what you're going to do and how you're going to do it."

Allardyce used to spend the time between jobs visiting football clubs, but he sees little benefit to that now. "When I go to other football clubs abroad, generally they show you very little, or they don't really show you the stuff that really matters," he said. "I think there's always a fear factor in football, that we should keep more things close to our chest than we actually should."

Now, he turns to other sports, such as NFL, rugby, Australian rules football and even the Royal Airforce's aerobatic team, the Red Arrows, to continue his learning.

Pardew spent time between jobs in rugby with Saracens and Eddie Jones, the England manager, while taking advantage of the League Managers Association's courses. "You don't want to be left behind, and you want to stay at the forefront of it all," he said.

For Clarke, after his two-week break post-Bristol Rovers, he spent time with Portsmouth's Kenny Jackett, who told him to use the time to work on his recruitment for the next job, looking at players and potential backroom staff. "The fact is, there are not really that many managers reinventing the wheel," Clarke said. "It's about just refocusing yourself and doing what you do and doing it your own way."

In the pre-COVID-19 world, when a manager is ready to return, there is an "itchy-feet stage," according to Allardyce. Then, hopefully, come the approaches and job interviews.

Pardew says there are usually nerves when heading in to meet the board at a prospective new club, but he falls back on his experience and homework.

"It's your right to represent who you are: This is who I am, what I can offer. This is my history," he said. "I don't think I've ever talked any board or owner into taking me. I've always been quite frank about how I think the club is and where I think they're at and what possibly I could bring, and then if, when they make that decision, they think, 'OK, we're going to go with you.' Then the reality sets in for a manager. Then you start getting into the finer details of the contract and what's the budget gonna be before you actually, you know, say yes or you both say yes."

Pardew remembers turning down job offers before his head was turned by Eredivisie side ADO Den Haag.

"It was a very, very difficult job, a foreign job, bottom of the league," he said. "And I've enjoyed it, you know, as much as it's been difficult. I've enjoyed it."

Clarke was "chomping at the bit after six/seven weeks" after leaving Bristol Rovers, and he ended up finding the ideal fit at Walsall. "I'd pulled out of a couple [of other potential jobs]. The Walsall one was very interesting for myself. I knew it was a club run right." He has been there 11 months, and when football paused, his team were 14th in League 2.

Allardyce and Pulis are in no rush to return.

Allardyce's disappointment at his exit from Everton encouraged him to take a break. "Several opportunities have come over the last two years that haven't been right for me, so it's been turned down," he said. "As time goes on, those opportunities become less and less, of course. ... You soon get forgotten, but that's not too much of a problem because the longer it goes on the more and more, I seem to be enjoying life, you know, without football.

"You commit your whole soul and your body when you do this job. But because you love it, you do it.

"It's more and more difficult to take a job because I have to tick so many boxes now to make sure it's right for me. I might never get them all ticked."

Allardyce does a radio show for a popular channel. He is still immersed in football -- but not in the cutthroat management industry.

Pulis' perspective is similar. If there's a game of football being played in the park, he'll stop and watch, loving every overhit pass and overcooked tackle. But he is enjoying his life away from management.

"My wife will kill me if I say I'm looking for a job again," he said.

"But now this break has given me a chance to take a breath again and actually smell the roses, instead of walking past and not noticing them. I can now smell them."