The League Cup is alive and well at St. Mary’s!

The lack of respect afforded to the League Cup over the more recent seasons has led to a decline in interest in what was once England’s secondary cup competition.

Sadly, the rise of the Champion’s League and it’s inclusion of four teams from the Premier League each season has seen league positioning overshadow it’s priority status in the eyes of the much maligned, much pressured first team manager. Even the ‘smaller’ clubs have followed their bigger colleagues in treating the competition with little more than a passing annoyance, with league survival and the lucrative financial benefits that come with it, to important to gamble with.

Many have suggested that the League Cup is dead.

Try telling that to some of the young faces at St. Mary’s on Wednesday night. Try telling that to Harrison Reed, who asserted himself in the middle of the park with the tenacity of somebody who knows he is working under a manager who will give him further opportunities. Try telling that to Jack Stephens who has patiently waited for a chance to shine in a seemingly impregnable back four. Try telling that to Lloyd Isgrove who will be fully aware he is suited to Claude Puel’s formation in a forward role. Try telling that to Olufela Olomola who greeted his 26th minute introduction by charging down a Sunderland defender like he only had seconds to have an influence.

Try telling that to the many young faces I saw in the St. Mary’s crowd who were there for the first time. The beneficiaries of the low pricing initiative that meant their parents could introduce them to the club in an affordable manner.

Try telling that to Sofiane Boufal.

For me personally it was nice just to be in the stadium. Given my residential location, being there in the flesh is a rare treat and despite it not being the most exciting game in the world it was a good way to assess the changes at the club under Puel.

Having had the pleasure of a fantastic time in Milan with my fellow Dubai Saints, catching up with friends and feeling very much part of a truly historic occasion it felt like a return to reality. The best part of 8,000 Saints fans blasting out ‘Oh when the Saints’ in the San Siro is one of those ‘I was there’ moments and the Inter fans after the game were truly in awe.

Sunderland at home was an altogether different prospect. The manager has faith in his squad, and the extended one he has at his disposal from the Academy. Right now that faith is paying off. I was apprehensive of course when I saw the lineup, but as a Southampton fan it is difficult to feel anything but pride when a team containing six Academy graduates (Jamess Ward-Prowse and Sam McQueen joining the aforementioned four) for the majority of the game looks comfortable against a Premier League opponent.

The crowd was better than most, including a certain tabloid rag and even the club were expecting and that showed by the fact people were queuing to get in once the game had kicked off, but it still felt that at £12 a ticket it could have been better. The 21k that did attend certainly got their money’s worth in the 66th minute. Sofiane Boufal has carried his price tag and the fact he arrived at the club injured with him since he joined, and there has been much hype and expectation of a player who was linked with the world’s best clubs in the Summer. His winning goal did not disappoint.

If Matt Le Tissier tweets to say that the other 89 minutes were worth siting through to see that goal,  then you know it was something special. The finish was ‘Le Tiss-esque’, the first touch ridiculous. A goal fitting of winning any game.

In contrast to most foreign managers, Claude Puel is far from bemoaning the amount of fixtures his squad is up against, in fact he is the complete opposite. In a recent interview with french newspaper L’Equipe, he states how playing one game a week in France ‘dragged’ and how he dreamed of playing three times in quick succession.

Puel trusts his squad, and the fans are starting to trust him. While many are trying to read the League Cup it’s last rites, they aren’t about to give up on it yet at St. Mary’s.

We march on.

Why do Arsenal insist on undoing Saints hard work?

As Claude Puel prepares to face his former boss in Arsene Wenger this weekend I wonder if he will cast his eye across his countryman’s squad and ponder on what might have been ?

For there will be three names on the list that are yet to live up to their potential after swapping St. Mary’s for North London.

As a man famed for nurturing and developing young talent in France, he must be bemused at the lack of progress made my Messrs. Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Chambers.

Three players who all looked like they had the world at their feet when breaking on to the scene on the South Coast and now nothing more than bit part players and squad fodder at the Premier League’s champion also rans.

