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When Nigel Adkins was appointed manager of Southampton on 12th September 2010, the general feeling amongst the Saints’ faithful was one of confusion. Just why had Alan Pardew, now at Newcastle, been sacked after winning the Football League Trophy at Wembley and guiding the club to a highly respectable seventh in League 1, after suffering a 10 point deduction for financial irregularities the previous season?
The club was in a good place. They had a strong squad, the financial backing of Swiss saviour, Markus Liebherr, and a manager who seemed to have all the requirements to guide the Saints back to the second tier of English football, and potentially on to the Premier League. Newcastle
Yet not even the most optimistic of Southampton fans would have guessed the impact that the Birkenhead born Adkins would have had on the club. Fast forward two years and the club was on the brink of claiming its first win back in the Premier League at home to Aston Villa. Adkins had led the club to back-to-back promotions to the top flight for the first time in their 127 year history.
It was a baptism of fire for Southampton after returning to the top flight for the first time since relegation under Harry Redknapp in 2004. Their first four fixtures included the reigning champions Manchester City, Manchester United the previous year’s runners-up and Arsenal. Despite holding leads against both the Manchester clubs, the Saints were pegged back late on and a 6-1 drubbing at The Emirates did nothing to help their cause.
Nigel Adkins’ men struggled to find their feet and with regular defensive errors being punished, pundits and fans alike feared the worst. After ten games and only one win, Southampton sat bottom of the Premier League. They had shipped 28 goals – a record high at that stage in the Premier League.
Southampton were not down and out just yet however. Having played eight of the top ten in their first ten games, the fixture list in the run-up to the Christmas period smiled on them. A draw at home to high-flying Swansea was followed by a vital 3-1 away win against fellow strugglers QPR – the team’s first away win of the season.
Wins at home against Newcastle and Reading sandwiched a home draw against in-form Norwich and a narrow loss at Anfield against Liverpool. A setback at home to Sunderland didn’t seem to have an effect on the team as the Saints went on to gain two draws away at Fulham on Boxing Day and at Stoke.
A New Year’s Day home draw against Arsenal was followed by a controversial win in the return match against Aston Villa. This win moved them out of the relegation zone and into 15th in the League. Since the 1-1 draw at home to Swansea, they had conceded just 9 goals in 10 games.
It was at the home of the European Champions, on a bitter Wednesday night in South-West London, where Adkins claimed what some say was his biggest scalp. Two fine Chelsea goals left the Saints trailing at half-time and there was a fear that Chelsea would run away with the game, just as they had done in their 5-1 FA Cup Third Round triumph over Southampton at St. Mary’s a week earlier.
Yet the introduction of talismanic striker Rickie Lambert in the 55th minute proved the catalyst for an unlikely comeback. Lambert’s header only three minutes after coming on was followed by a glorious volley 20 minutes later from Jason Puncheon. The Saints held on a to an invaluable point, which left them three points clear of the drop zone with a far superior goal difference to the teams around them.
The squad that Adkins had assembled was exciting. Filled with young talent from their own successful youth academy and from overseas was now challenging toe to toe with the established Premier League teams. They were solid at the back, physically strong, but technically gifted in midfield and lethal up front. Rickie Lambert led the club’s scoring charts and indeed was the top English scorer in the Premier League with 10 goals.
So no one could have predicted the news that filtered out of the club at 11:54 am on the 18th January 2013. It wasn’t only the decision to relieve Nigel Adkins of his managerial duties that angered many fans; it was the unceremonious way it was put on the club’s website. It was almost as if the club didn’t have a manager in the first place, let alone one who had guided the club to back-to-back promotions to the Premier League.
The announcement on the club’s website was entitled, ‘New First Team Manager Appointed’. It seemed only an afterthought that Adkins’ leaving the club was mentioned.
Ex-Argentinian international Mauricio Pochettino was now to take over the reins at Southampton. It was a case of déjà vu from Pardew’s sacking. The reaction to Pochettino’s appointment was once again one of confusion; just who is this relatively unproven Argentinean?
The 40 year old Argentine, Mauricio Pochettino, was coincidentally born in the same town as Southampton’s young goalkeeper, Paulo Gazzaniga. He played primarily for Catalan-based club Espanyol before moving to France with PSG and Bordeux. He finished his career back at FC Barcelona’s inter-city rivals and, after winning the Copa Del Rey in 2006, decided to call time on his playing career.
He became Espanyol manager in January 2009, where his reputation for bringing young players through the club’s youth set-up drew him many admirers from clubs across Europe and at the top of La Liga. He left the club by mutual consent in November 2012, having expressed concerns over the club’s long term financial stability, with the club bottom of Spain’s Premier Division.
What remains to be seen is if Pochettino can conquer the language barrier between him and his squad. Fabio Capello struggled coming into English football with no knowledge of the language, but the new man has dismissed any dialect problems he may have and claims that football is a ‘universal language’.
So what next for Southampton Football Club? The fans can rest assured that Chairman Nicola Cortese will have done what he thinks is right for the club. Whether he is right or not, only time will tell. The decision to bring in Adkins turned out to be a masterstroke, but the decision to let him go has left many fans calling for Cortese’s head.
If the Saints do survive the drop this season, nobody should forget just what Adkins has done for the club. But just what has he done to deserve this? When he took over, Southampton were 22nd in League 1. Having guided them to back-to-back promotion, Adkins has become a fan favourite at the club, and has left as Southampton’s most successful manager in the past 100 years, with a win percentage of 54%.
However there have been murmurings of his sacking since Southampton’s poor start right back in September. With Nicola Cortese reportedly wanting a bigger name at the club, the writing has seemingly been on the wall for Adkins for months.
But with the club having only lost twice in the past 12 games, and with 18 points being gained in that period, the short term impact of this controversial decision may prove to be Southampton’s undoing as they seek to consolidate their position in the Barclays Premier League for the foreseeable future.
Written by Ben Higlett
Follow him on Twitter @BHiglettSFC
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