Perhaps a background in goalkeeping and physiotherapy is not the natural route most managers take to reach the hotseat of a Barclays Premier League club.
But during ten years as Scunthorpe’s medical man, Adkins acquired 'a library of psychological and motivational knowledge gleaned from being the figure at a club who deals daily with players at their lowest,' said someone who knows him personally.
Ian Baraclough, an Iron defender treated by Adkins who went on to join his coaching staff at Scunthorpe, is quoted in an extensive Guardian blog
, remembering the impact Adkins had psychologically, saying “Nigel’s always said 'you've got to have certain tools for what you’re going into’. As a physio it’s not just the knowledge of human anatomy. You're also a father figure, you’re a manager, a psychologist, a social worker: you're everything that players need. Being a physio was a perfect grounding for him – he could see certain situations as they were building. He could speak to players in a certain way so that they would feel strong coming out of the room. He did it with me as a player. It’s his whole manner; his demeanour is probably welcoming to everybody, nobody is made to feel isolated.”
But as a manager, Adkins has always had a ruthless side, desperate to achieve. His first managerial posts came with Bangor where Gwynfor Jones, then a fan who later became the club secretary, recalled, “He performed miracles. The second-last game of that first season [1993-94] we needed many goals against Haverfordwest to have a chance of the title, and we beat them 9-0. We then had to win at Porthmadog and we did. By winning the league we went into the Uefa Cup, then we retained the league quite comfortably the following year.”
Four promotions in little more than six seasons as a first team manager is an enviable record. And, perhaps unsurprisingly considering that last statistic, supporters have always taken the Birkenhead boy to their hearts. “There was uproar when he was sacked. He's his own man, he will not be dictated to about his style of football or the team that he picks,” Jones added. Then, even after Scunthorpe couldn’t stay up after their promotion as champions, United fans continued to sing, “Who needs Mourinho, we’ve got our physio!” And when he left Southampton at the start of the year, Saints fans staged a protest at the next game after his dismissal.
“Nigel’s very calm. He doesn’t just dive in. At half-time, for example, which can be very fraught, you can get carried away. You need to keep control of that and he is not a tea-cup thrower,” Baraclough said. “For one I believe he'll take Southampton into the Premier League and I see no reason why he can't go higher and work with more high-profile players.”
He wasn't wrong. Adkins did lead the St Mary’s outfit into the top flight. And, even amongst some of the best football teams on the planet, his Southampton side still earned rave reviews for its positive and attractive style. “What's paramount about Nigel is the style of football he had his teams playing. It was never long ball and big hoof. He also had a mix of local, young and experienced players,” Jones said harking back to his Bangor days. “He was really popular with fans. We didn't have a clubhouse – the players and Nigel went to the pub for something to eat – and he always spent time talking to supporters and that carried through to his team. He was always enthusiastic about the game and a perfect gentleman as well: he hasn't changed, he's still got that enthusiasm.”