Theo Walcott is perhaps the best example.  He has completed 10 years as an Arsenal player and despite his only being 27 years old, looks jaded and much older having only played on average 16 complete games for the Gunners for the last seven seasons. Is this the return we as Saints fans expected when we saw this exciting young forward burst into the limelight in 2005?

For me Walcott has always been a striker, and it seems (I’m sure statistically this isn’t necessarily the case) whenever he is given the chance in that role for Arsenal or England he scores. Yet, perhaps a victim of the modern tactics and formations, he has been pigeon holed as a winger-cum-forward often pushed out wide. My point is, Walcott should have been a key striker for England, and Arsenal’s misuse of him has made him something of a joke.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain we still hold out hope for. A dynamic attacking midfielder and still only 23, Chamberlain is another whose abilities should have seen him as a key player in the international setup by now. Enter Arsene Wenger. The Ox scored more goals in his solitary season for Saints than he has so far in an Arsenal shirt (he is embarking on his sixth season at the Emirates), and would appear to be little more than a backup player.

Both AOC and Walcott have had their injury problems admittedly, but then who at Arsenal doesn’t? Perhaps there is something in their training regime there or are the medical/recovery facilities not up to Saints standard?

Last but not least, the one that is most recent in it’s frustration is Calum Chambers. A local Hampshire boy who shone at right back in the Premier League under Mauricio Pochettino at Saints, yet finds himself as fourth/fifth choice centre half under Wenger. So far down the pecking order that he has been loaned out to Middlesbrough, and to be honest that is the best thing for him. It was bamboozling to most Saints fans that given we struggle at times in the right full back position we didn’t make this move ourselves.

Now, I’m not telling Monsieur Wenger how to pick his team, far from it, though I think he might be confused at times about what his own policy is. Famed for annoying his own fans by not spending their wealth, you would think pushing the young players on would be his priority but apparently not.

It’s reasonably sad to see him invest in a centre half that didn’t make the grade at Everton (Mustafi) in the Premier League, while sending out a young English defender who did at Saints out on loan.

The Southampton Academy puts a lot of hard work into developing the best English young players, perhaps if you aren’t prepared to continue that development, don’t buy them?

Throwback – Saints Premier League Dream Team (2011)

Back in 2011, prior to Saints return to the top flight I was asked by Shoot magazine to compile my ‘Premier League Dream Team’.

I thought it would be good to look back at it now, 5 years later and with some impressive Premier League campaigns under our belt to see where I might now change that team.

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Goalkeeper (2011) – Antti Niemi

Goalkeeper (2016) – No change. The flying Finn was and still is the best keeper I’ve ever seen in a Saints shirt.

Left Back (2011) – Wayne Bridge

Left Back (2016) – No change. I was a big fan of Bridge, and though I think Luke Shaw might have stolen this had he stayed a bit longer and Ryan Bertrand is consistently immaculate, Bridge still gets the nod. Just.

Excuse the picture of Paul Telfer...
Excuse the picture of Paul Telfer…

Right Back (2011) – Jason Dodd

Right Back (2016) – Nathaniel Clyne. It’s not easy to drop Dodd who was such a fantastic servant to the club but Clyne’s performances in a Saints shirt were superb.

Centre Half (2011) – Dean Richards R.I.P.

Centre Half (2016) – Virgil van Dijk. The Dutchman will go on to be know as one of Saints most impressive and important signings of all time in my opinion. Oozes class and is almost unbeatable in the air.

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Centre Half (2011) – Michael Svensson

Centre Half (2016) – Jose Fonte. Another difficult decision but Fonte’s impact in the Premier League as the constant amongst several partners and the defensive performances that have stemmed from them have to be rewarded.

Central Midfield (2011) – Chris Marsden

Central Midfield (2016) – Morgan Schneiderlin. An all round brilliant midfielder and arguably is yet to be replaced (though PEH looks a decent bet).

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Left Midfield (2011) – Hassan Kachloul

Left Midifeld (2016) – Adam Lallana. The homegrown Lallana may have left a sour taste in the mouths of many when he left, but his performances for Saints were a joy to watch.

