Saturday, 23 March 2013

Manager Madness

Southampton, in their first season back in the Premiership, are sitting quite comfortably in 15th place in the table. They are playing good football; they are winning matches. All is rosy. Indeed, they even manage to come back from 2 goals behind to draw with Chelsea – at Stamford Bridge too. There is an excellent squad harmony, and a belief around St Mary’s stadium that this Southampton team could go places. So how should they proceed?

I’ll tell you what they shouldn’t do: sack Adkins. And I’ll tell you what they did do: sack Adkins.

The owner of the club got greedy. Simple. The Chairman Cortese, thinking that Southampton were completely safe in the Premier League, wanted great things, and he wanted them quickly. The art of going upwards in the Premier League is one of consolidation, introducing gradual yet subtle improvements to the team. Indeed, teams such as Tottenham and Everton, over a 20 year period in the Premier League, have gradually improved their positions to a consistent top 6 or 7, every year.

There is no miracle-man that Cortese could have brought in that would have transformed this Southampton squad into contenders for Europe overnight; they simply don’t have the squad. Yet, for some unknown reason – seemingly based on personal friendship and reputation – he appointed Mauricio Pochettino, an Argentinean former player, who doesn’t speak a word of English. Why was this change necessary? Simple answer: it wasn’t.

All Cortese and the Southampton board needed was a bit of perspective. When you have just been promoted into a league as fierce as the Premier League, the one goal has to be survival: getting greedy can be costly. Cortese needed to look at the squad, look at their precarious league position and appreciate that, although they had done better than many expected in the league, they were still not completely safe. Newly-promoted teams cannot afford complacency and cannot afford to believe that they are better than they are; survival HAS to be the only aim.

This kind of greed can be costly. Fortunately for Pochettino, despite the initial uproar at the sacking of Adkins, the players do seem to be responding to his systems and style of management; the recent 3-1 win over Liverpool is a particular highlight. Whilst it seems that Southampton are now as good as safe, Cortese is a very lucky man. As the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

The same can be applied over at Reading. They sacked Brian McDermott, the man who had won them promotion to the Premier League in the first place, because they were engulfed in a relegation battle. What was Zingarevich expecting at the start of the season? A comfortable mid-table finish? Looking at Reading’s squad, that was never going to be very likely. And what’s worse, they haven’t even appointed a new manager yet! Surely, if you are going to sack your manager, you at least have someone to replace them swiftly.

Reading might not have survived had they kept McDermott. But surely, with a settled and committed squad, they would have had more of a chance than they do now, managerless and slipping down the table? The chairman should have shown more faith in their current manager. A new manager generally takes a few months to settle; Reading don’t have the luxury of time on their side. It’s a huge risk to get rid of McDermott, especially with no-one lined up to immediately take over. Zingarevich should have appreciated that his best bet was to accept that this season was only ever going to be about survival, and backed his manager. He didn’t, and it could prove costly.

And what on earth is going on over at Blackburn, with Venky’s in charge? It’s completely shambolic. 6 managers (including caretakers) in one season? Horrific. Getting relegated to the Championship was obviously a major blow, and absolutely not where they wanted to be: but they have to be patient in their quest for Premier League again. With a squad very different from last year’s Premier League side, the manager needs time to work with the players and get them playing his brand of football. Time is the best healer. Changing managers 5 times throughout the season is not. Appoint a manager, back him with money, give him a couple of years to impose his tactics on the team. Progress only ever begins being made after 5 or 6 months in the job.

Consistency is the key. Look at Ferguson, Wenger, Moyes. They’ve all had rough patches; but the board kept faith with them through those tough times, and now they respectively manage 3 of the best teams in England. More teams would be best served following by their examples.

By Alex Beck (@becktheyidcoys)

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it!

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