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Opinion: In partial defence of Southampton’s sacking of Nigel Adkins

The dismissal of the popular figure is an inevitable consequence owing to the nature of modern-day football, writes Paul Fennessy.

Southampton's sacking of Nigel Adkins was not well received by many of the club's fans.
Southampton's sacking of Nigel Adkins was not well received by many of the club's fans.

IN RECENT DAYS, media commentators have been queuing up to condemn the seemingly impromptu and unexpected dismissal of Southampton boss Nigel Adkins.

And indeed, the decision itself did seem odd at first glance, as following a disappointing start to the season, Southampton’s fortunes were gradually improving under Adkins.

All seemed well at the Saints, and according to popular belief, the callous powers that be took the subsequent decision to eject Adkins from his position purely as a result of apparent incompetence.

However, imagine another scenario. Imagine if Adkins had worked wonders this season with Southampton. Imagine if he had achieved a similar feat to West Brom manager Steve Clarke, and for a small period at least, had brought a team on a relatively low budget into a top-four position in the league.

What if Adkins had conducted himself so impressively that, instead of Rafael Benitez, Chelsea decided to offer him a job as temporary manager of the club? Surely Adkins would have little hesitation in accepting such an opportunity.

In fact, leaving Southampton in order to manage Chelsea would be regarded as a no-brainer by most football commentators. If this were to happen, very few people would consistently lament how ‘unfair’ this hypothetical scenario would be on Southampton. The majority of observers would presumably agree that it’s an unfortunate but unavoidable ramification of the cold-hearted, business-like nature of modern-day football

So why then should the situation not work both ways?  Just as if Adkins gets what is potentially a better opportunity elsewhere, he’s entitled to leave, Southampton shouldn’t be forced to stick with him owing to that most outdated of concepts in the footballing world – loyalty. If they’ve identified someone who they believe is a better manager, why shouldn’t they be allowed to hire him? No one would complain if a well-regarded player was ousted from a team in favour of a superior alternative.

Granted, no one likes to see someone lose their job, but Adkins would have been paid big money during his time in charge, and he would also have likely received ample financial compensation from the club amid his sudden departure. It’s therefore safe to say that he won’t starve as a result of the decision. Moreover, given that he did a more than respectable job as manager of the Saints, he should have little trouble finding re-employment elsewhere.

As for his replacement, Mauricio Pochettino, he comes with some fairly impressive credentials, as this article excellently illustrates, though there is no doubt that Southampton are taking a significant gamble by replacing Adkins at this pivotal stage in the season.

Whether the gamble will pay off is impossible to tell, though last night’s 0-0 draw with Everton at least had some encouraging signs for Saints fans. Recent history of clubs sacking managers who were performing respectably encompasses consequent success and failure in different cases. Three of the most glaring examples of such a choice exacerbating a team’s woes were evident when Wolves sacked Mick McCarthy, when Blackburn ousted Sam Allardyce and when Real Madrid got rid of Vicente del Bosque.

Conversely, there have been instances where the new manager has improved the team’s fortunes despite the relative success of his predecessor. Alan Pardew replacing Chris Hughton at Newcastle (in the short term at least), Martin Jol leaving Tottenham (which eventually enabled Harry Redknapp to take over following Juande Ramos’ brief stint at the club) and Claudio Ranieri’s sacking at Chelsea were all greeted with disapproval from large sections of the respective clubs’ fan base, but each decision ultimately turned out to be for the best.

Indeed, it’s a particularly salient issue for Chelsea, given the regularity with which they change managers. Nonetheless, they still managed to win the Champions League last year, despite this relentless upheaval.

Essentially, these decisions are made by a team’s owners, who are investing considerable money into the club, so surely they’re entitled to make the big decisions, regardless of how foolhardy they may often seem. Arguments to the contrary merely do not reflect the commercial reality of how football operates nowadays.

Chairmen of clubs are increasingly being granted full control of the situation – one of the most telling examples of this increasing phenomenon was illustrated a few years back, when the then-AC Milan manager Carlo Ancelotti admitted to signing a youngster by the name of Kaka, despite knowing virtually nothing about the player. Ancelotti was honest enough to admit that the decision had been made by club president, Silvio Berlusconi.

So while the choice to sack Nigel Adkins may seem harsh and could even be proven to be unwise in time, to describe it as ‘unfair’ as many in the media have done, seems a little naïve, not to mention, an explicit denial of how modern football works.

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Paul Fennessy

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