I was going to write about my obsession and skills at Football Manager, but that was during break and now I have found something else much more important to write about. The sacking of Nigel Adkins by Southampton came as a bit of shock since Southampton had been improving steadily over the season and have been out of the relegation zone for the last few weeks. Adkins masterminded the rise of Southampton back to the Premier League from League 1, much in the same way that Paul Lambert did with Norwich, and had continued through a rocky start to the Premier League season playing the attacking football that had enabled such a rapid rise. But despite being 3 points clear of the relegation zone the Southampton board decided to relieve Adkins of his duties. In fact he was one the last people to find out about his leaving the club, and his replacement with Mauricio Pochettino, the former Espanyol manager who was sacked after a very disappointing start to the La Liga season.
The removal of Adkins is a surprise mainly because Southampton had been doing better in recent weeks, including drawing against Chelsea in the FA Cup. The goalkeeper crisis at the beginning of the season seemed to be over with Artur Boruc beginning to play like he did for Celtic and Poland instead of flapping at any ball that came into the area (apart from the Manchester United game). Rickie Lambert was still scoring goals and was proving that big, unfit, slow centre forwards still have a place in the top division, his success mirroring that of his former Rochdale FC strike partner Grant Holt. Gaston Ramirez may not being playing like a marquee summer signing 13 million pound player, but he wasn’t playing poorly for Southampton; steadily over the season he has found his feet, begun poaching goals and put on a bit of weight to avoid being manhandled. The player of the season, Jack Cork, had returned to the side around the time of the fight out of the relegation zone and really Southampton have seemed a better team. But in the world of football no job is ever safe and Adkins had to leave not because he hadn’t performed well but for the simple reason that he isn’t a part of the new wave of coaches appearing around Europe. Adkins was a manager who had worked his way up from non-league and Welsh football through the divisions until his chances with Scunthorpe and then Southampton came, having success with both. Pochettino though is part of the new breed of football manager, a follower of Mourinho and Villas-Boas, which is increasingly technical in his approach to the game.
The hiring of Pochettino tells us something about the direction that Southampton board believes football is moving in. With the arrival of Villas-Boas, Laudrup, and Pochettino, plus the rise of Steve Clarke and Brendan Rodgers domestically with more technical playing and training styles than Premier League stalwarts like Pardew, Allardyce, and Redknapp, the shift towards more continental ideas about player management and tactics appears to be continuing but with even the smaller teams rather than just those with continental ambitions. The influx of pass and move football, combined with the swift counter attacking style of the Premier League is beginning to be practiced by most teams rather than the more traditional style of long ball tactics with eleven athletic but tactically inept players on the field. The rise of 4-3-3 football as well leads one to expect that the installation of Pochettino has more to do about tactics and moving the club forward than it does to do with dissatisfaction with the previous regime. One might say therefore that Adkins has been replaced due to his limitations such as his ability to win with the players in his squad while Pochettino is more about the future possibilities: encouraging players to sign for the Saints and being able to show the club has ambition to prevent players like Luke Shaw from leaving.
The sacking of Adkins makes sense if you are looking at the possibilities of growth rather than simply retaining Premiership status. Adkins would likely have been limited and would be able to keep Southampton up, but the change of management suggests that the board are keen to make Southampton the main south coast team in the same way that Swansea now represents Wales. But you suspect that the appointment of Pochettino is one that has already been accepted. Despite the popularity of Adkins there has not been any huge verbal protest from Saints fans, mainly just grumbles of discontent. But I feel that this is another Chris Hughton and Alan Pardew scenario where the board firmly believes that the club can only be moved forward with a more established manager, initially unfair on the victim but could be justified in the long run.