Category Archives: Chris Rann

All posts written by Chris Rann

Is there a lack of ambition at Saints?

Yet again I find myself apologising for a lack of posts of late, but I am currently working on a very exciting Saints related project and that is occupying my spare time.

Anyway, of late it seems that there are somewhat of a split amongst Saints fans, and the use of certain buzz words to describe each faction is commonplace in the corner of the internet that is associated with the club.

You’ve all heard them, ‘happy clapper’, used to describe someone who looks to the positive aspects of everything and ‘bed wetter’ aimed at those whose Saints mug from the club shop is permanently half empty.

Personally, I like to think I am in the middle, and am willing to see both sides of the coin, the trappings of which mean I have had both titles aimed at me.

I’ve debated with plenty on twitter about whether the club is being run well or not and there are many who have a different point of view to mine. A lot of them are incapable of having that debate without resorting to personal insults or aggressive posturing. In James George though I find that although we often (pretty much always) have an opposing take on things happening at St. Mary’s we are able to discuss it like adults. That’s why I invited him to put his thoughts online, and to each of his points I will make a retort, hopefully leading to us covering most bases and giving alternative views.

Over to you James….

JG  There is no doubt that since Markus Liebherr saved Saints in 2009, we have all been on an amazing journey. With the ambitious Nicola Cortese at the helm the 5 year plan to get to the Premier League was achieved in just 3 seasons! Yes Cortese had his faults and also some random ideas. (Banning the press, getting rid of the red and white stripes and sacking Nigel Adkins being just a few.) but he was the driving force behind the scenes. My inside information tells me Cortese had no control over the club’s finances and the signings of Ramirez and Osvaldo were two of the least successful over the last few years, but you could never doubt his ambition and his determination to get the club to as high as it could possibly go.’

CR ‘This is where we no doubt agree, although I’m not sure Cortese was the only reason the club was succeeding. Astute managerial appointments and transfer window moves that would have been committee based decisions (let’s not forget this was Cortese’s first ever role in football).

JG ‘Cortese obviously wanted full control of the club and when Markus passed away and Katarina took over, she was no longer willing to let him run wild. Whilst she obviously wanted to continue her Father’s legacy she also wasn’t willing to let Cortese have an open cheque book. Cortese left but the structure he had built lived on and the club has somehow continued to improve every season.

CR ‘I think the clash came because the Liebherr family wanted the club to be sustainable and Cortese wanted to borrow to push the club has hard as he could to success. So many clubs have gone belly up because of trying to be too much too soon, personally I can see why there was an air of caution. Somehow? It isn’t a coincidence, continued progression is down to the meticulous nature behind the scenes.’

JG ‘Cortese was a stubborn man and would never be pushed around by anyone, least of all the players and agents. He sold Oxlade-Chamberlain but it was for a good fee and there was no way of keeping a player of his quality whilst we were still in the lower leagues. But there was no way he would of allowed the club to sell so many of it’s best players over the last 3 years.’

CR ‘Arguably he was pushed around by Chamberlain’s father, and in modern terms £12 million for AOC doesn’t come across as a fantastic deal on Saints part. It’s easy to say he wouldn’t have let players leave, but actually we didn’t see him really tested.’

JG ‘In 2014 Ralph Krueger was installed as Chairman. An Ice Hockey coach who thought football involved wearing a helmet and the quarter back was the main man. I still remember his big speech in May 2014 when we made big claims that we were not a selling club and we would not be selling our best players.’

CR ‘Pure conjecture on your part there James, with regards to Ralph Krueger’s opinions on football. Some might say that he was more qualified than Cortese, given that he was from a sporting background. I agree on the ‘selling club’ speech, it was unwise, Saints have always been so and it is difficult to escape it.’

JG ‘Pochettino who replaced Adkins in bizarre circumstances was an amazing appointment by Cortese and was obviously destined for the top of the game. The players obviously respected him and letting him go to Tottenham was obviously a bad move.’

CR ‘It was an amazing appointment, though none of us thought it at the time. I take exception to the statement that he was obviously destined for the top of the game. That sounds like hindsight talking. None of us knew who he was, and he was just off the back of almost getting Espanyol relegated!’

JG ‘Since then we have sold every single one of our best players.’

CR ‘This is nothing new where Saints are concerned. It happened long before the Liebherr administration was involved. With the exception of Le Tiss, anyone who has ever played for us that you would consider top quality has moved on to bigger clubs for more money. It seems more prevalent now because, due to the success of the Liebherr era and the work behind the scenes, we have a higher percentage of great players!’

JG ‘That summer Lallana, Lovren, Chambers, Lambert, Shaw and even the mighty Guly all left. Yes, we got decent money for them but it was selling all of these players that has set a precedent for years to come. Morgan Schneiderlin wanted out. He had seen all of his friends move on to bigger clubs for more wages and so why would he and others want to stay?’

CR ‘It’s always difficult to take a spate of top players leaving, I agree, but let’s be pragmatic. Of that list, which of them starts for Saints now? It doesn’t take long. Lallana. Finished. I’m not saying they aren’t good players, I’m saying that the club has done a good job of recruiting when it let’s players go (don’t mention centre halves though at the moment) and actually improving the squad.’