Right Midfield (2011) – Ronnie Ekelund

Right Midfield (2016) – No change. Ekelund was at the club for such a short space of time that I feel sorry for those fans who didn’t get to see how good he was.

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Attacking Midfielder/Free Role (2011) – Matthew Le Tissier

Attacking Midfielder/Free Role (2016) – No change. Pretty sure I don’t have to justify this one.

Striker (2011) – Marian Pahars

Striker (2016) – No change. I can’t drop the little Latvian, I simply can’t. He provided too much joy to my younger Dell going self.

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Striker (2011) – James Beattie

Striker (2016) – Rickie Lambert. Very difficult to remove Beattie, but Lambert was much more than a brilliant striker, he was a superb footballer and a talisman too.

Subs (2011) – Lundekvam, Oakley, Ostenstad, Palmer, Benali

Subs (2016) – M. Svensson, Wanyama, Mane, Beattie, Benali

So that’s my updated team, but what is yours?

Chris

Some Moroccan Majesty back at St. Mary’s?

We love a Moroccan on the South Coast, so it was with some excitement that the news Saints were close to sealing the signing of Sofiane Boufal from Lille was met.

Boufal is some talent, and was linked with moves to Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs and Barcelona this Summer!

Sofiane Boufal
Sofiane Boufal

A Moroccan playmaker is just what we need, and the news took me back to watching Hassan Kachloul in a Saints shirt. Kachloul was one of my favourite players (in fact he made it into my Saints Premier League Dream Team) and in my opinion was vastly underrated by other fans. A maverick certainly, and hideous dress sense (leather trousers on Soccer AM and strange suede jacket on Cowes High Street while enjoying the international sailing regatta with countryman Mustapha Hadji), Kachloul was a creative player who could turn a game and made a huge contribution to the Saints team that finished 8th in the Premier League in 1999.

Hassan Kachloul
Hassan Kachloul

Kachloul wasn’t our only previous Moroccan though, Youssef Safri did an admirable job as a defensive midfielder in the Championship survival season that went to the wire in 2008….

Youssef Safri
Youssef Safri

…and who could forget centre half Tahar El Khalej (affectionately known as El Carnage by some fans), the man who kept Keiron Dyer (no loss) out of the 2002 world cup after a horror tackle on the final day of that Premier League Season.

Tahar battles with former teammate Kachloul!
Tahar battles with former teammate Kachloul!

We will all be hoping that Boufal has more of a Kachloul level of impact than a Tahar, and the signs are all there that he will surpass that of all his compatriots.

Exciting times at St. Mary’s again.

Keep the faith.

What do Saints fans really want?

Last Saturday Saints played out an uninspiring draw at home to Watford in what for many was an Anti-Climax to the exciting build up to the start of the season.

Despite a much improved second half it is fair to say that most were left a little deflated by the result and performance against Watford. In many cases feelings ran a little high. In fact, I was staggered to see the level of reaction by many, which frankly resembled a particularly spoiled hysterical child who hadn’t got their own way.

One game into the season and the new manager, the new players, the tactics, the board and anything else related to the club was written off as not good enough. This was less knee jerk, more collective full body spasm. It was ugly.

I watched the game as usual with the Dubai Saints, who I have to say, on the whole are as level headed as you will find [a few years around the block will do that for you eh fellas ;-)]. But even we found ourselves getting into a fairly heated ‘discussion’ about the level of player investment and ‘ambition’ at the club. I’ve grown to hate that word in all honesty. What exactly is ambition? Some would argue finishing in an automatic qualification place for Europe is as ambitious as Saints can realistically get, others would say that the sky is the limit. There is no rules as to what determines ‘ambition’ and only the people in the boardroom will know what they see as a realistic achievement.

High hopes for JWP to push on under Puel.
High hopes for JWP to push on under Puel.

The centre of our well oiled debate in the ‘Francis Benali Stand’ of the Barasti Beach Bar was whether the club should stick with bringing kids through or spend big to improve the squad now.

It got me wondering what it  really is Saints fans want?

