…if you want to be a record breaker.
That is what Nigel Adkins is, on more than one occasion, and at a startlingly regular occurrence. Since taking the helm at Southampton, the history writers and record keepers have had their work cut out.
Currently on a run of ten consecutive league victories, dropping just four points from the last possible fifty seven, Saints under his leadership have won their first four league games for the first time in their football league history, and he simultaneously became the quickest Saints manager to reach one hundred points. He is currently on a 70% win ratio from his fifty games in charge, a staggeringly high number. So why when Adkins was appointed last year were Saints fans sceptical and underwhelmed?
Well, Adkins wasn’t and perhaps still isn’t a “name” and often us Saints fans can be guilty of thinking we are still a Premier League club who should be bringing in someone big, but also, Adkins footballing background lacks glamour, or for that matter much credentials. In terms of education, Adkins would seem well equipped, holding a degree in Sports Psychology from Salford University, but in football, rather ignorantly, bits of paper are often disregarded in favour of playing reputation.
Adkins, has a little known playing reputation. A goalkeeper for his local club Tranmere Rovers from 1983 to 1986 and then at Wigan Athletic until 1993, apart from a solitary season in the second division, he spent his entire football league career in the bottom two divisions. In 93, he moved on to Bangor City and the Welsh league, and was soon given the position of player/manager. Adkins led Bangor to two Welsh titles before changing tact in his career and pursuing his physiotherapy qualifications.
Adkins took the role of Physio at Scunthorpe United before eventually becoming their manager and the rest as they say is history. So why the scepticism from Saints fans, he has already proved it to be premature and won the Saints faithful round, but actually a look at some other managers should have taught us that football playing pedigree isn’t necessarily a key requirement to be a good manager.
In fact, we as Saints fans should feel pretty silly about our snobbery, as the manager who brought us the only major trophy in our history, Lawrie McMenemy had an even less remarkable playing career.
There is an argument that actually the top managers have come from the back of less successful playing careers. To be a good coach, you don’t need to have the the physical ability, but the ability to convey ideas, tactics and strategy. Whether you can play a ball to the right place at the right time, doesn’t mean you can’t instruct someone who does have that skill to do so. Some fantastic players have also had disastrous managerial stints, Bryan Robson, a great example. Of course there is no set rule to what makes a good manager and what doesn’t, but it is of course easier to get a head start in management after a high profile playing career, so for me it is, far more of an achievement for somebody that has to work their way up to be successful than someone who is handed a top job on a plate because of their playing days.
The most recent example of someone with big success in the coaching arena is Jose Mourinho, who along with the two other managers that have dominated the English Premier League, Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, don’t have an international cap between them. The self titled “Special One” worked as an interpretor and backroom coach for years before bursting on to the scene with Porto.
Vanderlei Luxemburgo is widely regarded as the most successful coach in Brazilian football, and even found himself the manager of the national team, whom he led to Copa America triumph in 1999 and later as boss of Real Madrid, all this despite a non-eventful playing career.
Franz Beckenbaur and Mario Zagallo are in the minority amongst the World Cup winning managers, having also achieved such a feat as players. Take these two out of the World Cup winning alumni though, and the rest have less than one hundred international playing caps between them.
So why do some of the less successful players make such good coaches? Perhaps it is an added drive to succeed after not reaching the heights they might have liked in their playing days. There is definitely a case, that someone who has done everything they could as a player may have less hunger when that career ends, but like I said earlier, there is no set rule. Some players, successful or otherwise, just become students of the game, while others, no matter how well they can play it, don’t.
In Nigel Adkins, we very much have someone who became a student of the game, and now it is paying dividends, perhaps the next time we look to appoint a less glamourous named manager we will think twice before doubting them…