Adkins sacking breaks Southampton fans hearts, but don’t call Cortese a fool
The sense of loss Southampton fans have felt these past few days is as strong as the rest of the football community is imagining.
Not only was Nigel Adkins the clubs saviour, taking the club from League One to Premier League in consecutive seasons, the fans have also lost a man they loved for his positive attitude and all-round good guy personality. His relationship with the fans made them feel as much a part of the team and as worthy of a pat on the back as the players.
And now, just like that, he’s gone.
But for all the football community’s shock and disbelief that the club’s chairman, Nicola Cortese, could be so foolish, there has been very little in depth understanding of the development of the club over the past few years. There’s a lot more to this staggering progress than the success of one manager, and Saints fans know this.
The media have quoted Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier describing the chairman as a “laughing stock” (a line too juicy for most to avoid). Yet they’re overlooking that this is the same Le Tissier who was beaten in a bid for the club by this very same chairman (and the bad blood has escalated since).
Cortese, an ex-banker, persuaded his millionaire friend Markus Liebber, to purchase the club after he spotted their dormant potential: Premier League ground, phenomenal youth system, and sitting in League One.
Liebber ageed to invest, but only on the condition that Cortese ran the show. The plan was to create a Barcelona style set up that could rule the world: with 50% of the team graduating from the youth team, and playing attacking, progressive, football. No lack of ambition from a club in the lower leagues.
Alan Pardew was recruited with clear objectives: we’ll give you millions to spend, you give us promotion. He did well, but ultimately didn’t fulfil his part of the bargain and was unceremoniously dumped.
Adkins came on board and met the challenge: back to back promotions (although with apparent discontent from the chairman that it didn’t come with any league trophies). In normal football folklore, fairytale stuff. But in the world of Cortese, just another step towards his ultimate goal.
In interviews after Southampton beat Coventry to secure promotion to the Premier League, an oddly reflective Adkins talked as if this was the end of the road rather than the beginning. This was a man who new what was at stake.
Before the amusing titled ‘el sackico’ game against QPR, a feisty Adkins told the media he was up for the challenge and the man for the job. But his message sounded more like it was intended for the chairman than the readers.
Now in the Premier League, after a tough start, the team and Adkins showed growing potential (not many teams come back from two goals down to draw at Stamford Bridge). But if viewed through the eyes of Cortese’s and his targets (people sniggered when he talked about qualifying for the Champions League, but he means it) potential isn’t enough.
Without anyone realising it, Cortese had been lining up a potential replacement all along. I don’t believe Adkins would have found his sacking unexpected, he will have understood well the deal all along, but I suspect he will have hoped he’d done enough to remain until the end of the season.
Appointing a new manager at this time of the season is risky enough. Add to that the fact he doesn’t speak English and has no Premier League experience and you can’t blame outsiders for questioning the chairman‘s sanity.
However, you’re looking at a chairman with massive expectations and no sentiment, with the nerve to risk money and trust his instincts (ex-banker, remember). His modus operandi is meet the agreed target or you’re out. And that kind of mentality is where winners are born. It might not be fun working for him (if you’re lucky enough to keep hold of your job in the first place), but don’t take him for a fool.
Cortese hasn’t got much wrong up till now. In the future, the decision to ditch Adkins could well be seen as astute as the one to sack Pardew.
Written by @louisekyme