If things had turned out differently then Phil Parkinson, not Nigel Adkins, could have been patrolling Sheffield United’s technical area at Valley Parade on Sunday afternoon, writes James Shield.
The Bradford City manager was on the short-list of names compiled by Bramall Lane’s board of directors following Nigel Clough’s departure during the close season before, following much detailed discussion, a combination of gut-instinct, populism and previous swung the race.
Chris Basham had no desire to denigrate Parkinson’s capabilities when he outlined the impact Adkins had made since being appointed earlier this month. But, the more the visitors’ midfielder talked, the more he gave the impression that United’s hierarchy made exactly the right choice.
“It’s a great place to be,” Basham said. “It always has been, the atmosphere among the group has always been pretty special to be fair. There’s just something a little bit different now, more of a special feeling perhaps, that I can’t really explain but that you definitely know is there.”
Much of the confidence coursing through the dressing room at present can be attributed to results although last weekend’s defeat by Bury, which marked United’s return to action following the international break, curbed some of the momentum they have gathered in recent weeks. Basham, a member of the starting eleven which also succumbed to Colchester three days later, remained at the Redtooth Academy while the likes of David Edgar and Louis Reed traversed the globe with their respective countries. His activity sheet during that enforced break provided an illuminating insight into what makes Adkins tick.
“Some teams you get a few days off, but this gaffer doesn’t want us to do that - just Saturday and Sunday off to recover - because it was a really hard shift during the week,” Basham, speaking earlier this month, said. “Knowing that we didn’t have a game on the Saturday, we could put extra in. We had the weekend off top spend with families, get away somewhere, or go home. Some of the Scottish lads went back home, I went back to Newcastle, then back in Monday morning ready to go again.”
“All managers are different, some give you time off, some managers like to see you in,” Basham continued. “We work really hard and the gaffer demands a lot. But that’s what being a professional is all about and you don’t notice the work so much because it’s really enjoyable.”
Adkins, as Basham’s training ground diary reveals, is a hard task master who demands long hours from his players. The 50-year-old, whose side prepared for the first of six Yorkshire derbies they will contest this term fifth in the table, is meticulous too with an eye for the unusual. Addressing the media before Tuesday’s defeat, Adkins admitted his Saturday evening’s are spent analysing games and splicing motivational videos for United’s Sunday morning debriefs. Assistant Andy Crosby and Dean Wilkins take a detailed rather than broadbrush approach.
“There’s a lot of one-to-ones on the training field. Not the gaffer, he does more of the general team stuff and takes more of a general overview,” Basham explained. “Andy and Dean tend to do the individual stuff and, to be honest, it’s brilliant. They’re always talking to you, giving you information and advice.”
Adkins and Parkinson are both accomplished managers with promotions on their respective CV’s. But whereas the latter is an arch-pragmatist - adopting a long ball style last season to circumnavigate City’s battle-scarred pitch - Adkins is an unapologetic idealist, implying earlier this month that he is willing to gamble with a point if there is a chance of winning all three. It is an outlook which also differs sharply from the more conservative philosophy of his predecessor who often preferred to deploy Basham, despite signing him as a midfielder, in a defensive role.
“The coaches are improving my game a lot,” he said. “I am 27 years old now and reaping the rewards. It’s hard work, but hopefully we will reap the rewards come May.
“I am really enjoying being in midfield. I like what the staff are trying to do for me personally. My energy is always my best asset. I don’t know if the gaffer sees me as a centre-half, so I need to focus on being the midfielder that he wants me to be.”
Basham, barring injury or illness, is again set to anchor United’s engine room when they attempt to topple opponents who drew with Fleetwood Town last weekend. Parkinson, who agreed a new three year contract during the build-up to that fixture, are 15th; winning two and losing two of their eight outings so far this term. Devante Cole, recruited on a two year contract from Manchester City last month, is expected to pose the biggest threat to a rearguard which, before Bury’s visit to Bramall Lane, had been breached just once in over six hours of league football. Clearly, for all his determination to win games in style, Adkins also shares some of Parkinson’s prudence with tightening United’s defence resolve - they conceded seven times in last season’s play-off semi-final against Swindon Town - one of his priorities after taking charge. Significant progress appeared to have been made until Colchester sent them back to the drawing board.
“Everyone is enjoying coming in and being around each other,” Basham, acquired by Clough 11 months before that double-header against Mark Cooper’s side, said. “We’ve always had that and there’s still a bounce about the place which is really good to see.”