Former Liverpool schoolboy keeper Nigel Adkins relishing return to Anfield as Southampton manager

 

Southampton manager Nigel Adkins is looking forward to returning to Merseyside this weekend and testing himself against boyhood idols Liverpool.

The Birkenhead-born Saints boss comes from a family of Reds and was a schoolboy at Anfield as a young goalkeeper.

He now returns to his old stomping ground as a Premier League manager and is both proud and excited by the prospect of leading Southampton out at Anfield this weekend.

"It will be good to go there," he said. "I was a schoolboy at Liverpool. I had the option to stay there before I decided to go to Tranmere Rovers, which was important from my career point of view.

"We are obviously steeped in tradition on Merseyside: you're either red, blue or the white of Tranmere.

"You are either a Liverpool supporter or an Everton supporter, but you're always going to be a Tranmere supporter if you're from Birkenhead.

"Going to Merseyside is going to be great for everybody and great for all our supporters to go to Liverpool, a club steeped in tradition.

"Obviously they're going through a transition at this moment in time, but it is a game that we'll look forward to as we do every single game in the Barclays Premier League."

Adkins is one of a number at Southampton with connections to Liverpool and top scorer Rickie Lambert even has a tattoo of a Liver bird on his shoulder.

The Saints boss, who played at Anfield three times as a player, tried to downplay the personal importance of his managerial debut at the famous old ground, although admitted he has fond memories of his time there.

"This shouldn't be about me and Liverpool," he said. "It should be about Southampton, shouldn't it?"

When pushed further, he added: "Listen, I remember training with Ray Clemence, I remember saving a penalty from Graeme Souness in a practice game.

"You are alongside Alan Hansen and Kenny Dalglish in the small-sided games. As a kid you were just involved and joined in, which was great.

"It was good memories of being at Liverpool. They took us to the League Cup final when they beat West Ham.

"You go on the bus with all the schoolboy players and young pros. We all went down on the coach together to watch Liverpool so that was really good."

Adkins' decision to leave Liverpool for Tranmere proved a wise move as the goalkeeper was awarded his first-team debut aged just 17.

Now as Saints boss he is putting his faith in a goalkeeper not much older than he was in the form of Paulo Gazzaniga.

However, the 20-year-old Argentinian has been found wanting on several occasions this season and was embarrassingly caught out last night as Norwich held Saints to a 1-1 draw at St Mary's.

Gazzaniga was also at fault for the equaliser against Swansea recently and, while unbeaten in four matches, Saints could have been going to Anfield on the back of four successive wins had it not been for those mistakes.

"Likewise it could have been less if he hadn't made the saves against Newcastle and other relevant saves in other games," Adkins said in Gazzaniga's defence.

"Listen, he is a young goalkeeper. Situations are going to be highlighted if we don't keep clean sheets, he doesn't make saves, doesn't kick the ball right, doesn't catch it.

"They just get highlighted and magnified even more so, but we've got to have confidence in the young man.

"We believe he is going to the very, very top and I have certainly got a lot of confidence in him."

Adkins' comments suggest Gazzaniga will start again for Saints at Anfield, but he was coy when asked about the fitness of Danny Fox, Frazer Richardson and Richard Chaplow.

"On the training ground some of them were there this morning," he said.

"We'll analyse where we are with all the players for the weekend, but they're getting closer to a return."

PA

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