Should He Stay Or Should He Go?

By Jim Bonner
Last updated : 28 January 2009

Neville Dalton is a journalist and Portsmouth fan of more than 40 years.

Who'd be a football manager?

I know there are plenty among us on these message boards.

We always know what's best, and we certainly know when one of our fellow "managers" is talking rubbish.

The sheer quantity of variations of opinion about certain players, tactics, formations and approaches to games should reveal something to all of us.

There is no one answer.

Admittedly, some real managers seem to get more answers right than others. They're usually the ones guiding clubs at the tops of their divisions, often with the odd bit of silverware behind their desks.

Though even then, very few of them can sit back in those comfy leather chairs, filing their nails and admiring the trophies they once won.

The truth of modern-day football is that even the best managers are only a string of bad results away from being fired (well, except maybe the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, but then, they've been in the same job for years - may be a clue there, club owners!).

So where does Tony Adams stand?

Well, not exactly in the same category as the above two.

In fact, judging by his record, more like the Alain Perrins of this world. But then, even Reggie has a decent record in France.

This management lark is a lot more complicated than mere statistics.

Yet the reality is that while Pompey decide whether they've made a mistake in appointing the managerial rookie to the Fratton Park hot seat, the club is spiralling down the table, heading for the door marked Championship with ne'er a glance towards the safety rails marked Win or even Draw at the moment.

And that is the dilemma facing Sacha, Peter Storrie and their board of directors.

When is too late?

Would a change at this stage of the season make a difference?

Wouldn't more upheaval just add to Pompey's woes?

Shouldn't we just wait and see if his transfer-window activity and tactical plans bear fruit before pulling the trigger yet again?

A more pertinent question might be: Would any other manager that we can afford do a better job in the circumstances?

We all knew we had the makings of a really good side last season. A bit of trimming and enhancing here and there, but what promise!

Sulley Muntari, Pedro Mendes, Lassana Diarra, Jermain Defoe. Add the experience and quality of David James, Sol Campbell and Sylvain Distin, plus the immense promise of talented youngsters Glen Johnson and Niko Kranjcar and you're looking at regular runs in Europe and probably another trophy or two to add to the 2008 FA Cup.

This season - the season when we just needed to move on a bit - we've been left with Sean Davis and Richard Hughes running the midfield, with rookie defenders Younes Kaboul and Marc Wilson to come in when either or both are injured. Or suspended.

Gravy train

Hardly moving on.

And how much of that is Adams' fault?

The fact is, 2008-9 is the season when Pompey's gravy train dried up.

For whatever reason - and given the opacity of the club's relationship with its fans when it comes to its financial dealings, I doubt we'll ever know - the money just hasn't been there.

Few big signings - and those who have been allowed in, only at the expense of existing vital cogs rather than as enhancements to the squad - some might argue a cut-price manager, and a freeze on expansion, on and off the field.

An outsider might say Pompey were gearing up for a lower-grade of football next season, and with half a dozen or so squad players out of contract in the summer, maybe the financial blow in the event of such an outcome might be softened a little.

Not that I'm knocking the club for reining in its spending. It's something I've written about before, and if the financial prospects are not as rosy as once thought, it would be crazy to attempt to continue spending our way into the heart of a recession (whatever the Government might want us to do).

But it does put Tony Adams' managerial career so far into a little more perspective, suggesting the problem about our future lies more probably inside offices rather than on grass.

As I said earlier, statistics don't tell the whole story, although unless we improve dramatically on our 20% win record under Adams, they will tell us that we are relegated.

A fairer, more informative measure might be an analysis of his performance - in the transfer market, in the dressing room and (via his players) on the pitch.

Here goes:

Transfer activity

Everyone seems to agree that the sale of Diarra wasn't Adams' fault - or even a bad thing, given the Frenchman's desire to perform on the highest stage.

Defoe could have been made to stay. But would that be wise, given his desire to return to Uncle Harry and those lovely, lovely Spurs fans?

I suspect not. And while I was prepared to turn a blind eye to the negative side of Defoe while he was wearing a Pompey shirt, I couldn't help but notice his miserable body language and constant complaining when blue-shirted colleagues failed to deliver quite the killer ball he required.

His last few performances for Pompey left much to be desired, and while nobody is suggesting he missed his farewell penalty against his old club on purpose, the dire kick did sum up his final few weeks at Fratton Park.

In any case, whatever the club says, the combined £30m or so that the pair fetched would come in handy in Pompey's current predicament.

Just a pity the predicament is such that it evidently can't be spent on the pitch.

