WHAT has Nigel Adkins brought to Sheffield United? Boundless, some would say mindless, enthusiasm, Billy Sharp and a huge dilemma for the club’s owners.
If Danny Wilson, Nigel Clough and in the good old days of the Championship, Kevin Blackwell, were deemed not to up to the job then Adkins may as well leave now.
It is beyond question that had Kevin McCabe and Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud been able to gaze into a crystal ball last summer and seen to their horror where United are now, Adkins would not have been appointed.
This season has been a complete write-off. A waste of time, effort and hard-earned cash. If anything can be salvaged from the wreckage it is that Adkins has had the time to discover where he got it badly wrong. An unflinching eagerness to learn from mistakes has been the foundation of his career and something that stands him in good stead. That along with the embarrassment of having to appoint a ninth manager in as many years, should be enough to buy him until Christmas to get it right providing there isn’t further humiliation.
Let’s be clear. Predecessor Clough was sacked not for what happened on the pitch, but because of his stubborn, divisive and take-it-or-leave-it attitude off it. He created us-or-them situations in the dressing room and in the boardroom. That’s why he had to go. Something that is overlooked or ignored by some outspoken defenders who are in a position to know better.
In direct contrast, Adkins resembles a loyal lapdog. His masters’ voice. There is no behind-the-scenes division as far as personality is concerned. Like Clough, however, the current manager’s problems are of his own making, including a readiness to accept without question what he was told before being appointed.
Such has been the decline at Bramall Lane during his ten months in charge, the Blades could conceivably have been fighting a battle of a very different kind without striker Sharp’s 17-goal presence.
As it is United slipped into the bottom half of the League One table following a midweek 3-1 defeat at Southend. A position which is indefensible. This wasn’t in the brochure.
Nine points from the last play-off position with seven matches remaining ensures third division football at the Lane for a sixth season. Mathematically, of course, it is still possible to scramble into the end-of-season lottery, but reality dictates that is pure fantasy.
Which is what Adkins is good at. In fact he appears to be living in a parallel universe. His endless platitudes and blind optimism in the face of desperate failure have, like his whole regime, long since run out of steam. The more he keeps up the pretence the more he sounds like a man flailing around with no answers. In complete denial and living off a reputation which he has failed spectacularly to live up to in his last 29 months of management at Reading and the Lane.
No-one could reasonably argue with Adkins’ football principles. Play it out from the back, dominate possession in midfield and use pace and movement to create goals. The problem is it hasn’t happened. Nor has it looked likely.
In fact nothing Adkins says on a regular and monotonous basis has happened. “We’ve identified a leadership group of six,” he said pre-season. Who are they? United are the embodiment of a team without a leader.
The appointment of Jay McEveley as club captain was met with gasps of amazement by supporters. The 31-year-old Liverpudlian is neither a leader of men nor anything but a very average defender.
“Automatic promotion is the goal and so it should be,” said Adkins before the season kicked off with an abysmal 4-0 defeat at Gillingham. United have never been in contention. Trumped by clubs such as Burton Albion with a budget many times smaller and a fanbase to match who were watching League Two football last season.
As United’s season derailed, Adkins lowered the bar, insisting the first half of the season was “all about staying in the competition and seeing where we are after Christmas.”
From the New Year “it’s all about putting a run together,” and “we’re at the business end of the season.” After none of that materialised this week we’ve had the bankrupt “you’ll never hear me give up,” and a rather pathetic “we’ll be back in the Premier League one day.” That Adkins doesn’t appear to be aware that he is insulting the intelligence of the average supporter, is worrying. That United allow him to continue doing it unchecked is just as concerning.
For a businessman like McCabe who has ploughed £85million into the club, he would surely not take seriously anyone trying to strike a property deal who came to the table offering that kind of nonsensical rhetoric based on such a flaky foundation.
‘Could have’, ‘should have’ followed by ‘but we didn’t’ feature strongly in Adkins’ limitless repertoire of spin. You would have thought the Blades had won a famous victory listening to the manager wax lyrical about the recent 3-2 home win against Crewe. “What a great first half,” said Adkins “and what character they showed.”
No mention of why his team threw away a two-goal lead against no-hopers Crewe who arrived at the Lane second from bottom and left propping up the table. But now that is how low United are measured.
Adkins can’t even live up to his own catchphrase. ‘United together’ he has insisted in a season which has been anything but. Indeed, the disconnect between loyal supporters and the players, manager and boardroom has never been wider in my 45 years’ experience.
When there has been discord it is usually with one or the other. But all three? Something United recognised last week by slashing season ticket renewal prices by 10 per cent in acknowledgment of what a pitiful season it has been. A financial apology.
Blades fans are no strangers to pain, frustration and let-down. Despite everything they have stuck with Adkins and it is likely that owners McCabe and Prince Abdullah, for the sake of embarrassment alone, will choose to as well for the time being.
ENEMIES IN BOARDROOM
The season can’t end soon enough for the Blades boss but there is another hurdle to jump before then. I have been told on good authority from within the club this week that before Adkins can start his clear-out he has to silence disquiet among some directors allied with co-owner Prince Abdullah’s concern.
McCabe met the Saudi, whose interest is waning, in March to try and shore up their differences and develop a strategy going forward. It included the new ticket offer to try and maintain attendances. It also involves Adkins on the proviso United don’t finish the campaign in freefall.
With promotion hopes over, languishing in 13th position, the lowest point they have been all season, and five of the remaining seven fixtures against teams above them in the table, even that appears a tall order.
In effect Adkins’ season starts at home to promotion-chasing Walsall. It couldn’t be a bigger test. The Saddlers have the best away record in the league suffering only one defeat on their travels this season.
Lose the fans now and Adkins’ boardroom enemies will hold the balance of power.