The surprising dismissal of Nigel Adkins by Southampton and appointment of former Espanyol man Mauricio Pocchetino once again proved the tenuous nature of the manager’s position in pro sports and likely provided some sleepless nights for other Premier League managers.
Few saw the sacking of Adkins coming and for good reason: It truly came out of nowhere. With the club since September of 2010, the former Wigan Athletic goalkeeper led the Saints on a stunning rise with two consecutive promotions. Starting in League One, Adkins guided Southampton into the Championship and then up to the Premier League this season after a seven year absence from the top flight.
Southampton’s first year back in the Premiership has been a bit of a mixed bag. At times, the club appeared to be a team well over its head and simply outmatched in terms of talent against established Premier League sides. Still, the hallmark of Adkins’ side became a dogged tenacity and a squad other teams knew were going to play for a full 90 minutes and give no quarter.
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This was on display in close losses to Manchester City and Manchester United, and even in last week’s hard fought draw at Chelsea. On top of this, star striker Rickie Lambert, already with 10 goals in the league, has emerged as a likely candidate for a call-up to Roy Hodgson’s England sometime down the line
So the question is obviously, why pull the trigger on Adkins now? Ahead of Monday’s home encounter with Everton, the Saints currently sit 15th in the table, three points above the drop zone. Southampton remains in a relegation battle, but it seems to be one they are very capable of winning with only two losses in their last 12 matches. The timing of Adkins’ sacking puzzles even the most cynical of football watchers.
The suggestion to change horses midstream certainly wasn’t one given to chairman Nicola Cortese by the fans. With a move like this, it hard to blame supporters who have visions of the club turning into a Blackburn Rovers-like farce, where meddling from upstairs undermined management at every turn and created a toxic atmosphere in last year’s dreadful campaign.
In sacking Adkins, Cortese has placed himself in a bit of an untenable position. If the club was to survive the drop and live to see another Premiership season, credit for the success will likely not go anywhere near the Italian, but instead be given to the system put in place by the departed Adkins. If the Saints were to be relegated, the target will go squarely on Cortese’s back for sabotaging Adkins’ side and dragging the club down with him. What happens from here on in with the Saints this season will be one of the more interesting storylines to monitor.
As is always the case with a sacking, the effect ripples well beyond the club that makes the move and creates waves elsewhere around the league. The dismissal of Adkins turns the heat up on managers of other flagging teams and has more than a few supporters calling for a bloodletting at their own clubs.
Paul Lambert’s days seem to be numbered in Birmingham. A Premiership side since the league’s inception, one of only seven, Aston Villa faces an uphill battle to maintain that record. With a lengthy injury list, a very young squad and an appalling minus-25 goal differential, a Herculean effort will be required from just about everybody at the club to make sure there won’t be Championship football at Villa Park next season.
An appearance in the League Cup final could go a long way to preserve Lambert’s job, but that seems unlikely, with Villa needed to overturn a 3-1 deficit going into the second leg of their semifinal with Bradford City.
Potentially joining Lambert on the unemployment line is Newcastle boss Alan Pardew, something that was unthinkable only a few months ago. Having led the Magpies to a fifth-place finish last season and into the Europa League, the wheels have come off for the Magpies. Having won only five matches all season (all at home), accruing a paltry six points on the road and crashing out of the FA Cup against Championship side Brighton, owner Mike Ashley’s decision to reward Pardew with a seven-year contract extension earlier in the season is all the more consternating for Newcastle supporters.
Being beaten soundly on the weekend 2-0 by fellow strugglers Reading did nothing to solidify Pardew’s standing, but the former West Ham and Charlton gaffer’s work, or lack thereof, in the transfer market might prove to be his undoing. Still smarting from losing Demba Ba to Chelsea when the Blues activated his release clause, Newcastle faced the scorn of supporters last week when Marseille striker Loic Remy chose to sign with bottom of the table Queens Park Rangers rather than the Magpies.
Pardew now has just over a week to scramble to find a replacement for Ba’s goal-scoring before the January transfer window closes. That, of course, presupposes that Pardew will survive long enough to make another personnel decision.
Upon his dismissal by the Toronto Raptors in 1998, Darrell Walker resignedly stated that "coaches are hired to be fired." With the vultures circling, in the next few days and weeks, more than a couple of gaffers in the Premiership will hope to avoid fulfilling that ultimate duty as a manager.