Adkins under pressure at Southampton
By Bradley King
There was jubilation on the south coast last May as Southampton confirmed their promotion back into the Premier League after seven years away. An admired club amongst neutrals too, the Saints have won plaudits throughout their history for playing attractive, attacking football and developing promising young players. But the foundations upon which the club prides itself could end up costing manager Nigel Adkins and Southampton their place alongside the country's elite.
The Saints were promoted from the Championship last year as the division's runners-up and were top scorers in the process, finding the net 85 times in 46 matches. The campaign capped a remarkable turnaround for the club. Since the late Swiss businessman Markus Liebherr purchased the club in 2009, a team rejuvenated by Adkins, who was hired in the summer of 2010, have risen from the third tier of English football, almost exclusively exhibiting a slick, daring style of play.
This flamboyancy has continued, to some extent, in the Premier League. In their 10 matches completed back in the top flight, Southampton have scored 14 goals - more than any other team in the bottom half of the table, other than Swansea City. Indeed, the wily quartet of Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana, Gaston Ramirez and Jay Rodriguez are likely to provide more than the odd spark in the opposition third. And so they should - Ramirez alone cost the club £12million in the summer which is an amazing amount of finance for a promoted team to shell out.
Perhaps Adkins and current chairman Nicolas Cortese would have been wise to have been so liberal when recruiting a defence. Defenders Nathaniel Clyne and Maya Yoshida joined despite non-existent Premier League experience while Artur Boruc and Paulo Gazzaniga signed to challenge for a starting spot between the sticks.
The Saints have picked the ball out of their own net 28 times so far this season - no other Premier League team in history have conceded as many in their first ten games of a campaign. It is still unclear who is the club's first choice goalkeeper and, while Yoshida and Jose Fonte appears to be Adkins' preferred partnership at centre back, the results have been far from satisfactory.
Amidst the fanfare of their meteoric rise back to the 'promised land', Adkins and Southampton seem to have neglected an important football maxim: build your team from the back. Gaston Ramirez is an exciting, and potentially talismanic, footballer for Southampton. But, as the evidence as proven so far, scoring plenty of goals is pointless when the opposition is sliding through your defence as if it's hot butter at the other end. It is a truism which conspired to relegate Blackpool a few seasons ago, too.
In 'White Angels', an excellent book documenting the ups and downs of Real Madrid's galactico era, John Carlin mentions how a friend, José Fajardo, described that Los Merengues side as 'a Ferrari with bicycle wheels at the back.'
Southampton are hardly fit to be compared to a Ferrari; they are, perhaps, a flashy state-of-the-art bicycle with a loud bell and a pretty wicker basket - but with no wheels to make it functional. Either way, the metaphor still rings true. Without a solid spine to the team, without sturdy foundations upon which to build, the flair at the business end of the pitch will go unrewarded.
Coincidentally Southampton's latest slayers, West Bromwich Albion, are an excellent example of a club building it's squad appropriately. Through sensible recruitment and a 'walk before we run' policy, the Baggies have shaken off their 'boing, boing' image to establish themselves as a forward-thinking, shrewd Premier League club.
Nigel Adkins has earned the chance to salvage the Saints' season, but whether his board will be willing to dip into their pockets for defensive reinforcements in January may be a different matter. It would not be a surprise if they opted against a shake-up of the defence in favour of a harsh shake-up of the first team management setup.