Tag Archives: Danny Ings

Monotony & Apathy

‘Live together in perfect harmony’

Well, after another long term hiatus I’m back again. It’s been a while. The whole WordPress backend has changed, I’ve turned 40, and I’m not sure if it’s a combination of the two, or one of those things in particular, but I feel like I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. Do not fear though dear reader, I’ve never let such a trivial matter as incompetence stop me before and I’m not about to start now!

I return to you rejuvenated. For I do not mind admitting that the last two and half years supporting Saints had become a struggle, and Saturday afternoons had become more about a pint and a chinwag with the Dubai Saints, and less about the ‘football’. Those of you that follow our Facebook Page or Twitter will know that we have a tradition of a group photo and the hashtag #win when we win (not rocket surgery), and when I first moved here drunkenly posing for these celebratory shots was the norm, but until recently they had become as rare as a Dejan Lovren winner’s medal.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a ‘woe is me, we don’t win every week’ post. I started going to the Dell in 1992, I can handle watching a pile of crap week in week out. The issue was not about how good the players were, or even whether we won, lost or drew, though of course winning is always the preferred option. Somewhere along the way, we lost our identity. It became boring, and my feeling towards Saints became apathetic. So what changed?

As is usual, when the fortunes of a football club change, it is likely a combination of factors rather than any one particular person or event. Let’s start with the coaches. When Ronald Koeman left us for Everton he was the fourth manager in a row that had been a successful appointment for Saints. He was also the fourth to have a presence, a personality and an aura around them that inspired a confidence in the fans, and logically the players too.

Claude Puel was none of those things. Not a bad bloke, just an incredibly dull one, and he coupled a lack of charisma off the pitch with monotonous, uninspiring football on it. Baffling team selections (Inter Milan Away anyone?) and zero risk taking that might turn a draw into a win condemned him to being the most successful disliked manager in Southampton history. Saints fans were largely mocked by the nations media and ex pros for wanting the Frenchman sacked, despite finishing 8th place in the Premier League and reaching the League Cup Final, and now Leicester fans find themselves in the same position, with the same complaints and the same mockery from the same sources. Coincidence?

https://twitter.com/FcPuel/status/1085224470900555777

The end of the Puel season meant a fresh start. Surely, the appointment of such a man far removed from the recent ideals of the club was a blip. Nope. We literally went and got the Argentine equivalent. That might be a little harsh, Mauricio Pelligrino at least talked a good game when he arrived, but it’s staggering to think the same nation that produced Maradona, Messi, Bielsa and a whole host of other footballing characters also brought us ‘Senor Frijol’. The football wasn’t a lot better, the results were even worse, and relegation beckoned to the soundtrack of scoffing and hand wringing from the ‘Ridiculous to sack Puel, what do Southampton expect’ brigade.

Saints were sleepwalking to the Championship under Pellegrino, of that I have no doubt. A lack of goals, a weak backbone and an uncanny knack of throwing away a lead meant he had to go. At the time, I called for Saints to be pragmatic for once and agreed with them that Leslie Mark Hughes was the only viable option. This was based on nothing more than the requirement for top flight experience when you are staring into the abyss that is the football league. And I was right. Sort of.

Let us not change history. The fact of the matter is that ‘Sparkey’ did what looked impossible and kept us up. Whether or not you believe that is down to his management/coaching ability or that there were simply three teams even worse than us is for you to decide. I am happy to admit that I believed he had earnt his chance for the job full time. More fool me. My apathy perhaps even reached peak under the reign of the miserable Welsh custodian of proper hand shake etiquette.

Under the tutelage of these three charisma vacuums, the club I loved was transformed from the industry leading, innovative, academy pushing, supremely likeable, entertaining, big boy toppling, exciting unit that were a joy to watch, no matter the result into a turgid collection of hapless misfits that were a chore to endure. I, like many Saints fans found myself watching the games only out of some ridiculous sense of unenforced duty.

But were the managers the only problem?

Les Reed. Let this be the official stance of georgeweahscousin.com. I was never one to turn on Reed, and I am grateful to the man for the role he played in the best era of supporting Saints in my life. But, as the old saying goes, ‘Sometimes, a change is as good as a rest’. With two and a half poor managerial appointments in a row, it can only be fair to say, the magic had perhaps dried up. It certainly felt like things had gone stale behind the scenes, and the decision to remove Reed from his role when it came to it, was a long time coming. Not only did the coaching choices go downhill, but so did the recruitment of players. The time of unearthing gems like Mane, Van Dijk etc was gone, and what followed was a string of expensive failures. Sofiane Boufal, Wesley Hoedt and Garrido Carrillo all cost big money and are all now out on loan, likely on wages that make them difficult to move them on permanently. Jannik Vestegaard and Elyounoussi are the latest to struggle to make an impact on the first team.

