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.


7 thoughts on “Is there a lack of ambition at Saints?”

  1. NIce discussion.
    I completely agree about winning on 26th: let’s hope.
    Where I think the Club has gone wrong is in its ‘Won’t be held to ransom’ line. It’s been said that the price of a replacement centre-back went up £5 million when Fonte was sold and VVD injured. But the value to us of a good CB went up by more than that at that point. We should have bitten the bullet and paid up.

  2. Good discussion although I don’t like the words “Cortese” and “owner” in the same sentence, the two are very different. I also don’t understand the selling club “now” bit. My favourite players growing up were Dean Richards and Wayne Bridge. Finally, I quite agree that if we had been finishing 15th every year we would have kept our players. We have been fortunate to watch so many great footballers all at once. After a few years of mediocrity we would be fondly reminiscing about the days our players were good enough for champions league.

  3. I’ve been a (danish) fan since Saints won the Cup in 1976 (when I was 10 years of age) and I sympathise with most viewpoints above (it IS a complicated situation). You can’t stop players who ONLY wants to double or trible their salery, at least not without destroying the club financially, but I have the feeling that SOME players (read: Virgil) may be receptive to a god talk and a moderate payraise – so maybe the club should take a second look at the wage-frame and maybe use some of the money from the outgoing transfers to keep those of the best players who WANTS to stay and do well for the club? But no matter what … we will lose the final against United and will keep losing against teams we really should be beating with the players we DO have. Puel IS a failure!
    PS: Please excuse my english!

    1. i think that is unfair on Puel, although I can see your point.
      We all know it was a massive gamble not buying a striker at the beginning of the season, Jrod and Austen not being the fittest, and Long not being a out and out striker. Even Redmond was a gamble really, they hoped he could step in as a CF but he couldn’t.
      As for the problem we have in defense right now, our captain comes home a european champion with a limited shelf life on his career, we should have given him whatever he wanted to keep him.
      These have nothing to do with Puel, they are the fault of the board, unfortunately Puel will be the scapegoat at the end of the season and not the board.

      1. Don’t get me wrong, Sir Jimmy – I actually believed in Puel (and wanted/want him to succeed) but he HAS failed.
        I do not agree that we should have kept Fonte – the best thing about him was his loyalty and when he stopped being loyal, there was only a overrated player left (a bit like Lundekvam, who unfortunatly stayed loyal!)
        The problem we have in central defence is Puels fault. I live in Scandinavia and I promise you, that every player in every Scandinavian club is for sale if the price is right. And often that price is “only” £ 1-2-3-4 million, and still Puel couldn’t buy a single CB? Sakho would have been very good beside VVD, but not if he demanded twice the wage of Virgil, but he could have bought a good CB had he really wanted to.
        I know that we’ve been unlucky (like when the referee awarded Arsenal a penalty that wasn’t there, even when Koscielny for a long time lay offside, bleeding from the head at Fosters feet and thereby distracted him), and I loved the way we played against Bournemouth, Leicester and twice against Liverpool, but that was the players having good days! Most of them are young and will have plenty of lesser days – Puels job is to coach them so they have good days nearly every time they play. He HAS failed to do that. He’s not even close to doing a good job.
        PS: And again, please excuse any misspelling etc. – I AM writing in a foreign language! 😀

  4. OK from that first Koeman/ last Mopo season sales, maybe only Lallana would be picked, although we will kill for Louvren now. But what about Mane, Clyne, Wanyama, Pelle, Spiderman, they would all be picked now. I think it was a little convenient to your argument to forget about the players being sold as a whole.

  5. Another good article Chris, well done!

    I for one am a little bemused by the attitude of some Saints fans this season. It seems that since he was appointed, a section of Saints fans felt that Puel was a mistake, and have never given him a fair chance.
    You might think that from my comment, that I am in favour of Puel. Well, personally I think that the jury is still out. I’m not a fan of the style of football that we’ve been playing, and even less keen on listening to his ‘pressers’, but this guy has a superb record of developing young talent, and should be given a chance. Sadly these days it seems that Managers are given no time to do their job. Lets face it, since Keoman deserted, Puel has largely had to work with the existing squad, rather than making his own signings.

    As for Saints lacking ambition, I would argue that Saints still have that ambition to get to the top of the game. Lets face it, what we have achieved over the last few years has been nothing short of remarkable. The final step of challenging for the title is almost certainly harder than getting consecutive promotions to the premier league, and getting into the top seven combined. You could even argue that Saints have been exceptionally fortunate in that several of the big teams in the Premier League have stumbled over the last couple of years, while Saints have overachieved, which in turn exacerbates the situation this season.

    Throughout the last few seasons, Saints have worked to improve our options by increasing revenue streams, sold well, and bought better. I constantly hear that Katherina Liebher is lining her pockets with the profits from player sales, or that we sold players for X, and only spent half that on new players. Comments like these annoy me, because where do they think the cash for long term deals for the likes of VVD comes from? Even if we (as some fans wanted us to) sign the likes of Sakho and his £100k+ wage on deadline day, FFP means that it’s impossible for us to compete with the big clubs, and also goes a long way to ensure that the big clubs can cherry pick the best talent in Europe, by offering silly money. In theory FFP is a good idea, but ultimately it is a protectionist policy to stop a Billionaire buying Champions league football in a similar fashion to Chelski and ManShitty.

    This season was always going to come. A season where after repeated seasons improving year on year, the progress in the league falters. That doesn’t mean that all progress stops. It could be argued that several players this year have improved individually, and also one could argue that we probably have our strongest ever squad.
    With all that said, our first eleven has certainly taken a hit, and it has shown in the results this season. I get the feeling the Puel wanted to look at the squad before buying anyone, but that has certainly bit us in the backside, and with the current centre-back situation, I would argue that the board has got this drastically wrong, and potentially their biggest mistake so far.

    Every time I hear or see negative comments regarding the owner, or the board, I feel totally bemused, as up until recently they have performed above realistic expectations; so much so that numerous clubs continuously look at how we operate. The modus operandi of the board is slow sustainable growth. I would argue that we have achieved that for the last seven seasons, and we will continue to do so. Why do I think this? Because I have faith in the club and the board, who have a proven track record.

    Yes the club is ambitious, but it also has to be realistic, while the fans need to be patient (and avoid putting players names on their shirts). Just imagine if we make a similar progress in the next seven years…

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