Why Leeds United should turn to Nigel Adkins to reverse their fortunes
Ex-Southampton manager Nigel Adkins would be the perfect man to transform Leeds United's ailing fortunes, says James Pozzi
If Leeds United are to ever put a halt to their ongoing decline, they must turn to Nigel Adkins.
The 47-year-old, dismissed in the most ruthless of ways by Southampton last month, is a man with options.
Having left the south coast with two consecutive promotions under his belt and with his reputation as one of the brightest English managers in the game intact, Adkins certainly won’t be out of work for long.
Already linked with the Huddersfield vacancy since filled by Mark Robins, it would appear a bigger challenge could be in the offing just 20 miles further up in the White Rose county – turning around the fortunes of the ailing giant that is Leeds United, currently resembling a declining Hollywood screen icon resorting to starring in an assortment of badly produced B-movies.
With another lacklustre season fizzling out – the club’s ninth outside the top flight – under the stewardship of Neil Warnock, their long suffering support are growing restless.
As Ken Bates’ divisive reign ended last December with Middle Eastern bank Gulf Finance House Capital taking charge, the new owners, aside from an assortment of platitudes promising progress, have largely kept their cards close to their chest.
As a result, doubts over the extent of their financial clout have arisen. The club’s failure to hold onto top scorer Luciano Becchio in January, who left for Norwich City in a swap deal involving Steve Morison last month, confounded these concerns.
Warnock himself has fallen under scrutiny, with supporters calling for his head during the televised FA Cup defeat at Manchester City last weekend, a culmination of the frustration setting after seeing their team six points adrift of the play-offs and firmly stuck in mid-table.
While the play-offs aren’t entirely out of the question, there is an overriding sense of a squad not adequate enough to win promotion this season or any other playing in an outdated, one dimensional style.
It’s fair to say a revolution is needed to breathe new life into one of England’s most famous clubs.
This is where Adkins steps in.
Having taken over a Southampton side faltering in League One back in 2010 from Alan Pardew, Adkins – who had achieved two highly impressive promotions on a shoestring budget with Scunthorpe – transformed the Saints in the most miraculous of fashions.
In his first full season, his side finished runners-up to get promoted from the third tier. The following season in a higher division, they again finished second, just a point behind champions Reading, and enough to secure a top flight return after seven years away.
With the backing of the late Markus Liebherr, an exciting and shrewdly assembled squad which included inspired bargain signings Rickie Lambert, Jack Cork, Jose Fonte along with youth products Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw, complemented one another excellently.
What’s more, Adkins didn’t appear fazed by the step up from the small crowds and expectations at Glanford Park to a sleeping giant like Southampton. In fact, he seemed reassuringly at home in a larger environment.
Perfect for Leeds United, one could argue. Given the other candidates available, Adkins is the stand-out choice.
Finding themselves in transition after a long period away from the top flight – a place which many still see as their rightful home – they need a proven manager in it for the long haul, a factor often used against the 64-year-old Warnock.
Given Adkins’ innovative approach to scouting, savvy transfer market dealings and overwhelming positivity in both his and his team’s demeanours, he could emerge as a Howard Wilkinson figure, the man who revolutionised an underachieving Leeds in the 80s.
Having spent much of the decade lingering in the second division, Wilkinson transformed the club from top to bottom, gaining promotion within a season and taking the club forward to further success.
But the vital ingredient for any progression, whether the manager is Adkins or anyone else, is the man in charge will need financial backing.
Even Warnock’s most ardent of critics will agree he hasn’t been sufficiently backed in the transfer market, often having to make do with loans, youth players and bargain basement signings discarded by other clubs.
It wouldn’t take Manchester City or Chelsea levels of millions to get Leeds out of the Championship, a largely poor division which serves as a level playing field for its 24 teams and brings a level of excitement and competitiveness unmatched in English football.
If the fans that stayed away under Bates’ reign can be enticed back to Elland Road, then the club will instantly be accessing some of the club’s true potential by re-engaging with the largest fanbase outside of the Premier League.
With the owners claiming to be in it for the long term and with a commitment to getting The Whites back to the top flight, the ball is now very much in their court.
And the day Southampton decided to dispense with Adkins’ services in order to parachute Mauricio Pochettino into English football could prove as pivotal for Leeds as it was The Saints.