OPINION: Derek Adams can depart Morecambe with his head held high
Having had only four managers in a quarter of a century, Morecambe are now on the lookout for a third in the space of 18 months or so.
Derek Adams left the club on Thursday morning, barely 72 hours after guiding them to promotion into League One via the play-offs.
In all honesty, it wasn’t a huge surprise given he had been heavily linked to the vacant role at Bradford City during the last fortnight.
If Valley Parade is to be the next destination in Adams’ managerial career, it’s an ironic development given Mark Trueman and Conor Sellars were relieved of their post as joint managers after the Shrimps saw off Bradford on the final day of last season.
From Adams’ perspective, it would be an understandable decision given the potential for the Bantams to climb out of League Two and perhaps take the next step after that into the Championship.
That said, Morecambe’s first season in League One is arguably a no-lose scenario for whoever is in charge.
Relegation? Well, that’d just be reflecting the predictions that are inevitably going to be made before the new season starts.
However, staying up in a division featuring clubs including Sunderland, Ipswich Town, Charlton Athletic and Portsmouth, and the manager will have defied expectations and be heralded for that achievement.
While Morecambe become used to life without Adams, there cannot be any doubt as to the job he’s done since replacing Jim Bentley in November 2019.
A club for whom success had increasingly become staying out of the bottom two had a manager determined to rid them of the ‘little old Morecambe’ tag and someone who left them a more attractive proposition than might have been the case previously.
It was a coup for a club in the relegation places to attract a man with his credentials: someone who had taken Ross County into the top flight north of the border, reached the Scottish Cup final and named manager of the year before guiding Plymouth Argyle to a play-off final, promotion and seventh place in their first season back in League One.
OK, he departed Argyle with them on the brink of relegation but it was still an eye-catching appointment: more so when it was announced he’d turned down an approach from Hearts after giving Morecambe a verbal agreement to join.
The impact was instant, overhauling the squad in January 2020 and leading them comfortably clear of the relegation places when the pandemic struck.
It wasn’t an easy time for all clubs but Adams, the club and staff also had to deal with the death of Christian Mbulu last May: a period in which the manager displayed great dignity and leadership.
On top of that, Adams found himself guiding a club trying to navigate its way through unchartered territory when competitive football returned last September.
There were Covid-19 protocols to deal with, both at training and on matchdays, a condensed season as a result of the later start and an EFL salary cap.
Adams may have had the lowest wage bill in League Two but there was no doubt he used it wisely.
A host of signings, some of whom had won promotion from League Two and higher, were persuaded to join the Shrimps and repaid the manager’s faith in handsome fashion.
Others, including Aaron Wildig, John O’Sullivan and Cole Stockton, looked revitalised while Carlos Mendes Gomes’ goals and performances soon had scouts from the Championship and Scottish top flight heading to the Mazuma Stadium.
Putting his faith in Mendes Gomes and jettisoning Kevin Ellison was a big call, and while Ellison may have gone public with his dissatisfaction at the way he claims it was handled, it’s hard to say the decision was incorrect.
Perhaps the only wrong step taken in that regard was staying silent in response to Ellison’s statements, rather than putting across the club’s version of events.
While a refusal to indulge in a war of words with a club legend may be seen as dignified, it nevertheless allowed Ellison to win the PR battle.
Adams still had the last laugh, however, as while Ellison indulged in some over-the-top celebrations when scoring for Newport at the Mazuma Stadium in March, it was the former who celebrated promotion at the start of the week.
When Adams came to Morecambe, there were accusations of being tactically stubborn, using square pegs in round holes and sticking doggedly to a 4-2-3-1 formation.
If that was the case then, it certainly wasn’t so this season.
Apart from the odd occasion where both left-backs have been unavailable and the very right-footed Ryan Cooney has switched flanks, it’s been a case of round pegs in round holes.
Wedded to a 4-2-3-1 shape? Not really as, although Morecambe have played that way in games, they have also had a back three, played 4-1-4-1 and used a midfield diamond with a front two, sometimes switching the shape during matches. Hardly the methods of someone stubbornly sticking to one system.
While the Shrimps could never be accused of playing ‘tiki-taka’ football, it would be wrong to say they merely got the ball and launched it.
Yes, it could be direct and pragmatic in that the ball was played up to Stockton but, from there, he could lay the ball off to the more creatively-minded men behind him.
Mendes Gomes, Wildig, O’Sullivan and Toumani Diagouraga, as well as Adam Phillips, all flourished with that approach as the Shrimps posted the fourth-highest goal tally in League Two.
Defensively, 58 goals conceded in 46 games doesn’t look great but a good number of those came in the early part of the season when players were still getting used to each other.
Instead, taking the play-offs into account, they only conceded three in the last seven matches so there was clear defensive improvement throughout the season.
Adams also arrived at Morecambe on the back of a fractious relationship with elements of the media towards the end of his time at Plymouth.
At Morecambe, he followed an ebullient personality in Bentley who could easily spend five minutes answering one question.
In contrast, Adams was more measured and economical with his words.
However, after progressing through the ‘getting to know you’ phase that all journalists and media go through, he opened up and became someone willing to have a laugh and a joke in the right situation.
On occasions, he could perhaps answer a question by not answering the question, but he was always polite, would ask journalists how they were and ended interviews with the words ‘thank you’.
Yes, Adams will be a big miss but he’s shown what can be possible by recruiting wisely and quickly.
If his replacement has a similar outlook and performs to the same level, then who’s to say Morecambe cannot defy the predictions again this time next year?
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