by Daisy Cutter
Imagine if you will this scenario.
A hard-working, kind and virtuous man one day encounters a lady who has fallen on difficult times. She is an emotional shipwreck, so paralysed by insecurity and issues it’s a wonder she can leave the house each morning. Her once pretty face is creased by worry-lines and her formerly svelte figure is now solely consigned to photographs from her heady salad days. Worse yet the lady is wracked by financial debt.
A relationship forms between the pair whereupon the man patiently nurtures and encourages his loved one’s potential. With him she feels safe, wanted, and special, and in time she slowly rediscovers her former glories. Her eyes blaze once again with self-worth and this is reflected on the job-front when, on a sunny day in May, she secures a significant promotion at work. Her money woes are behind her and she looks a million dollars.
The lady begins to hit the town, each week a new swanky club. Despite feeling a little uncomfortable in such ostentatious surroundings her beau always accompanies her, swelling with pride at each compliment she receives. ‘You look fabulous darling. It’s great to see you back at the top where you belong’. Each flattering remark is punctuated with a slightly disdainful look to her companion, the smartly dressed man who has clearly made a little too much effort to fit in with his crisp new shirt and last season’s pullover. Each air-kiss that gushes her way comes with an unspoken caveat – ‘What are you doing with him? Call me’.
After helping rebuild this lady’s confidence and social standing through boundless love and support – after being the knight from the chorus of a thousand songs – this was destined to be the couple’s year. Yet this hard-working, kind and virtuous man arrives home over Christmas to find a Dear John letter hastily scribbled and left on the kitchen table. She has left him for another. A man with wide-boy patter and a Range Rover.
Now that the scenario has been put to you I ask this simple question – how would you view this woman? Ungrateful? Selfish? Cruel?
Because this is exactly how Reading and Southampton should be perceived should they dispense with their managers in the coming months, a circumstance that is looking increasingly more likely by the day. A collective tut of disapproval and curmudgeonly bemoaning that loyalty is a long-gone commodity in the modern hard-business world of football will simply not suffice. Angry columns in the broadsheets suggesting that the game is going to hell in a handcart will not even scratch at the surface atop the depth of betrayal. Because should Nigel Adkins and Brian McDermott find themselves collecting their P45s in the weeks ahead – after coming to the rescue of ailing institutions and completely transforming their fortunes – then even by football’s grubby standards it would be a betrayal too far.
Each club presently resides in the bottom three as a winter of discontent approaches. It is the place and time where chairman traditionally reach for the panic button and look to install a big-name saviour in the dug-out, a saviour incidentally who has usually been given ample opportunity to prove their wares in the Premier League and routinely failed. As is so often the case the names being mentioned are as predictable as the fact they’re being mentioned at all.
The current favourites to usurp Adkins at St Marys are Alan Shearer, Harry Redknapp, and…sweet baby Jesus….Graeme Souness.
Whereas Adkins performed minor miracles at Scunthorpe before taking charge of a flatlining Saints, over-hauling the squad, mentality, hell, the entire club from the ground up, before guiding them to two consecutive promotions, Shearer has bossed precisely eight matches in his entire life. Even those were in an almost ambassadorial role at Newcastle. But of course the monotone charisma vacuum was a top player and a household name and the skewed logic within football remains that those two things somehow automatically qualifies a person for a immensely challenging and convoluted job that has absolutely no requirement for fame or golden boots.
Souness meanwhile is a managerial byword for failure. Whilst at Southampton in a previous age he was duped into playing a con artist who claimed to be George Weah’s cousin. It is inconceivable to the point of comedy to imagine a similar embarrassment befalling the meticulous Adkins.
Lastly, Redknapp also has previous on the South Coast. Plenty of it. His legacy there is like a pile of dogs*** left by his extremely rich dog Rosie on Sandbanks beachfront. After referring to Portsmouth as his ‘spiritual home’ he did the unthinkable and switched to their hated rivals whereupon he did his one-trick of spending lavishly (money that Southampton could ill-afford) and promptly took the club down. At least with the Saints his wheeler-dealing ‘only’ brought relegation. His two stints at Fratton Park have partly contributed to one of the finest clubs in British sport teetering consistently on the edge of existence. So yeah, a great shout is ‘our ‘Arry’ to take over from a man who has spent two years carefully and expertly resuscitating a club from Redknapp’s own f***wittery in the first place. A hard-working, decent and virtuous man who is now facing the boot simply because his team – who only two seasons ago were facing Chesterfield et al – have so far needed ten games to adapt to the harsh climes of the top flight.
At Reading there is less talk of McDermott equally being shot down for his own success but with every week the club resides in the drop-zone the drums are pattering and the gallows are being erected.
The likable gaffer, who hails from nearby Slough, joined the Royals in 2000 and has been a loyal servant ever since, putting in shifts as chief scout, reserve team manager, caretaker manager, before finally being installed in the first team dug-out. In his first season in charge he guided them to their first FA Cup quarter final for 83 years before setting about forging a promotion campaign that took Reading all the way to the heartbreak of a play-off final defeat.
Nobody gave Reading a chance the following year, citing a probable play-off hangover and key departures, but incredibly McDermott bolstered the belief and in an infamously difficult division to get out of he took them that crucial step further into dreamland and riches.
One of the reasons proffered for McDermott’s position now looking untenable is his lack of Premier League experience. This is despite Shearer being punted for the Saints role with an exact quarter of that said experience. Ah but McDermott isn’t a ‘name’ and chairman – even the good ones – are prone to getting star-struck and stupid when panic arises.
Both Reading and Southampton have unquestionably struggled at times since August; their defences have been breached too often and too easily. But in both instances there has been more than enough adventure, fluidity and intent to offer considerable hope.
Indeed it could be argued that all that is required are a couple of quality purchases in the forthcoming January window to significantly improve matters and both McDermott and Adkins have proven beyond doubt their shrewdness in the transfer market. They will have their targets in place.
Should Redknapp, Shearer, or whichever ‘saviour’ is being lined up at St Marys and the Madejski, swan in, make these minor surgeries and then be credited with turning the club’s fortunes around this would not only be a travesty of justice. It would be abhorrent.
It is said that Nigel Adkins often recites a poem to himself in times of stress. Called ‘The Guy In the Glass’ it suggests that judgement from others does not compare in magnitude to the importance of being able to look in the mirror and meet your own critical gaze.
Whatever happens Nigel Adkins and Brian McDermott will be able to look square in the glass. Will Southampton and Reading?