Which brings me to the playing squad itself. Throughout this tough period, there was often the suggestion that the squad itself, simply wasn’t good enough for the Premier League, that it lacked the quality to succeed as it once had done. For me this was never the case, and while recruitment wasn’t necessarily improving the starting XI, we still had a top ten Premier League squad, they were just being poorly utilised and poorly motivated. Good players don’t become bad players overnight. But they can lose their way.

I don’t want to do an in depth analysis of every member of the squad, but by highlighting just a few I think I can make my point. The first is Oriol Romeu, in his first season with the club he was the impenetrable wall between midfield and defence, player of the season and hugely popular, his downward spiral coincides perfectly with that of the club, ending with him being a bit part player under Mark Hughes, who looked a shadow of his former self when used. Nathan Redmond has been the victim of some unsavoury over the top criticism, and somehow became the poster boy for our poor football at times. This blog was calling for Saints to sign Redmond long before they did, and never lost faith in his ability as a player, but it was often agonising to watch him take the blame from sections of the crowd for lacklustre team performances. Redmond is a dynamic attacking player, and it is almost criminal that three coaches almost managed to sap that out of him. Remember how upset we all got when Pep Guardiola weirdly berated him on the pitch for not using his attacking intent more effectively? Pep was right.

Ryan Bertrand is an odd one. Many people, myself included have bemoaned his perceived lack of interest and his unenthusiastic manner in games, but with retrospect was he just another victim of the monotonous chore being involved with Saints had become? He quickly took to his Instagram to comment on having a sense of direction under the new manager. Will we see the old Bertrand back soon?

When you look at the upturn in performances from Romeu & Redmond under the new manager, couple them with the resurgence of Jan Bednarek and James Ward-Prowse. Danny Ings scoring goals. Two Goalkeepers making serious claims for the number 1 spot. Stuart Armstrong now showing us why we signed him, and PEH looking like the player that was so highly rated by Guardiola at Bayern; you realise that we shouldn’t be in a relegation battle. Our squad isn’t poor, it was simply in a self inflicted malaise. Neil Warnock said we had the best squad outside the top 8, and while he doesn’t always make sense (#ColinonBrexit), I agree we are there or thereabouts.

So what has Ralph Hasenhüttl done differently? Well, from a very basic point of view he has immediately got the fans onside. That sounds very simplistic, and obviously if performances and results improve then that comes naturally, but, he did it before a ball was kicked. His passionate and charismatic opening gambit as Saints boss brought a renewed hope to a beleaguered faithful and that small psychological tactic, whether it was intentional or not goes a long way. The man is a leader, and instantly we wanted to follow him. If we felt like that so quickly, it is not a huge leap of faith to suggest the players felt the same.

On the pitch, it feels very much like normal service has been resumed. His intensive high pressing dynamic system is entertaining and we look like we are enjoying our football again. There is a tactical shrewdness that saw us get fantastic away results at Chelsea and Leicester and #win photos are on the rapid increase. I could bore you with the statistical comparisons between him and previous managers, but I’m sure you are already aware of them. To summarise, he has improved us in every area already, considerably, and our pathway has been re-opened. If all this wasn’t enough, his passionate reaction to goals and victorious full time whistles endears him to us even further.

It’s early days, but the future looks bright again, and the manager hasn’t even brought any players of his own choosing yet. If our form continues, we can hopefully bring this season to a close without a nail biting finish and prepare for a much more entertaining and successful one. Soon we could be back to the Halcyon days when our only worries were when our top players would be poached or where the manager might jump ship to. Oh fuck.

Keep the faith.

Chris

A Star is Born, A Chris is Bored…

Recently I had the pleasure (opportunity) to watch the Blockbuster movie ‘A Star is Born’.  It wasn’t my choice so to speak, so much as a demand from she who must be obeyed.

The most interesting thing I found about this movie, was that it acts as a really good metaphor for the Premier League exploits of one Southampton Football Club, If you squint a bit, and not take this blog too seriously, not get bogged down in ‘facts’ and take a monumental leap of faith.

Act 1

The movie starts well, and tells the tale of a talented but unfancied singer getting plucked from obscurity and into the limelight, doing so with a style and grace that brings the attention of the world upon them. Much like the arrival of Saints in the Premier League back in 2012. It’s fair to say that the initial exploits of our beloved club in the top flight were thrilling, unexpected and downright rude to the established elite. Under Pochettino and then Koeman, we made unprecedented leaps of improvement, propelling us into the limelight, and we did so with an exciting mix of youthful enthusiasm, a disregard for the establishment and an exciting style of in your face attack minded football.

