The blame for Nigel Adkins’ outlandish dismissal by Southampton can be laid squarely at the feet of Jose Mourinho. More importantly, because of this, my hopeful resolution to begin 2013 with a series of positive Dispatches has been well and truly scuppered by this latest farce in the Premier League’s continued frenzied descent into madness – making Marlon Brando’s rhapsodising in the jungles of Indochina resemble a game of musical statues at a birthday party. Then again, New Year’s promises are fleeting to say the least. So thanks Jose, you’ve really undone the good work of the last couple of weeks.
The roots for this maddening chain of events were laid in 2004 when Jose unleashed his most infamous celebration, running as he did down the Old Trafford touchline when his Porto team knocked Manchester United out of the Champions League. Little did he know that such an outburst of spontaneity would some nine years later, result in a man who had masterminded two successive promotions for a struggling coastal football club finding out he had lost his job via a television bulletin. With the Run of The Special One, a new breed of football manager was born and these days, every club wants one.
With Jose came the tailored suit and brooding scowl and the unquenchable, unapologetic belief in one’s own managerial greatness. This manager is invariably European and more specifically, of Latin origin. He is multi-lingual and cultivates a fine three-day stubble. He has read novels. Most likely Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He would not look out of place frequenting La Scala or dining at the now defunct El Bulli. He is Pep Guardiola, he is AVB and (it is hoped by Southampton’s owners at least) he is Mauricio Pochettino.
The demand for this kind of Philosopher Manager reached a maddening peak this week, as Guardiola finally announced where he will be ending his year long sabbatical from the game. The column inches given over to dissecting his motives for rejecting the chance to manage in The Greatest League In The World by accepting Bayern Munich’s offer was clear evidence that, along with his nemesis at Real Madrid, he is afforded the same attention as those at the pinnacle of other creative industries. If Guardiola was a band, he’d be Exile On Main Street era Rolling Stones. With that though, a series of imitation acts would naturally follow in his wake, hoping to capture some of the stardust he sprinkles. Pochettino may have promise, but he may just end up being an Aerosmith tribute act. Time will tell.
The problem with aspirational middle to lower ranking Premier League clubs appointing Pep-Lite managers is that they run the risk of stymying the careers of coaches who have guided them through choppier waters in the lower leagues. It would seem though that the wide eyes of some owners do not have a grounding in any semblance of reality. How else do you explain the statement made by Southampton chairman, Nicola Cortese?
“This decision has been made with the long-term ambitions of Southampton Football Club in mind.”
Were Adkins’ achievements over the last two seasons not enough to grant him a reprieve until the end of the season at least? Should Southampton be challenging for the Champions League spots in their first season back in the top flight? Or is it not enough that they came back from two goals down, away to the European Champions, to salvage a point two days before Adkins was given his marching orders?
The saddest thing about it all though is the fact that such inexplicably bizarre and ruthless antics by increasingly deluded club owners have become so commonplace that most supporters of football resign themselves to the fact this is just “part of the modern game”. Why should this be accepted as such? If you were sacked by your employer after consistently meeting and exceeding all your annual targets, would you not have a case for unfair dismissal? At the very least, you wouldn’t just shrug your shoulders and be wistfully rueful. Southampton fans are clearly angry and it would appear that protests are imminent but until clubs aren’t run as the personal fiefdoms of fantasists, then this will keep happening again and again. Chris Hughton suffered the same fate at Newcastle and I’m sure Roberto Di Matteo might emapthise with Adkins’ shameful treatment.
It’s ironic that to mark its 150th anniversary, the Football Association announced this week that there will be a day named in honour of Sir Bobby Robson. The tenth of August will be a day set aside for the promotion of grassroots football; something that the great man had a lifelong passion for. However, such a fitting tribute is sadly negated when clubs at the national game’s pinnacle do not share the same belief in nurturing young, talented managers.
Despite his many achievements and considerable talent, Bobby Robson will probably not be remembered as one of the game’s ‘philosophers’ who catalogue tactical analysis and ooze metrosexual charisma. Robson would more likely have been more at home with a plate of toad-in-the-hole and mash for his tea and a pint down the local. Lest we forget however, that he too managed Barcelona and that it was he who gave Mourinho and Villas-Boas their big breaks in the game. He also took a small, provincial team like Ipswich and made them compete with the very best that Europe could offer. In the current climate, I’d hazard a guess that he would never have risen above the ranks of being a highly regarded Championship manager.
Football thrives on its ability to assimilate a diversity of schools of thought. Hence Arsene Wenger’s celebrated footballing beliefs are consistently obstructed by the more abrasive methods deployed by the likes of Tony Pulis. It’s wonderful that Barcelona play the way they do, but if every team played that way, the game would be in danger of stagnation.
Youngsters have always been seduced by the illusion of fame whether that is the sparkle of Hollywood’s dream factories or pulling on the white shirt of Real Madrid. The reality is that not everybody can be Tom Cruise or Cristiano Ronaldo. Like any profession it takes hard graft and dedication and for every superstar there are thousands of other solid professionals who toil day in, day out to earn a living. The same applies to football management. I wish some football club owners would realise that.
I genuinely hope that Adkins is afforded the chance to flourish elsewhere and that next time, he is allowed to see the job through to a logical conclusion. He may not be as aesthetically pleasing as Mourinho but Adkins proved when he recited Dale Winbrow’s poetry in a press conference last October, that the less lauded members of the management fraternity can be as refined and as sophisticated as its leading lights. Designer suit is not a pre-requisite.
Further reading: ‘Talking Tactics’ With Andre Villas-Boas
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