BEFORE people indulge in too much talk over whether Nigel Adkins should get the sack they should consider one serious question – would things be any better without him if the club policy of playing a certain way does not change?
The truth is that we do not know who is dictating that policy, vision, brand of football – whatever you wish to call it - referred to by Adkins several times after the defeat to West Ham, and unless we know it’s impossible to say results would improve with a new manager.
Under Adkins there have been two hugely successful seasons at St Mary’s with a 4-4-2 formation, consistency of selection and real stability It was not until this season and Saints’ ascension to the Premier League that we started to see a 4-3-3 formation in various guises trotted out every week.
We warned in these very pages before the start of the campaign how risky it would be to disrupt what has been such a winning formula, especially when you are taking a big step up with largely the same squad of players.
Many fans want to see a change in plan from Saints, something to try and stop them conceding so many goals.
They admire the principles of 4-3-3, Barcelona style attacking football, and that the formation has at least seen Saints score most weeks, but what they admire more is seeing their team win matches, and therefore avoid relegation. The personnel cannot be tinkered with much more so it’s either accept this is how it is or try something different and it is surely folly to go down leaking goals most weeks, and therefore losing many games, without attempting a different approach to try and stop that.
So the key to making your mind up as to whether to stick or twist with Adkins is try and ascertain whether this is his formation, his idea, or whether this vision, this brand of football, is being dictated elsewhere.
The reason that is so vital is that, if it’s not his choice, then changing manager may just be a case of changing a face rather than anything more tangible.
There has been a move away from managers being all powerful beings at clubs as money has poured into the game but what about at Saints?
Adkins has spoken of these club principles on how their football will be played, and when pushed after the West Ham game over whether he would be prepared to see Saints get relegated playing this way rather than try something different, his answer again largely boiled down to the club’s ‘vision.’ It doesn’t sound much like that is him saying it is his decision, but it’s hard to be sure.
If it’s really not Adkins though then who is it?
There are two chief contenders.
One is executive chairman Nicola Cortese, the all powerful executive chairman.
The other is Les Reed, who has stayed in the background and whose influence is unclear but from afar appears to have a role not all that far removed from a director of football. Are one, or both of these, deciding the club’s principles and vision, and does Adkins have an input into that? Or is it just down to the manager?
And what of the summer transfer policy that has been exposed as flawed and left Saints desperately short of the necessary options at the back? Who is to blame for that?
Hands up, you have to say in fairness it is a nice vision to have the club playing that way, to have a settled pattern from the first team down through the academy age groups so everyone is used to what has been called ‘the Southampton way.’ But ultimately first team results are always paramount and, if it’s not working, you have to change things.
Sacking Adkins is all very well but it’s the obvious knee jerk reaction. That doesn’t make it the right choice.
He knows the club, the team, the players, he has achieved great things at Saints.
If it is he dictating principles and refusing to change, he who failed to get in the correct players in the summer, then, fair enough, like the changing goalkeepers, questioned substitutions and the decision to drop Rickie Lambert, then it doesn’t reflect well on him.
But if they are not, if ‘club policy’ is dictating, then a new man may well face exactly the same issues, and then what is the point of changing?
- You can read more of Adam's opinions on Saints at dailyecho.co.uk/adam_leitch.