Paul Wilson's piece in the Guardian warning Nicola Cortese's firing of Nigel Adkins will lead to a Venky's equivalent of epic football mismanagement that has stricken Blackburn is a bit presumptuous. The Saints have a pretty sound self financing model in place, an academy that produces top rated talent, and they have put together a decent run in the top flight. We have to remember four years ago, the club was in administration and since the takeover by late Markus Liebherr, they have progressed from League One to the Championship and finally onto the big boy league.
Adkins was removed against the grain of recent performances and in his place Mauricio Pochettino, the former Espanyol coach has been installed. But it appears that this change was being contemplated "for several weeks" as Pochettino himself inartfully disclosed especially while Saints were developing an unsavoury reputation for fading fast in the second half and running up the Premiership stats on most goals conceded. But recent results have shown a reversal with the Saints battling Chelsea to a 2-2 draw in the League Cup and losing just two of their last twelve matches to remain three points clear of relegation. So what would possess Cortese to take such a huge risk by firing the immensely popular and successful Adkins? Especially at a time when a new manager would face a trial by fire with upcoming matches against Everton, United, and City.
Ambition. Cortese is a banker who spent years managing the entertainment and sports business interests at various Swiss banks making a name for himself. He was the one who talked Markus Liebherr into buying the Saints and with all the cynicism stemming from a parade of fly by night operators that doomed arch rivals Pompey, the takeover proved wildly successful as Liebherr proved to be the genuine article. Cortese obviously looks on himself as a saviour and his benediction extends to characterizing the Saints " as his baby". Only a person with a messianic complex will use such language.
The dismissal of Pardew eerily mirrors that of Adkins as the former was reportedly out of favour with Cortese when he failed to lead the Saints into the playoffs missing out by one position in 2009. But he was kept on and was told to work very closely with Les Reed, the director of football development in vertically integrating the club in ensuring homegrown talent found their way into the first team. But it appeared Pardew did not pay heed to that directive. He was dismissed three games into the 2010 League One season which set off a similar teeth gnashing amongst fans that is being experienced with the Adkins dismissal.
The recently fired manager also seems to have not adhered to Cortese's vision of vertical integration and additionally disappointed with under utilizing some key signings that seem to have been personally endorsed. There were benchmarks passed down to both Pardew and Adkins which each coach had to act on and the progress report fell short. Some of these concerns can be found in Cortese's statement after he hired Pochettino:
" He also shares my belief that the most successful clubs are built by nurturing young players through a development system that provides a clear path to the First Team, thereby creating a culture that keeps them at the Club for the long term. This is an approach he has employed with great success in the past and I look forward to him bringing that experience and expertise to Southampton."
This is just a gut feeling but these machinations feels somehow akin to a multistage rocket with each stage propelling it to the next level. Pardew and Adkins boosted the Saints to a certain prescribed level but they weren't going to get the Saints to become a sort of Barca like cantera that ensured golden generations of homegrown talent dotting the St Mary's landscape. Which in every footballing parlance is the stratosphere where gravity becomes irrelevant. Cortese also seems to be acutely aware of the heedless rush by clubs to live for the moment which has led to some living in a financial strait jacket.
" Clubs spend money they do not have; they spend next year's income. They spend money that will not arrive for two years and say, "But we'll have some success and bring in more cash to cover the shortfall". It cannot be sustained. In good times you need to be saving money for the bad times. If we reach the Premier League, I would like to be in a position where we did not need parachute payments. In good years you should put money away for the bad years."
That would be sound financial adage. Some of Cortese's qualities proved attractive enough to cash strapped AC Milan who approached him to join their board of directors.
What bothers Saint fans is that Pochettino has come out of left field. And he seems to rely on religion and prayer to uplift the team a la Rick Perry's containment of school shootings rather than actual redemptive measures. Sid Lowe talks about a pilgrimage to Montserrat to talk to the Virgin Mary which led to divine intervention. What is England's equivalent? A visit to Stonehenge? But Pochettino also has a history of success at Espanyol where for two seasons he coached his team mates to respectability and gave Barca a heck of a derby. He also comes from the Liga where they seem to have instilled a love for the short passing game and invested in developing players. Cortese seems to have indulged in a faith building exercise with two English managers but obviously his endgame is a risky but well intentioned foray into international respectability. As an Arsenal fan, one can relate to a certain Arsene Wenger after years of George Graham and English managers playing a grim and depressing style.