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Are We Too Harsh On Nigel Adkins?

Bucks re-assesses the gaffer’s Reading legacy.

Soccer - Sky Bet Championship - Reading Photocall 2014/15 - Madejski Stadium

This Saturday, Reading go up against former manager Nigel Adkins for the first time since his departure from the club in late 2014. The Scouse gaffer, who led Southampton from League One into the Premier League, spent a total of one year and nine months at Reading, taking charge of 80 games*.

*For context, Steve Clarke left on 53, whilst Jaap Stam currently sits on 84.

Despite that being a particularly tough period in Reading’s recent history, it’s safe to say that ‘Nige’ isn’t remembered as one of the club’s better managers of the last 20 years or so. Having been tasked with getting the Royals to bounce back to the Premier League after relegation at the first time of asking, he failed to do that, before the team regressed under him the following season.

However, speaking ahead of the weekend’s match, Adkins has defended his time in Berkshire, saying the following:

“I’m very proud of the spell I had at Reading to keep the football club going after it nearly went out of existence. I had nine academy players in the side and we missed out on the Championship play-offs with the last kick of the final game.”

Although that’s a pretty fair assessment, the order is a little out. It should probably read something more like this:

“I’m very proud of the spell I had at Reading. We only missed out on the Championship play-offs with the last kick of the final game, and the football club nearly went out of existence a few weeks later. During my time with Reading in the Championship, I gave 10 academy players their senior debut.”

So, on the whole, is all of that fair?

Reading FC “nearly went out of existence”

Yep, that’s true. The Anton Zingarevich era had been so financially disastrous for the club that administration was a very real prospect in the summer of 2014, with the sale of Adam Le Fondre to Cardiff paying off a tax bill to HMRC at the last minute. The striker himself said as much in late May that year, a few days after the transfer went through:

“The club is struggling financially and haven’t been able to offer me a new contract which I thought was coming last year. Then a bid came in from Cardiff and because of this tax bill it was too good to turn down.”

So, even when Reading had a very good goalscorer who wanted to stay at the club, they quite literally couldn’t afford to keep him.

Even before that, recruitment had been very difficult for Nigel Adkins. In his first transfer window, Royston Drenthe, Wayne Bridge and Danny Williams all arrived on permanent deals in the summer of 2013, but were all on such big pay that they were huge financial burdens. Chris Baird and Billy Sharp both made positive short-term impressions and wanted to stay, but there was nothing in the kitty.

Even after Le Fondre’s sale, it was a tough transfer window for the club. Sean Morrison and Alex McCarthy, who both would surely have been key first team regulars had they stayed, followed Alfie out the door to Cardiff City and QPR respectively. Simon Cox and Oliver Norwood were the only players for whom Reading paid a fee that summer, neither costing more than £1,000,000 in all likelihood. Anton Ferdinand joined on a free, whilst Glenn Murray and Jamie Mackie agreed loan deals.

Reading v Fulham - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Martin Willetts/Getty Images

On the whole, that was all pretty smart business, but the club were unable to properly build up a decent team in the long-run. Despite an encouraging start to the 2014/15 season that saw Reading 10th after 10 matches (four wins, three draws, three losses), the form become increasingly dire before a 6-1 rout at St. Andrews was the final nail in the coffin for Nigel.

That said, Adkins did leave a particularly good legacy at the club in one regard.

Promoting youth

As I said above, the gaffer gave 10 academy graduates their senior debut whilst he was in charge at Reading. That full list reads as follows:

Mikkel Andersen, Michael Hector, Jake Cooper, Aaron Tshibola, Jake Taylor, Ryan Edwards, Aaron Kuhl, Jack Stacey, Sean Long, Craig Tanner.

It’s hard to tell how many of those players would never had been given their Reading debuts under Adkins had the then-manager been able to be more active in the transfer window but, given his reputation as a promoter of youth from his time at Southampton, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

In fact, his final matchday squad was exactly 50% made up of academy graduates:

Federici, Kelly, Hector, Cooper, Gunter, McCleary, Norwood, Williams, Obita, Cox, Murray; Pearce, Tshibola, Blackman, Cummings, Taylor, Andersen, Stacey.

Considering the current debate over Jaap Stam’s willingness/unwillingness to bring through young talent, let’s give Adkins credit where it was due - he gave Reading’s academy graduates an opportunity to impress in the first team. None of our subsequent managers have equalled Nigel’s total for debuts handed out (Clarke three, McDermott v2 two, Stam seven).

He even took the time to spur on the under-14s.

In summary

None of this is to take away from how bad Reading were by the time Nigel Adkins was given the boot in December 2014. Morale amongst players and fans was low, the team wasn’t organised well enough and could very well have been relegated had a change not been made.

Side point - ‘did Steve Clarke’s appointment save Reading from relegation in 2014/15?’ is an interesting question I’ll leave you to chew over.

That all being said, Adkins was dealt a very tough hand in his time in Berkshire. The finances of the club were shaky to say the least during his first full season and, despite the arrival of the Thai consortium in 2014, Reading weren’t in a good state to be able to bounce back in 2014/15.

Yet, in giving debuts to a whole raft of academy graduates, he did what many gaffers struggle to do in the modern game - he left a good legacy.

How very positive.