Adkins' Sacking Proves Southampton is Not a Football Club But A Loyalty Free Business
One of the biggest challenges in writing about sport is the difficulty of imbuing everyday sporting events with any kind of real-world significance and sentimentality. Beyond the factual and occasionally the analytical, there is often very little left to say about what is essentially a large collection of adult men - ranging from board-room executives to youth academy products - all scrabbling to get to the top of their respective piles, for that season at least.
What elevates football from being nothing over and above what I have just described are the ongoing plots and sub-plots where a manager and his team become something more to their fans than temporary mercenaries, where they have become part of the fabric of the club to the extent that their personal characteristics can almost be equated to that of the club itself. During Nigel Adkins' reign at Southampton FC, he reached that status. You will understand, then, that I have had no such difficulty imbuing sentimentality into Friday's events; Adkins changed the way everybody thought about the club for the better.
Upon hearing news of our manager's sacking on Friday morning, I experienced the crushing realisation that the qualities of loyalty, unity and dignity ran only skin-deep at the club; those who possess the ultimate power see little merit in them. Perhaps I was naive to believe otherwise.
It goes without saying that I believe the 'decision to relieve Nigel Adkins of his duties' is as unwarranted as it is unwelcome given the remarkable job he has done since October 2010 - but what really makes this news so heartbreaking goes far deeper than the simple matter of our on-field prospects, with relegation still a very real possibility. What is truly painful about this episode was summed up in a concise email I received overnight from my father who provided me with a link to the story and wrote simply: 'And I thought we were different.'
Cortese is undoubtedly an excellent businessman. The change he has overseen at Southampton has been dramatic and far-reaching, and it should be remembered that he is one of the main reasons why we have a football club to support at all. The decision to recruit Mauricio Pochettino will have been painstakingly researched and, as he said, 'has the long-term ambitions of the club in mind.' For that reason, I have little doubt that our new manager is of a very high pedigree and can be a success at St. Mary's. Putting aside my furious response to the injustice yesterday's events (no easy task, I can assure you), the truth is that Nicola Cortese might not have made a bad business decision last week – he rarely does. Nevertheless, on sporting grounds his dismissal of Adkins is completely inexcusable.
I had hoped that our Chairman understood that the memories Adkins' side have supplied me with over the past few years are what make the time and effort people like me dedicate to supporting a football club worthwhile. The moment I heard the news, though, it became abruptly clear to me that the Italian's idea of what Southampton Football Club should be and my own are two very different things.
Cortese has now shown our true colours – and the most depressing thing about that is that I now know that the man shares none of the things that I value about sport. This is what made Friday morning's realisation so tough to take – it was the realisation that I support a business. Until that moment I was enjoying life as a football fan in the truest sense of the word – I was a Rickie Lambert fan, an Adam Lallana fan, a Nigel Adkins fan. These men could be identified as Southampton FC, something we all were a part of - 'together as one'.
Today I cannot remember what it is that I support. We are a faceless entity, ready to dispense of its tools as soon as it identifies an upgrade. I anticipate having real difficulty in emotionally reinvesting because I, too, had thought we were different, and stood for more than the burning personal ambition of an Italian businessman.
When the Saints travelled to Loftus Road in November with just five points on the board, the fans' feelings could be heard loud and clear from the very start of the game– unequivocal support for their manager, displaying the unity he did so much to promote. It was a demonstration of just how far his influence had spread; the fans bought into his philosophy - as Nigel might say, they were all on the bus.
On Friday, we were effectively informed that Adkins' rejuvenation of Southampton FC was little more than a means to an end. Having taken on Cortese's five-year plan in League One and bettered it, Adkins' sacking has lain bare our Chairman's intentions for the club for all to see: Nothing is more important than the most efficient fulfilment of our goals. Cold, hard business decisions now run roughshod over any concerns of those whom the game is really for, and for whom the game means most.
That being the case, it will take some time for me to look back on the Adkins years without a bitter melancholy that they were cut short well before they had reached a natural end. Adkins more than deserved a chance to take us further and really build something special on the south coast. Now the mantle passes to Pochettino to try to satisfy our Chairman, and if he can do that he will have done quite some job.
In a typically defiant display of his positive outlook, Adkins left a note to his players in the dressing room at the training ground before he departed. It instructed his team to smile, remain positive and to believe in what it was they were doing. It is in this spirit that I resolve to move forward as a football fan, as a Southampton fan. All cliches aside, Adkins' legacy may be further reaching than he knows – I for one will be tuning in for Monday's visit of Everton.
One day I would love to thank the man personally for making me proud to be a Saints fan for the past two and a half seasons, it has been truly memorable. That pride is lost for the moment, but give me a few months - a successful relegation scrap perhaps – and I might just be able to look back on the journey we have been taken on and smile: Thank you, Nigel. That was one hell of a bus ride.