JG ‘Then Southampton made a genius appointment. Ronald Koeman! One of the greatest players ever to have played the game walks through the door. Half the team had been sold and we were tipped for relegation. There’s no doubt the club had a great scouting network and bought some real gems. Under Koeman the club managed to improve once more but once again big name players left that summer.’

CR ‘Let’s be clear on something here. Koeman didn’t walk through the door of his own accord. He was offered the job after a recruitment drive and spell of due diligence by Les Reed and the board. The same people that are vilified for letting people go, are the same people who make these great managerial appointments and sign these players in the first place.’

JG ‘Koeman once again worked his magic and even with a dreadful run through November and December we managed to get our highest ever Premier League finish, sixth, only 3 points from qualifying for the Champions League. Yet again though the board let an amazing manager leave and more of our top players go that Summer! You can start seeing a pattern here.’

CR ‘It’s a long warn out argument, but Koeman left because he thought he could hold the board to ransom. He did a fantastic job for us, but when it came down to it, in modern football money talks, and a man who had talked of the Dutch national team and Barcelona ended up going to Everton, a club who have a very similar glass ceiling to us.’

JG ‘It seems as if the club is now only being run so that we maintain out Premier League status and the value of the club goes up. Very much like Newcastle. We only buy players with player sales and the hundreds of millions earned from TV money seems to be going in the owners back pocket. We fall in love with a player and the next summer they leave. The club claims it doesn’t want to buy too many players so we don’t block a route to first team football for youth players, but its seems they just want to play youth players to sell them on for a bigger profit. It just doesn’t feel as if the owners want the club to win so the fans can enjoy success. They just want us to win so the players value go up and we can sell them for more profit.’

CR ‘Where to start with this! I don’t think we are anything like Newcastle. They have a huge fanbase and still get it so wrong in terms of Managerial appointments and player recruitment. In fact we are the anti-Newcastle, punching well above our weight, while they play the roll of the well supported journeyman who occasionally gets put on his arse! I’m not sure there is any evidence that the owners are pocketing any money, in fact I’m pretty sure (but prepared to be corrected) that the club owes them money based on the last accounts? I’m not sure if the club is playing moneyball or if we are just victims of our own success but yes it is frustrating to see the top players leave. It is always to clubs with bigger resources than us though, and until we can compete with them on the pitch and in terms of numbers through the turnstiles I’m not sure how this could ever change. Player power is paramount.

JG ‘We are just a stepping stone for players now. They aren’t coming to the club to win things. Players are coming to the club to get first team football and get a bigger move. We had a group of players and a scouting network which had the potential to challenge and possibly win the league. But that opportunity was lost and now any player who is half decent is going to want to leave.’

CR ‘I’m afraid we always were. This says more about the attitudes of the modern player than it does the club for me. If the potential to win the league was there why didn’t they all stay and try and achieve it? If we win on the 26th February there will be a delicious irony that Steven Davis will have won a trophy before pretty much all of those that have left in recent years.’

JG ‘I will always support my club and the journey from League One was the best years of football in my lifetime, but I’m not sure when I will allow myself to fall in love with a Saints player again. I just know they will only break my heart and leave. I personally feel new owners are a must. Owners with the ambition of Cortese could take this club to the next step. Yes, I know we were in League One and Le Tissier single handedly kept us in the Premier League for years, but even now we have the potential to be something greater. We have potentially the best centre half in the world, a great left back and few other decent players too. There are some very good youth players and we have proven we can sign top class talent. So lets not sell everyone again this summer. Lets keep what we have and invest in top talent.’

CR ‘Glad to hear it! My tip is don’t fall in love with any player, they are in the main money motivated individuals, even if we won the league they would still be interested in doubling their wages at Man City. With regards to new owners, the interest from China is certainly intriguing, but be careful what you wish for. In terms of foreign ownership we hit the jackpot with Markus Liebherr. There are plenty of fans protesting against the way their clubs are being run due to numerous balmy initiatives taken by their foreign owners. 

JG ‘Why not aim for the sky and see where we finish, rather then just being happy with little old Saints.’

 CR ‘Amen brother. The main difference between me and you is, I think this is what the club is doing and so far so good! See you at Wembley!’

At the end of the day, we are all Saints fans, and everyone is entitled to their opinion. Has this season been as exciting as previous ones in league terms, perhaps not, but we do have a cup final coming up! There is too much emphasis on ‘progress’ for me. Personally I would rather finish 15th this season and win that final than lose it and finish 6th, but each to their own.

Thanks a lot to James for sparing the time to put his thoughts across.

Keep the faith.

Chris

How to have a Saintly Christmas!

It’s that time of year again, the tree is up, the turkey’s are fattening and Saints are having their now traditional spell of ropey form.

But how can you bring a smile back to the face of your Southampton supporting loved one this Christmas? I decided to compile the top 10 Saints related gifts. You’re welcome. So in no particular order….

10. 1982 Subbuteo Team

It doesn’t matter how old you are, everyone loves subbuteo, and what better way to spend Christmas morning than recreating the superb play of messrs Keegan, Channon and Wallace with the flick of a finger!