I’m yet to meet one who doesn’t take pride in the Academy at the club. When one of our ‘own’ turns out for England it gives us all a lift, and over the years we’ve all loved watching young players make their first team debut and go on to be stars in their own right. It’s something that sets us apart from other clubs. We know it and they know it. Parents are now trying to get their kids into Staplewood and not Carrington (Manchester United) and our facilities and coaching methods have become the blueprint for many of Europe’s top clubs. Ex-Southampton Academy graduates scoring 60% of the 7 goals in a much overhyped game between Arsenal and Liverpool at the weekend is the advertising that keeps the wheel turning!

We love this about our club. We love the fabled ‘pathway’. But at what cost?

Everybody likes to see their club sign players. These days it’s an obsession amongst fans, to the point where they aren’t even really bothered who it is, as long as there is a new face holding up their shirt. It’s all a little camp and kitsch, with the latest monstrosity coming from Manchester United when they announced Paul Pogba. With every passing season football becomes more like the X Factor, classless and lacking in any real substance whatsoever. This is heightened of course by massive fees, transfer deadline day and the hype that surrounds it. Has anyone in history not looked a dick in a yellow tie?

I rest my case.
I rest my case.

But still, we all like a new player through the door, and this Summer (and most Summers), Saints fans would have liked a few more. With exits in key positions again, most have been frustrated that like for like replacements have not been brought in.

But where do you draw the line? What is the right balance between keeping the ‘pathway’ and strengthening the squad.

Like it or not, and my impression is that most people do, Saints have positioned themselves in the market as a club that will accept first team players moving on for the right price, and might not necessarily replace them. Why? Because you cannot maintain the ‘pathway’ if you keep blocking it with big money foreign imports.

It’s a long term strategy and one not without it’s risks, but if Les Reed was to take an occasional glance at Saints supporting presences on the web (Hi Les!) he could be forgiven for placing his head in his hands when he sees the same people bemoaning Harrison Reed’s lack of playing time last season, crying over the club not replacing Wanyama this.

For the club to keep attracting the best players into the Academy at a young age there has to be continuous evidence that the club will give those kids a chance at the top level.  Logically, if you replace every player that leaves with a like for like copy those kids will be destined to never fulfil their potential at Saints, and eventually other kids will decide it’s not the place to be, especially as others catch up in terms of facilities and methodology.

My hunch is that the modern Southampton supporter would rather see big investment in players each Summer, some would still favour the pathway, while many will be honest enough to admit they aren’t bothered either way as long as the club keeps progressing.

The obvious answer, though there is no right one, is that the balance has to be correct. The club needs to find a workable solution where the kids get their chance, but the squad is strong enough to compete. I would say they had this pretty close under Mauricio Pochettino.

The blip in all this, was the reign of Ronald Koeman, and it didn’t surprise me when there was talk of the club not being overly disappointed that he was off. As good a job as he did, he took the organisation ‘off message’ and long term that wasn’t what the board wanted.

Claude Puel would appear to be the ‘anti-appointment’ to Koeman. A man with a track record of giving some pretty good players their first opportunities in France. Yes, the first game was a little underwhelming, but when have Saints’ opening day fixtures not been? Let’s give him a chance.

Tomorrow night, we take on Manchester United at Old Trafford. A huge money ‘name’ like Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Paul Pogba could win the game for them, but then Matt Targett or James Ward-Prowse could win it for us. Which would be sweeter?

Keep the faith.

Zebrametrics Partnership!

We here at georgeweahscousin.com are delighted to announce that we have entered into partnership with Zebrametrics.

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Together we are going to bring you new interaction between gwc and you before, during and after matches!

An app is coming soon that will allow you to earn points by predicting lineups, rating players and other Saints related tasks. These points can be redeemed for goodies!

Your first taste of the action comes with this Saturday’s opening fixture against Watford!

You may have noticed a box in the bottom corner of the screen that looks like this:-

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This is your entry to having your say on how the players performed come 17:45. You will have 5 hours from the final whistle to submit your player ratings and compare them with your fellow fans! So get registered and have your say!

We look forward to bringing you more feature once the season is up and running!

