Owner Anton Zingarevich admitted that Nigel Adkins’ promotion expertise – rather than his survival skills – got him appointed as Reading manager, suggesting the club are already preparing for life in the Championship next season.
Zingarevich declared that it was a “CV that speaks for itself” that prompted him to appoint Adkins as the replacement for Brian McDermott, who was sacked earlier in the month.
Four promotions – two with Scunthorpe United, where he had previously been the physiotherapist, plus back-to-back successes that propelled Southampton from League One to the Premier League – feature on that document, as well as one relegation.
Adkins’ immediate task is to discover ways to preserve the Royals’ top-flight status and he spoke bullishly of achieving such a feat when he was unveiled in a press conference alongside Zingarevich and former owner Sir John Madejski. Other managers have done just that in recent seasons, from Bryan Robson at West Bromwich Albion in 2005 and Harry Redknapp at Portsmouth the following season to Alan Curbishley at West Ham in 2007 and Roy Hodgson at Fulham a year later.
Yet the 48-year-old must know that in accepting the Reading post he runs the risk of joining an entirely different elite band of managers: those who have been relegated with two top-flight clubs in the same season, a fate suffered by Billy McNeill with Manchester City and Aston Villa in 1987. Reading are currently seven points adrift while it would take only a small stumble for Southampton, who sacked Adkins in January, to join them in the bottom three.
Adkins’ departure from St Mary’s was as abrupt and ruthless as McDermott’s removal from the Reading post on 11 March. Adkins was replaced by former Espanyol manager Mauricio Pochettino, who does not speak English very well, and soon went to arbitration over obtaining compensation.
Yet he also found the time to prepare for his next appointment – he denied he had held talks with Leeds United of the Championship, who had been hoping to make him the successor to Neil Warnock – and Reading, who also courted Gus Poyet of Brighton & Hove Albion, are hoping a busy few weeks of unemployment can be used to engineer a remarkable escape.
“I went on a goalkeeping course at Warwick University,” he said. “Edwin van der Sar gave a good talk and Eric Steele led it. I went on another course at St George’s Park where they had the guys over from Belgium talking about how their academy system has worked so well and they have got players in the Premier League.
“I also met some rugby coaches as well as Andy Robinson and had dinner with Jonny Wilkinson – I wanted to see the mindset of the top players. I’m a massive rugby man.”
Adkins will have to prove himself adept in the transfer market as well, with Zingarevich indicating that McDermott’s inability to attract big names to the club hastened his demise, although the Russian did admit that last season’s promotion as Championship winners – ahead of Adkins’s Saints – had been something of a surprise.
“We tried to sign very big players in January but weren’t very successful.” Should McDermott have done more? “Yes,” he said.