Southampton: nice club no more
When Southampton defeated Manchester United 1-0 to win the FA Cup in 1976, I remember welcoming the class reaction of Tommy Docherty. “If there was a consolation,” the United manager said immediately afterwards, “it was that Southampton were the team to beat us. They are nice people down there.”
The view about Southampton was common at the time, but what made Docherty’s words so important was that his team had just lost a final they should have won. Rare indeed is the man who can show such dignity in defeat. Other United managers could have learnt something from Docherty.
Two generations on, we inhabit a different world – a world in which Southampton FC is no longer a club run by “nice people” but, rather, by ruthless imposters. How else does one explain the sacking on Friday of Nigel Adkins? How else does one accept that Adkins, the club’s best manager in a decade, no longer runs the team he led from League One to the Premier League?
“This decision has been made with the long-term ambitions of Southampton Football Club in mind,” Nicola Cortese, the Southampton chairman, said. “Whilst we acknowledge the contribution Nigel has made during the past two years, for the club to progress and achieve our long-term targets a change was needed.”
Cortese, an Italian banker, whose knowledge of football is down there something alongside his knowledge of what makes a successful manager, was guilty, arguably, of the most patronising statement of the season. Replacing Adkins is Mauricio Pochettino, the former Argentina international defender, who left his job as coach of Espanyol in Spain two months ago and is scarcely one of Europe’s top coaches.
“Mauricio is a well-respected coach of substantial quality who has gained a reputation as an astute tactician and excellent man manager. I have every confidence that he will inspire our talented squad of players to perform at the highest possible level.”
Really? I find him to be a limited coach, who thinks too much and falls out with players too easily. He was hardly a success with Espanyol and he left the club when it was clear that he would make no significant improvement.
The nice Southampton of 1976 ceased to be nice when the club banned all photographers from covering its home games from 2012, a move that critics argued threatened press freedom. Then in League One, the club denied photographers press accreditation for the new season, and instead appointed a single agency, Digital South, with which other outlets will have to negotiate for photographs.
I remember the joke at the time: what is the capital of North Korea? Southampton.
Three years on, it seems as though Southampton FC is moving farther and farther away from the club that so impressed Tommy Docherty in 1976.