It's not that the decision came as a total surprise; the writing had been on the wall for a while. It's not even that you could blame Nicola Cortese for making it, really. And Southampton is not so precarious a club, these days, that the departure of a single man can tear it apart. It's just the sense that everyone was caught on the hop, that a process that might have been presented as an orderly transition had it been delayed until the end of the season, thereby keeping everybody reasonably focused and calm, instead felt like an invitation to panic. And just when things were going so well. I see your reasoning, Nicola, but why did it have to come so totally out of the blue? Why did you have to sack Nigel Adkins in the middle of the January transfer window?
On Saturday, it'll be exactly one year since Cortese made the ruthless decision to dump his manager. And all the feelings that swirled into every Southampton fan's head back then have made a sharp and unwelcome return with his own exit: shock, frustration, and a deep and fatalistic sense of foreboding. We are not a fan base that is used to good times, but in the last six months, whipped up by our limitlessly ambitious leader, we have dared to dream of something bigger. We felt so close to it. More fool us. The moment I heard, my reaction was instinctive: I should have known it was too good to last.
As I digested the news on Wednesday and wrote panicky tweets in block capitals, I thought of the regular St Mary's half-time entertainment, a superbly entertaining relay race wherein two sets of children ferry a ball round the pitch before giving it to the last member of the team, who is supposed to dribble to an open goal and donk it into the back of the net. The entertainment is chiefly to be had in watching the little mites scuffing their efforts wide from inside the six-yard box just when their success feels inevitable. Today, those of us who normally fall about laughing in the stands are suddenly all too painfully aware of how they feel.
The theme of embarrassing catastrophe snatched from the jaws of success was developed in the media reports. To some of the more hysterical branches of the press, this news seemed bound to presage the departure of Luke Shaw, Dejan Lovren, Rickie Lambert, Jay Rodriguez, and the same manager we were all grumbling about a year ago, Mauricio Pochettino. Nor were our fans immune from the pessimism and sense of recrimination and betrayal.
I, too, wish Cortese hadn't left, and I certainly wish he hadn't left at such a juncture, in such a manner – actually, that's the only bit I find impossible to understand. Ethically dubious but strategically unimpeachable, he was an extraordinarily effective leader.
Nonetheless, in the cold light of day, some of that panic began to feel a little overdone. If Katharina Liebherr and her family are determined to sell, their stewardship has been too sensible to lend credence to the argument that they are likely to hand the club over to a bunch of cowboys. Pochettino has now said with absolute clarity that he is not going to leave, a decision that will surely soothe those players who have been having nervous conversations with their agents.
Above all, the structure that Cortese put in place has not left with him. There will, as a result, surely be any number of effective leaders keen to take up the reins now that he's gone. That seems like a crazy thing to say today; for now, and for a little while yet, Cortese will seem like the indispensable man. But this time last year, that's exactly what we were all thinking about Nigel Adkins. And look how that turned out.