There’s been two sackings in the Premier League this year, and they both had huge question marks surrounding them.
Firstly, in November, Chelsea continued their trend of short spells for managers by sacking Roberto Di Matteo just months after leading the club to Roman Abramovich‘s dream, Champions League glory.
Now, in the new year, Southampton have fired their manager, Nigel Adkins. Despite two consecutive promotions and an impressive 15th place league position, executive chairman Nicola Cortese still felt the club needed an immediate change.
Both these managerial changes understandably caused unrest and divisions between both fans and the higher up members of their respective clubs, but there is a clear difference in the ways in which both these clubs have reacted;
When Chelsea appointed Rafael Benitez briefly after Di Matteo’s departure there was an uproar that not only was visible from day 1, but is only just beginning to fade now. Stamford Bridge was, not awash, but definitely against the new manager. With frequent booing, banners of disapproval and support for Di Matteo whilst the game was in play.
Chelsea have been incredibly affected by the fans reception of Benitez’ side at home with only 3 wins from 8 games at Stamford Bridge.
Now, I’m not criticizing Chelsea fans for their opinion on the matter – they had every right to disagree with yet another managerial change - especially when it was former Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez. But there is a time and a place and that is the difference between Chelsea supporters’ reactions and Southampton’s.
I find it hard to justify their choice to afflict such negativity on their side.
For Southampton fans, Adkins was loved all round. He had guided the Saints back into the big time, rebuilt solid values and an attractive style of play that was boding well for both the present and long term. When the news was released that he was to be replaced by Mauricio Pochettino, the nation and Southampton followers publicly displayed their disapproval via internet streams. The disapproval was clear. Their ownership had made them look foolish for the minute.
Yet, when Everton visited the St Mary‘s on Monday night, the Southampton fans didn’t make the same mistake as Chelsea. They vented their frustration and voiced their support for their now former boss Adkins, but did this all at the correct times.
There were chants before the game, not when the team walked out or when the game was about to begin. Then, rather than singing and distracting the team within the game, they got behind the club, regardless of the manager in an attempt to win the points. They took the opportunity of extended breaks (such as injuries) in play to sing Adkins’ name and again after the final whistle - but not once could you hear any or see any collection of supporters producing negativity within the ground whilst the game was in play.
They know, that although the decision is a strangely timed one, there is no point in creating a divide between fans, manager and players especially with the season’s job still yet to be completed. And that’s why their smarter.
Perhaps it’s because of Southampton’s hard times in the past decade, and the decline which is such an opposite to the almost spoilt Chelsea supporters of the Abramovich era that they are able to be more respectful of their situation.
Saints’ fans are able to see that they can’t afford the team to have any negative distractions, such as conflict between fans and the manager. If they were to have strongly voiced their irritations during the game or conveyed negative feelings towards Pochettino it could have put the club in a spell of large pressure – something they can really do without. There was rumours of a “white handkerchief” protest, but if so, it was minuscule in relation to the mature atmosphere.
Chelsea fans haven’t achieved anything by strongly assaulting Benitez’ early days with anger towards both him and Abramovich. The Russian will never be afraid to change the club, if he feels the need. I’m sure blues fans will regret the ways they went about this disapproval as it did coincide with poor home form.
Saints fans can take heart that they’re together as one, and must be happy with where they are, even if it hurts to say goodbye to the man who meant and did so much for them. In the words of Adkins himself, “we are together as one”.
By Stowe Gregory @stowegregory