Wednesday 7th November 2012
This week, Alex Ferguson celebrated 26 years in charge of Manchester United. But early on in his tenure with the club, it looked as though he wouldn’t last two to six years let alone 26! And counting. As manager of one of the biggest and most successful clubs in the world, it took him until his third full season to win a trophy, five to pose a serious threat to the title (they were runners-up in 1988, but were never in with a real shout) and six to win the bugger. And all this was tailored with a few finishes in the bottom half of the table. Not something anyone would expect in a club of that stature.
Nigel Adkins has been given a stay of execution by the Southampton hierarchy, but even if they lose to Swansea City this weekend, then they would do themselves a huge favour by taking note of the United board’s patience with Ferguson. The Saints are not one of the biggest clubs in the south of England let alone the world and do not have a divine right to be in the Premier League. In fact, if you were to take into consideration the system employed by statto.com in determining who is where in the league tables according to trophies won, league positions and number of seasons in particular divisions over the course of history then they are not in the top division. They are 27th. They were in League One 18 months ago, and before Adkins guided them to where they are now, they had been out of the top-flight for seven years. And before they were finally relegated from the Premiership, how many times did they escape by the skin of their teeth? Here is a list of their final league positions in the Premier League era:
1992/1993 – 18th in a 22 team league ending only one point clear of the drop
1993/94 – Same outcome, but were scraping for survival on the final day
1994/95 – 10th
1995/96 – 17th Stayed up on goal difference on the final day in new 20 team league
1996/97 – 16th One point clear of the drop
1997/98 – 12th
1998/99 – 17th Five points clear
1999/00 – 15th
2000/01 – 10th
2001/02 – 11th
2002/03 – 8th
2003/04 – 12th
2004/05 – 20th Relegated
Things did improve from 1999 up to the point when they were eventually relegated in 2005, but there shouldn’t exactly be elevated expectations at St. Mary’s. If 17th place is the target then they are only five points behind that position with 28 games left. Let’s hope Southampton’s chairman, Nicola Cortese, shows some perspective when the thought of changing managers is in his head.
The Saints had a similar start to the 1998/1999 season, gaining five points from their first 10 games, but they stuck with Dave Jones and stayed up. And, shoot me down if you will, I would say that this Southampton side have showed far more promise and flair in this campaign thus far than the one from 14 years ago. Yes, they’ve been turned over a few times and have the worst defensive record for this amount of games in the Premier League era, but some of their performances have been of a high quality. The matches against the two Manchester clubs exemplify this. They were the two top teams in the country last season and are likely to be this season too, but Adkins and his side very nearly turned over both of them. It’s results that count when it comes to the league table, but they were very close to gaining the full three points in those and other matches so far this campaign. It’s not as if they are playing awful every game. All that needs sorting is the defence, which I am sure Adkins is working on.
Who better to steer the ship as it were than the man that the players know well and, as far as we know, highly respect? They have been through the past two highly successful years together (make a note of that word: successful), and who better to gee them up in these difficult times than the man who has got so much out of them throughout that period? Who better to remind them that they are a team who can achieve the unexpected, the so-called ‘‘impossible,’’ and confound the expectations than Adkins – having done so throughout his time managing them? Having played League One football a year and a half ago, no one should expect the Saints to stroll through the Premiership and survive comfortably. Not many people would have predicted that they would have been promoted last season. Most people (maybe including themselves) would have seen survival in the Championship as a success let alone promotion and then survival in the top division a year later (which they could easily still do).
Teams gain promotion then often get relegated a year later. That’s a regular fact of life. Now there are rumours that Cortese’s fellow Italians, Paolo Di Canio and Gianluca Vialli, are being considered for the Southampton hot seat (I’m guessing that they’re his mates). Di Canio has done great things at Swindon Town – gaining promotion from League Two with an exciting brand of football and now doing well in League One – but Adkins did this in the higher tiers. Not many teams have been promoted twice in a row and then survived the third season in the big league. And Vialli? Well, he hasn’t managed in England since his ill-fated spell with Watford ended in 2002. So does Cortese really think he would have done any better?If Southampton were to be relegated at the end of this season then Adkins would be the right man to take them back up again. So let’s hope that the Southampton board do take note of the patience of the hierarchy at Manchester United with Alex Ferguson in the late 1980s.
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