Southampton’s excellent comeback at Chelsea seemed to have been a vital result for Nigel Adkins. Then reports in Spain yesterday claimed that former Espanyol coach Mauricio Pochettino is “close” to agreeing a deal to become the new Saints boss. Adkins today has been fired.
There is no doubt that it took the Premier League new boys – and their manager - a while to settle in to England’s top flight. While their performances against both Manchester clubs were spirited and exciting, defeats to Wigan, Arsenal, and West Ham highlighted their cumulative inexperience at this level.
November was a vital month for the Saints, notching up a 4 game unbeaten run and stemming the wave of goals against that characterised the start of their campaign. They have maintained this form and belief, and are unbeaten in the League since Christmas – no mean feat when 4 of their 5 matches have been away, including visits to the Britannia and Stamford Bridge.
This leaves Southampton in 15th place, 3 points clear of the drop zone, and ahead of experienced Premier League campaigners Newcastle, Wigan, and Aston Villa. They have also outscored all the sides below them. Indeed, after their point at Chelsea, Gary Lineker tweeted:
Brilliant point for Southampton. Like the way they play and I’m convinced Saints will stay up.”
High praise indeed for players and manager alike. So how could Nigel Adkins’ job be under threat? Had this happened two months ago, few would have disagreed with the sentiment – if a board is going to change their coach they must give him January to rebuild as required in the transfer window.
But this sacking has arisen while Southampton are in arguably their best form and presiding in their best league position of the season. This change may have a detrimental effect on a squad that has exceeded all expectations under Adkins.
Some of the tactical ineptitude shown by the Saints early in the season has evolved into a structured balance of flair and defensive solidity. The huge £19 million outlay on Gaston Ramirez and Jay Rodriguez raised many eyebrows, and is probably still a concern for chairman Nicola Cortese. Ramirez has shown glimpses of pure class, but has been plagued by minor injuries; Rodriguez has yet to show the form that made him a star in the Championship last year.
However, Adkins had great success bringing young talent into the fold. Nathaniel Clyne was an inspired buy from Crystal Palace, while Luke Shaw and James Ward-Prowse have emerged as players with extremely bright futures. Add to this the inexperienced (in top flight terms) Gazzaniga, Yoshida, Schneiderlin, and Mayuka, and it is increasingly apparent that the Saints boss has performed superbly in challenging circumstances.
Mauricio Pochettino is hardly the first name that would spring to mind to save the Saints anyway. Despite an impressive season in 2010/11 – guiding Espanyol to 8th and touted as a future Real Madrid coach – Pochettino left Espanyol in November stranded at the bottom of the Primera Liga, with just 9 points from 13 games. There were also rumours of disagreements with a number of key players according to ESPN.
So Nigel Adkins should be saluted for guiding Saints to their current position, and not fired. Clearly, they don’t know what they’re doing.