|Nigel Adkins, in happier times|
(source: Daily Telegraph)
It was announced at 1154 on Friday 18th January 2013 that Nigel Adkins had been “relieved of his duties as First Team Manager” of Southampton FC, to be replaced immediately by relatively-unknown Argentine Mauricio Pochettino.
Adkins arrived from Scunthorpe United in September 2010 following a hugely successful transition from physiotherapy to management and quickly endeared himself to the Southampton faithful with not only progression on the pitch, but also his relentlessly positive attitude off of it. In May 2012, he cemented his place in club folklore by securing his second promotion in two seasons at the club – this time to the promised land of The Premier League.
Following a difficult start to life in the top flight, Nigel was a man under intense media scrutiny amongst rumours of his potential sacking, but he was given more time to prove his ability – to the delight of the Saints fans, who remained staunchly behind him throughout the most difficult times. And prove himself he did, with a fantastic upturn in form resulting in the beginning of a seemingly promising climb up the table. That was, of course, before it was brought to an untimely and disappointing end.
There followed messages from all over the footballing world - from loyal fans to top managers – expressing shock and disappointment at the dismissal of statistically Southampton’s best post-war manager.
The majority of Southampton supporters are wondering how to feel. There are feelings of shock, disappointment and even anger at the premature arrival of the end of one of the most enjoyable eras in the Club’s long and illustrious history. It is extremely rare that the dismissal of a football manager is met with such unanimous feeling – especially when that sentiment is of regret and not of relief – but that has been the reaction in this case (95% of fans polled on a popular club forum voted that the decision to dispense of Adkins’ services was a bad decision).
Aside from the mooted protests and some fans expressing disgust at the actions of their beloved club, it is the sentiments towards Adkins that should be concentrated on. It seems that, even in the results-driven business of football, Adkins’ personality is as important a reason as any for the fact that he will always be held in the highest regard in the red half of Hampshire. A website has been set up for fans to write messages of thanks to Adkins and it seems appropriate to share some of those sentiments now.
The vast majority of fans are finding this particularly hard to stomach. Yes, we support the club first and foremost, but currently there is a strange feeling that, for a while at least, it just won’t be the same. The arrival of Mauricio Pocchetino, for example, has gone relatively unnoticed, as all of the focus has been on the departure of a man who became more than just a manager.
Yes, his delivery of unbelievable back-to-back promotions, attractive style of football and 54% win ratio helped him to gain such popularity, but it is his unfailing, unrelenting positivity and permanent smile that will be most sorely missed. His much-loved (and repeated) ‘catchphrases’ (or ‘Adkinisms’, as they are fondly known) were his trademark from the moment he “came into the building” to work with his “group of honest hard-working professionals”, to “control the controllables” and to take Sun Tzu’s advice from The Art of War and “never, ever underestimate the opponent”. Ultimately though, he taught us that “it’s about winning games of football, it’s as simple as that”.
Importantly, he got the vast majority of supporters to join him “on the bus” in a journey that we will never forget. And there are many happy moments that I will remember personally with great fondness. I was fortunate enough to be in attendance for most of Nigel’s 124 matches in charge – beginning with a disappointing 2-0 defeat away from home by MK Dons and ending with a fantastic 2-2 draw at the home of the reigning European Champions Chelsea; it was a “bus ride” which consisted mostly of high points.
I was fortunate enough to meet Nigel on a handful of occasions and, if possible, he was even an even kinder man off camera than he was on it. He found time for everybody and, true to form, was consistently friendly, warm and personable.
The more public moments, the rare times that Adkins let down his guard of ‘Adkinisms’ and clichés, will also live long in the memory. His emotional interview after winning his second successive promotion in 2012 says a lot about the passion of the man, as he fought back the tears after achieving something that no manager in Southampton Football Club history had done before.
In a later interview, he stunned reporters by revealing his intellectual side through his recital of Dale Wimbrow's poem, 'The Man In The Glass'. That is the Nigel who is loved by the Southampton faithful – intelligent, positive, happy and slightly eccentric.
Perhaps it is the unique feelgood factor that he brought to the club that means that nobody has a bad word to say about him. Nigel’s final act as Southampton manager perhaps sums him up best. Before leaving the Staplewood training ground for the final time, he left a note for his players which really flagged up to supporters the sadness of the situation. It simply said “Keep Smiling. Have faith and belief that you are doing the right thing. Keep looking to improve.”
Unfortunately, the bus journey is now over.
Thank you, Nigel, for the most amazing ride. It is going to be particularly hard to “draw a blue line under it and learn the lessons from it”, because we wanted it to continue for many, many years to come. Thank you for your class, dignity and infectious enthusiasm and for being a gentleman from the very beginning to the very end of your tenure and we all genuinely wish you the very best for your undoubtedly bright future. You will always be welcome at St. Mary’s and hopefully one day, you will return to the home dugout. Keep “working hard to be the best that you can be” and “keep smiling”.