9. A Form & Glory Poster

This company is making some stylish posters/prints that would look great on any Saints’ fan’s wall.

8. The official 2017 Calendar

A great gift with two functions, firstly providing a nice Saints themed way of knowing what day it is and secondly providing handy dart board fodder come the Summer transfer window! (thanks to Eric for the gag!)

7. Entry into the exclusive ‘Fans who’ve got a clue’ Whatsapp group!

See @mrjamesgeorge for details!

😉

6. A luxury scarf from Savile Rogue

These scarves truly are luxurious. Made from cashmere you can exude terrace style in comfort and warmth while showing your support for the team.

5. Bobby Stokes: The Man from Portsmouth Who Scored Southampton’s Most Famous Goal by Mark Sanderson

If they’ve not read this yet, then it’s superb gift. A brilliantly written book about a brilliant story.

4. A Shot Dead in the Head mug

A lovely design, different from your usual footie mug. A personal favourite of mine.

3.  A Hallyink print

Keep an eye out for quirky new prints at this site. Not too many Saints ones at the moment, but has had some belters in the past!

2. Some #BenalionTour Stickers

What self respecting fan is leaving the house without some? Franny is now a household name amongst bewildered Milanese street cleaners!

  1. A genuine Retro shirt

There are some absolute classics in this collection. Stand out at St. Mary’s with something a little different!

So there you have it, some good gift ideas I hope you’ll agree!

Jose Fonte: Are Saints fans in danger of becoming bitter and twisted?

It’s the 7th December. We are still 25 days away from the opening of the transfer window, yet par for the course the papers are awash with talk of the ever widening St. Mary’s exit door.

Speculation on the whole surrounds the centre half pairing of Virgil van Dijk and Jose Fonte, and as usual it is causing disruption and unrest when we should be talking about a win or bust Europa League game on Thursday night.

In the case of van Dijk, his near immaculate performances since joining from Celtic in 2014 have seen him gather an army of admirers. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Dutchman is one of the best in the league at what he does, if not the best. To see him linked with the usual suspects at the top of the table should be, and isn’t, of no surprise. As usual we are the club that took the risk on a player, blooded him, improved him, and now the vultures are circling

Jose Fonte on the other hand is an altogether more curious case. His superb displays for 8 years at the club have largely gone under the radar. Fonte has quietly gone about his job, while a succession of partners seem to attract all the praise. Dejan Lovren, Toby Alderweireld and now van Dijk are lauded as the key member of the central defence club. While Jose is overlooked as the constant, the variables are enjoying the plaudits and so far managed to secure bigger contracts with ‘bigger’ clubs.

That might just have changed in the Summer though when Fonte was a key member of Portugal’s European Championship winning team. His profile was raised and rightly so, and with it came some wanted and unwanted attention. Speculation has been rife ever since, with Manchester United and Everton both supposedly keen to improve an area they are poor in. Unfortunately that speculation has led to fan unrest and now we have an unnecessary and unwanted public PR battle between club and player as talk of a ‘new’ contract has divided opinion.

Let’s look at it from both points of view.

Should Jose Fonte, returning from a hugely successful Summer, and having given the club eight successful years feel deserving of a contract extension? Sure, that doesn’t seem to much to ask.

Should Southampton FC feel obliged to extend the contract of a player who is 33 this month? Not at all, that is fully dependent on the long term plan of the club. As we know, for everyone at the club there is already a replacement in mind. If that replacement is already inbound, would it be financially prudent to extend Fonte’s contract?

What we don’t know is what the demands of a new contract are? With the likes of Jose Mourinho and Ronald Koeman interested and in charge of cash rich clubs, perhaps Fonte is looking for a considerably lucrative new deal. It would be naive to suggest ‘super’ agent Jorge Mendes wouldn’t be pushing for it, and will be using the interest of others as a deal breaker.

It is reported, and confirmed by Fonte himself that he was offered a pay rise in the Summer, but it didn’t come with an extension. Did the club do enough?

Given his age, and the fact that he is now entering the twilight of his career would anyone begrudge him a move to a Manchester United sized club? It would be hard to justify any anger in that situation, especially if Saints have no interest in extending his deal and were to get a decent fee. You could argue that this is all ‘perfect timing’ from a business point of view.

However, it would be a sad end to a journey that Jose Fonte has very much been a part of, and with the propaganda and the sniping that appears to be commonplace with such speculation, are fans in danger of becoming bitter and twisted about departures? It’s football right, but the business model of the club, successful as it has been, brings with it a sense of anxiety when our players are seemingly hand picked by those we are competing with.

It feels like only a matter of time before Saints fans have somebody to boo in every fixture they play, and that level of negativity isn’t required.

If Jose Fonte leaves in January (and personally I hope he doesn’t) then his contribution over the years will be outweighing of any unpleasantness over the last six months. He should leave with our blessing and be given a Rickie Lambert-esque reception on his return.

The fact of the matter is, that none of us really know what has gone on behind closed doors and perhaps never will. As a Saints fans we have to roll with the punches. We should be used to it by now.

Keep the faith.

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.

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.

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.