Nigel Adkins has never played Fantasy Football on his computer.
“I don’t have to,” he replied when the question arose during yesterday’s media briefing. “Because I’m fortunate enough to do it for real.”
But if he did, if he could construct a team without mundane variables such as agents, bad moods and balance sheets getting in the way, what would it look like? Adkins’ answer, delivered in typically forthright fashion, revealed that Sheffield United’s supposedly quixotic manager is apparently a pragmatist at heart.
“You can play all the different formations, use all the tactics, shapes and theories that you want. But ultimately it’s about winning. Pure and simple. You need to do it with the players that you’ve got.”
Tonight, when Shrewsbury Town are the visitors to Bramall Lane, Adkins will hope to do exactly that. And, after being jeered by sections of their own crowd during an emphatic home victory over Fleetwood Town recently, in especially captivating style.
Words, though, can be misleading and Adkins is no hard-nosed realist ready to ditch all his principles in favour of results. The truth, as those who have tracked his coaching career closely, lies somewhere in between. Southampton blazed a trail through two divisions playing swashbuckling football but at Scunthorpe and Reading, where money was in short supply, Adkins placed greater emphasis on substance rather than style. United, who unveiled the 50-year-old as Nigel Clough’s successor during the close season, began the campaign looking to overwhelm opponents with pace, power and goals. However, when their form dipped, Adkins’ has predictably and prudently adopted a slightly more measured approach.
“I want us to end up at the top of the table,” he said. “And that’s always going to be the case.
“Yes, this is a results driven business. Everything depends on those. But ultimately it’s the team, the team working together, that gets those. We want to win and we want to entertain supporters. Everyone has a different opinions about how you do that but, underneath everything else, we all share a common target and a common bond.”
United enter the 25th match of Adkins’ reign 11th in the table following Saturday’s draw at Walsall. His comments before that fixture were particularly revealing and suggested that, as the club’s head of recruitment Lee Turnbull prepares to finalise its list of targets during next month’s transfer window, a siege mentality is also developing behind the scenes with much of the recent criticism being aimed in their direction regarded as premature by players and staff alike.
“Sometimes, people think you can get parachuted in and change things around just like that,” Adkins said. “But to change things takes time and we are moving in the right direction. Yes, we appreciate that it’s about results. But we are also looking to put the foundations in place to try and build something sustained in place.”
Adkins was also determined to point-out the difference between a mitigating circumstance and an excuse.
“We are looking for stability and consistency,” he said. “And, as everyone knows, we’ve not been able to get too much of either for one reason or another yet. But hopefully that’s changing as some of the well-documented injuries we’ve had are healing-up and those who have already come back are getting fitter and sharper. That puts us in a better position to get that consistency. Consistent selections go hand in hand with consistent performances as people get used to each other and partnerships develop.”
Shrewsbury, who gained promotion from League Two last term, are 20 but likely to pose a serious test; particularly if Micky Mellon directs his team to defend deep and frustrate. Southend, whose manager Phil Brown expressed an interest in the United job following Kevin Blackwell’s departure in 2010 claimed a draw at Bramall Lane 10 days ago thanks to an expansive, attack-minded display. But their positive attitude has proved the exception rather than the rule this term. Perseverance and patience could be required against opponents who have not won at this stadium since 1988.
“The players have trained well, they work hard and have shown exactly the right attitude,” Adkins said. “That’s something we got a sense of very early on after coming in, the spirit in the group, and we were right because it’s very, very good. But I can talk about character and attitude all I want. It’s all about results.”