Despite his inclination to litter every performance with mini-crises, most people welcome the permanent signing of Nadir Belhadj, who was an impressive loan acquisition by Harry Redknapp.

His pace and skill are tremendous assets, but I must admit, I have been won round by the growing voice demanding that he never be put near the left-back spot again.

Securing Glen Johnson's signature on a long-term contract extension was possibly Pompey's best bit of transfer-window activity. Admittedly, our Mr Fix It chairman would have sorted that one out, but Johnno clearly wouldn't have signed if he didn't have faith in and respect for Adams.

Thank you, Tony.

Now for his three latest recruits - Jermaine Pennant, Pelé and Hayden Mullins.

Looking to the future is a wise and important part of a football club manager's role. And there is no doubt that Pelé has time on his side.

But he's a loan signing. Until the end of the season.

The only way you'll know whether he's up to the rigours of the Premier League is if you play him in that league.

In Pompey's current position, that could represent an unacceptable gamble - or it could prove an Andres d'Alessandro-style piece of inspired thinking.

But what did Tony say at his post-signing press conference?

"One for the future. Maybe one that I will use this season. Maybe not."

Well, he's hardly going to be able to gauge his ability to adapt to the speed and physical pressure of the Premier League by watching him in the reserves or on the training pitch.

Unless Tony gives Pelé a go - and he hits the ground running - maybe not such a good use of a precious loan slot.

Pennant has shown already not only that he has pace and skill, but that he is prepared to work and commit himself to a cause that in all likelihood he is probably going to be involved with for little more than a few months.

He appears to have been a long-term target of the club, and his signing looks like a successful move to address Pompey's equally long-term problem with the right-midfield slot.

So where does Tony play him on his debut? That's right - in the wholly alien environment of central midfield, linking the defensive players with - er - Peter Crouch or no one.

And where does he play the man who would surely have been more suited to that midfield-cum-striker role? That's right. On the right wing.

Yes, David Nugent had done reasonably well in that position when needs must, but to keep him out there after signing a player made for that role is the clearest signal yet to me that Adams is using his keen mind to experiment when Pompey need a more conventional approach.

And what of Hayden Mullins? His signings split the fans, probably not least because he's the last player you notice when he's playing for the opposition.

But the welter of compliments from West Ham supporters, who seemed genuinely sorry to see him go, seemed to persuade many of us that he was a good signing.

My personal recollections are that he was generally one of the least effective players whenever Pompey played Crystal Palace or West Ham teams with him in.

But of course, I'm prepared to hold fire on my judgment until he has had a chance to prove himself.

I have to say, his initial performance, against Aston Villa, did nothing to suggest I'll be changing my opinion.

But I'm sure we'll all give him the time he deserves. Let's hope it's time Pompey can afford.

Tactics

Well, the respective roles of Pennant and Nugent in the first-half of the Swansea game have already undermined much of the good work Adams has actually achieved.

And he has achieved something. Many of Pompey's initial performances under his tenure featured some of the best attacking football we've seen for some time.

Certainly, under Harry last season and the early part of this, we failed to reach those standards more often than we matched them.

But yes, this is a results business. And we won the FA Cup last season without playing well in a whole tie, let alone the full run.

OK, we fell away miserably in the league on the back of the cup run. But thanks to the magnificent base built in the first half of the season, we were still comfortable enough to finish in our highest position for more than half a century.

In recent weeks, the toll of defeat after defeat, of dropping points even when playing well, began sapping the players' confidence - something that was particularly evident in the two home games in the FA Cup, against Bristol City and Swansea.

It's true, in another season (or under a luckier manager!) if only 10% of our chances had been put away, we'd be in the 5th round of the Cup and a good four or five places higher up the league.

But it's not, and we're not.

Adams' persistence with 4-5-1 after reacting badly to Pompey's first few results under his stewardship tied the team's hands when it came to eking out chances while fielding such a limited midfield.

The arrival of Pennant may encourage the switch back to 4-4-2, which helped us look so much better and effective (albeit still without the desired end-product) in the second half against Swansea and for virtually the entire match against Villa.

It was watching that expansive game, with some free-flowing football once again, that persuaded me that my verdict on Adams' future is - stick with him.

Before his appointment, I advocated his promotion, citing the value of stability. And with less than a week of the transfer window left, I see no point rocking that boat now.

There aren't many available managers within the new fiscally-challenged Pompey's budget that I would prefer.

But they do need better players - fast.

And they do need to start producing the right results - really quickly.

Otherwise, it's Adams out!

Portsmouth Match Reports

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