The atmosphere at St Mary’s tonight will be hostile. A good man has been treated extremely badly, so the protests will be passionate and sustained. Southampton fans have, quite rightly, been outraged by the sacking of Nigel Adkins, but they face a poignant dilemma: how far do they go?
The fact that Southampton have worked themselves into a position of possible safety on their return to the Premier League is one of many bitter ironies. Such relative comfort is a result of the far-sighted team-building strategy employed by Adkins, whose replacement by Mauricio Pochettino (pictured) highlights why the modern game invites disillusion.
The decision was contemptible, counter-productive and counter-intuitive, because of Southampton’s run of only two defeats in 12 Premier League games. It made a mockery of the previous 26 months, in which Adkins had won two promotions and lifted the club 51 places in the professional pyramid.
It is not unusual for an incoming manager to prepare, clandestinely, to take over from his unwitting predecessor. Few are as brazen or indiscreet as Pochettino, who admitted his part in the charade through an interpreter, an act that emphasised the difficulties he will have, as a non-English speaker, in communicating with his players.
Pochettino used words such as respect, honesty and dedication to characterise the club’s values. That was the act of a man with a tenuous grasp on reality. It was notable that Nicola Cortese, Southampton’s deeply unpopular and unimpressive chairman, took the coward’s way out and failed to turn up to the unveiling of a manager who, for all the propaganda about his progressive nature, was a failure at Espanyol. Perhaps he was afraid of inconvenient truths.
As so often in such circumstances, fans took their lead from a talismanic former player. Matt Le Tissier, who once characterised Cortese as “not a very nice human being”, retains the deepest affinity with the club, but despairs of the way it is being tainted by the ruthlessness of the former investment banker.
There is so much right at Southampton. In many ways, it is a model to be emulated. The stadium is new and well appointed, even if parking is a nightmare. The academy continues to produce technically gifted, superbly coached young players, such as Luke Shaw and James Ward-Prowse.
They will not be the target of the fans’ ire this evening for the visit of Everton, but they may be its victims. Chelsea, remember, are a different team at Stamford Bridge because of popular discontent. However, a stand must be taken, a point must be made. Cortese must be made to squirm.