Chris

The Comprehensive Saints Summer Update: Part 2

It’s been a month since I brought you part one so it was about time I stopped being lazy and rounded up the rest of Saints’ Summer. It seems unreal to me that the Football League have started and we are just days away from the Premier League opener, but here we are.

Outgoings

Arrivederci Graziano Pelle. I don’t know about you but I’m sick of massive clubs coming along and taking our players, but at this stage in his career could anyone deny him a move to Shandong Lueng?

Let’s face it, never has a transfer been more about money, but it leaves Saints with a serious concern about goals. With the exit’s of both Pelle and Mane we’ve lost our two top scorers, and the majority of our assists, and that is making people nervous.

There have been no other notable outgoings in the last month, and the only real concern at the moment is the future of Jose Fonte. Let’s not talk about it and hopefully the nasty rumours will go away. I bet they don’t, and I’m prepared for the worst.

Show me the money Graz!
Show me the money Graz!

Pre-Season

Despite the ongoing annual meltdown, Claude Puel’s team have gone through the entire pre-season fixtures unbeaten.  Four wins and one draw, conceding just two goals the signs are good that the players are fitting into the style that Puel wants.

Results in pre-season rarely mean anything though, and there is still room for improvement. Saints have been blessed with a good home opener against Watford and it will be interesting to see how they start.

Saints ended pre-season with a win against Bilbao!
Saints ended pre-season with a win against Bilbao!

Kit Update

Snug.

Incomings

In Part One I suggested that the club still needed to invest in another defensive midfielder, a goalkeeper and a strike/winger.

Since then we’ve seen three arrivals in the form of ‘box to box’ midfielder Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, Goalkeeper Alex McCarthy and utility man Jeremy Pied.

The acquisition of Højbjerg is particularly exciting, and many people have suggested that he is one of the players with the highest potential in Europe and this move is somewhat of a coup.

Alex McCarthy is a keeper who has somewhat lost his way since being so highly rated at Reading. Frustrating spells at QPR and Crystal Palace means he will feel he has something to prove and should provide decent backup for Fraser Forster.

In Pied we have a player that we don’t know much about, but Claude Puel knows him and it looks like he can be used in several positions.

Much to my disappointment the paper stories linking us to Bastian Schweinsteiger did not come to pass.

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What Next?

We still need another attacking option. Be it a ‘Number 10’ or a striker, it is plain to see. There are still a couple of weeks of the transfer window left and it will be mildly disappointing if we have finished our business.

Obviously we will be waiting with baited breath over news of new contracts for Cedric, Dusan Tadic and particularly Jose Fonte. A departure for Fonte could be a devastating end to the Summer.

The key is not to worry about anything negative until it actually happens. Focus on Saturday and the start of the season.

Keep the faith.

United Saints of America

A mixed Southampton squad of established first team players and fringe players from the youth setup jetted out to Maryland, Baltimore this past week for the club’s first ever pre-season trip to the US.

Tying in nicely with the launch of the club’s new kit, developed by Maryland based brand Under Armour, it has been no secret that Saints are looking to expand their boundaries.

It was a great opportunity for the Southampton fans across the Atlantic to get a rare access to the players, as Claude Puel run the rule over his squad for the first time. Saints ran out 2-0 winners over DC United u23’s, travelled the sites of Washington DC during their stay, but perhaps most importantly hosted an open training session for the supporters. Bill Adlin, was one of the fans in attendance and he gave us this feedback.

‘Oh when the Saints came marching in to the University of Maryland’s Ludwig Field on Thursday, July 14 the fans couldn’t have been happier.  The players seemed to have a great time as well!

 

During the preseason, Southampton FC travelled to Baltimore, Maryland both in order to train and to meet their new partners, Under Armour.  On Thursday the Saints travelled to the University of Maryland for a training session.  Fans were invited to watch the session and to meet and greet the players after.

 

Fans got to witness a variety of drills on a blazing hot 98 degree day.  Corner kicks, possession drills and free kicks were among the skills that were practised.  They even played a game that looked like keep away…with their hands.   The crowd said “ooooohhhhhh” when one Saint was gated during a spectacular move on goal.  We won’t name him here!

