One of the more interesting developments during the 2012-13 Premier League season was the firing of Southampton FC manager, Nigel Adkins. Prior to his sacking, Adkins had only lost twice over a stretch of twelve games. He had the best post-war win percentage in Southampton’s history and had overseen consecutive promotions. According to Premier League managers and some football experts the firing of Adkins was harsh.
Southampton executive chairman Nicola Cortese is one of the more demanding and goal-oriented people in all of sports management. Cortese’s vision for Southampton is to have the best academy in England while the club also pushes for European football. He had a five-year plan to see Southampton promoted to the Premier League and accomplished that goal in only two-and-a-half years.
At the time of Adkins dismissal, Southampton was in fifteenth place in the league and was a part of the relegation conversation. Cortese felt Nigel Adkins had “peaked” and had done everything he could do at the club. The chairman thought it was time to bring someone in to take Southampton to the next level and he felt Mauricio Pochettino was the man to do it.
Although Cortese’s decision was met with outside criticism, within the club the choice was understood and accepted. Southampton keeper Kelvin Davis justified the sacking by saying, “We achieved a lot while he [Adkins] was at the club in a short space of time and the club is continuing to grow without him now.”
Mauricio Pochettino came to Southampton after being terminated by the Spanish club, Espanyol in 2012. He had taken over the club in January 2009 and led them to a comfortable tenth place finish in La Liga. Over the course of the next two seasons, Pochettino would lead the club to respectable finishes in the league table (eleventh place in 2009-10 and eighth place in 2010-11). But the club’s form dipped during the 2011-12 season and they finished fourteenth in the league, only six points shy of the relegation zone. The following year, Pochettino was sacked after thirteen games and Espanyol sitting in last place in La Liga.
Despite his termination from Espanyol, Pochettino was widely respected for his footballing philosophy. His club had played a pressing, entertaining style and the Argentine had shown a maturity as a manager beyond his young age (Pochettino was forty years old when Southampton hired him).
Upon his hiring, Pochettino wasted no time instilling his philosophy and mentality with the players. His high-pressing style and ability to squeeze the ball from opponents fit well with his new team. He wanted Southampton to dominate possession. How could their opponents score if they didn’t have the ball?