Adkins advocates evolution not revolution at Southampton
Saints manager says club must recruit – but not at the expense of the values that earned promotion
Nigel Adkins, the Southampton manager, says that the publication of next season's Premier League fixtures will be the moment when the significance of the club's promotion to the Premier League after an absence of seven years sinks in, although, to judge by his reaction, there were at least four others on Saturday. His celebration of each of the goals that confirmed their elevation was uncharacteristically demonstrative, but the usual calm demeanour was back by the time he considered the task ahead, not drenched in champagne, but holding a cup of tea.
A time for cool appraisal lies ahead, which will mean business as usual for the former manager of Bangor City and Scunthorpe United, who admitted privately that he will be looking out for the fixtures with Liverpool, where he was a schoolboy goalkeeper. He still has his signing-on form, bearing the signature of Bob Paisley – like him, a physiotherapist-turned-manager – and has cited the Anfield boot room in the days when the Reds were serial trophy-winners, where the emphasis was on the group over the individual, as an influence on his management style.
Player recruitment this summer will not compromise those values. "Everyone contributes to the team ethic we've got and that's the biggest thing – it's about the team," he said. "Together everyone achieves more and the players work very hard for each other, which is backed up by the staff. We know what type of player we're looking for and we've been out there working very diligently to try to find players that are better than we've got but we're not going to disturb the team ethic. We'll take the momentum forward but we will be looking to improve the squad we've got and that's the natural evolution."
The style will remain unchanged on as well as off the field. Adkins spoke of other teams having proved that a winning style of passing football can transfer successfully onto the bigger stage, and the example of Norwich City is obvious, not least because they also secured successive promotions from League One and the Championship.
For Southampton to prosper, they will have to hope that Rickie Lambert can duplicate the success of Norwich's Grant Holt. Like Holt, Lambert is an old-fashioned centre-forward and a late developer who will taste the Premier League for the first time at 30. He silenced those who doubted his chances in his first experience of the Championship with 27 goals, but must now prove a new set of assumptions wrong.
Even if he does, reinforcements will be needed in other areas, with pace in central midfield and defence an obvious requirement, and that will require some immediate outlay. Nicola Cortese, the chairman, wants to base the club's future on the model of Barcelona's largely homegrown teams, with Saints' vaunted academy providing a sustainable core, and graduates such as Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain staying at St Mary's rather than being sold to plug financial holes.
Unfortunately, although Cortese is backing up his vision with continuing levels of investment in training facilities that already rank among the best, there are no Xavis or Iniestas with Hampshire accents on the verge of a first-team breakthrough. So the financial muscle bequeathed to the club by the late owner, Markus Liebherr, will have to be deployed on the first-team squad in the short term.
But a strong vote of confidence came last year when Saturday's outstanding performer Adam Lallana, 23, chose to commit himself to Southampton. "I owe the club everything," he said. "It gave me a chance. I got relegated with the club three years ago and to now be in the best league in the world, I'm just delighted. It's been a graft but it's where we want to be because we have big support, financially and from the fans, so why can't we stay there? If we keep things going we are going to do well, and not just survive. Norwich have, Swansea have. We work for each other and we have got the rewards today."
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