 

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Fans were treated to a free Under Armour drawstring bag, complete with Southampton logo emblazoned on it, a very generous gesture by Southampton and Under Armour.

 

 After practice Saints fans formed a line and all players and coaches signed autographs, shook hands and took pictures with them.  They couldn’t have been more gracious.  Virgil Van Dyk and Dusan Tadic were among the favourites as were newcomers Nathan Redmond and last season transfer Charlie Austin.  Even new coach Claude Puel got in on the action.  Kelvin Davis, recently retired goalkeeper and new addition to the coaching staff graciously emerged from the bus after practice to greet a fan that missed him the first time through.

It was a brilliant event.  Thanks for Southampton and Under Armour for making it happen.  Good luck this season!  We’ll be pulling for you from across the pond.’

Thanks to Bill for reporting back! Sounds like everyone had a great time!

Jose Fonte: Our Constant. Our Legend.

Last night was the first time I had a vested interest in who won a major international final.

Portugal lined up with both of their Saints, Cedric and Jose Fonte. I’m that kind of person. If there are Saints in the team then I want them to win, and though the likes of Pepe and Ronaldo promote ill feeling amongst many football fans the love I have for our players and in particular our captain outweighs any dislike I have for anyone else.

I found myself bickering on twitter the other day with someone who took exception to somebody else referring to Jose Fonte as a ‘Southampton Legend’. Their argument was that he isn’t as worthy of that title as the likes of Peter Shilton amongst others. Isn’t he?

Jose Fonte made a drop in division to join Saints in League One, and although we were clearly a club rejuvenated, that kind of move represents a risk no matter what the circumstances.

Fonte was part of the team that won the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy in his first season and followed it with promotion from League One in the following year.

Fonte battles with Carlisle in the JPT final.
Fonte battles with Carlisle in the JPT final.

En route to that promotion it was Fonte that struck a dramatic winner at the Withdean at the death and showed his passion for the club, sparking wild celebrations at the Saints end.

Pandemonium in Brighton!
Pandemonium in Brighton!

Fonte by this point was a stalwart in the centre of Saints defence and carried on his superb form in conjunction with a second successive promotion and the Premier League beckoned, Fonte again finding the vital touch in the final game against Coventry to seal their destiny.

Off to the top!
Off to the top!

Many Saints fans (myself included) questioned whether Jose might be one of the players to make way as the squad was strengthened for the top flight, but luckily Saints procession of manager saw otherwise.

Fonte stayed as the constant amongst a plethora of variables. Dejan Lovren and Toby Alderweireld both benefited from his partnership, perhaps taking the credit for some of Fonte’s work as they got ‘big’ moves away, while Jose quietly and consistently got on with his job.

As each season has passed since we got back to the promised land, it has become somewhat of a Southampton tradition to lose a glut of our key players and rebuild, but always there, at the heart of it all is still our constant.

during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Arsenal at St Mary's Stadium on December 26, 2015 in Southampton, England.

Taking the captain’s armband from one of the many ingrates who walked, Jose Fonte has led us into the Europa League twice, overseen a cacophony of records broken and forced is way into the Portuguese national setup.

While those that have left for ‘ambition’ or to win trophies were sitting with their feet up watching it unfold on the television, Jose Fonte was playing out a clean sheet for his team and being crowned a Euro 2016 champion.

LYON, FRANCE - JULY 06: Gareth Bale of Wales battles for the ball with Jose Fonte of Portugal during the UEFA EURO 2016 semi final match between Portugal and Wales at Stade des Lumieres on July 6, 2016 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Bale. Shepherded.

Only in 2012, I was working on a sporting event in Porto and one of the guests was former Portugal player, and now Sporting Director Joao Pinto. I asked him if he had taken a look at Fonte of Southampton. He said he’d never heard of him. He has now.

Fonte’s rise in such a short space of time has been remarkable and is parallel with our own as a club. He’s grown with us and shown that you don’t have to leave to achieve your goals.

Jose Fonte has been a consistent positive since he arrived at St. Mary’s. He’s more than just our captain. He’s our constant, and he is a legend.

The Southampton Football Club Blog that doesn't like to take itself too seriously!