Many stars were born, and like in the movie their heads were soon turned for ‘better’ things, while the creator refused to move on.

Act 2

The middle of the movie, and frankly the part where it lost me. When I wasn’t close to sleep, I was witnessing the mediocre section of the story, the bit where not a lot happens, where they have decided the story doesn’t need to excite anymore, it just needs to be there.

Very much what it feels like to be a Saints fan at the moment. For every star that went, the ability to replace them for better/as good as seems to have gone, a string of drab characters have come in and made no improvement on the man before them. It’s dull to watch and expectation weakens week by week, Saints are less challenging in the Premier League, they are merely existing (just).

Our identity as a club has gone. We used to be giant slayers, fantastic recruiters and promoters of youth. We are none of those things anymore. When was the last time we beat one of the big teams? When was the last time we brought in a player with the star quality of a Mane or a Pelle? When was the last time an Academy player got an extended run in the first team?

Act 3

The End, and a pretty harrowing one at that. As one star moves on and shines, the ones left behind stagnate and rot, and ultimately burn out.

For Saints, you wonder what the future is? Last season was a disaster and one you would have hoped the club would do all in their power to prevent happening again, but here we are, worse off points wise than this time last year. It feels like the club is stagnating, and being left to die. Is it the manager’s fault? Perhaps, but perhaps not, he can only work with what he is given. In Danny Ings, we have improved in one area that was poor last year, but defensively we look as bad as we have been in our Premier League history. What are Armstrong, Elyanoussi and Vestegaard bringing to the table? I’m of the opinion this is our weakest Premier League squad so far, and the interest level of fans is waning. Where has the excitement gone?

Something needs to change at executive level for me, the support for the manager no longer exists, though of course, they are an easy target for blame.

The End

If Saints don’t heed the warnings of previous experiences, the only way is down, and the most frustrating thing, like the movie, it’s a remake. We’ve been here before.

A Star is Born/Southampton Football Club 2/5 stars. Not worth the popcorn.

Chris

p.s. Bugger. I’ve just realised this works better with ‘A Christmas Carol’, so just read it again, with the Ghost of Christmas Past, Future etc. You get the idea.

 

 

Five Relegated Premier League Players to boost the Saints Squad!

Southampton’s lack of depth this season has seen their campaign fizzle out and, while both QPR and Burnley may not have collectively made the grade at Premier League level, they have both had some standout players.

Here are five who I think could give the Southampton squad an edge.

1) Tom Heaton

If I were in charge of Saints, Heaton would be on my list of priority signings. The Burnley stopper has been exceptional and the Southampton travelling fans saw that first hand on their trip to Turf Moor. With Fraser Forster out for the foreseeable future, having to use Kelvin Davis and Paulo Gazzaniga at this level has cost the club dear. Heaton was, rightly in my opinion, touted for England honours earlier in the season, and he could be just what the club needs to…

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What If? (Part Two)

…continued from Part One.

2012/13 The Championship

7th July 2012. Saints sign David McGoldrick from Nottingham Forest for £775k

9th July 2012 .David Connolly and Radhi Jaidi are released.

18th July 2012. Ryan Dickson is sold to Swindon Town for £375k

Saints open their first campaign back in the Championship with a trip to title favourites Cardiff City, they lose 1-0, but put in an impressive performance. They lineup:- Davis, Butterfield, Seaborne, Martin, Shaw, Ward-Prowse, Hammond (c), Ritchie, Chaplow, Barnett, McGoldrick.

Youngsters Luke Shaw and James Ward-Prowse make their league débuts and suitably impress.

The team take confidence from their decent start and go on a six game unbeaten run, ending September in 6th place and prompting talk of successive promotions.

Young left back Luke Shaw impressed in the new season...
Young left back Luke Shaw impressed in the new season…

A couple of injuries to key players take their toll and Saints form dips, culminating in a dreadful run of 12 games without a win, leaving them 18th as the end of the January transfer window neared. Saints fans were hoping that the board would strengthen the squad so as to prevent a relegation battle.

21st January 2013. Luke Shaw is sold to Arsenal for £4 million.

Saints form is erratic for the rest of the season as they struggle to cope with the rigours of the Championship with a young inexperienced squad. They find themselves in the relegation zone with three games to go but rally enough to win the first two. They go into the final game of the season knowing that a point will save them, but could go down with a defeat due to their poor goal difference. They draw 2-2 with Barnsley at St. Mary’s and finish 19th.

1st June 2013. Jason Dodd is relieved of his duties as Southampton manager. Assistant Paul Williams also leaves.

Jason Dodd couldn't do enough to keep his job.
Jason Dodd couldn’t do enough to keep his job.

18th June 2013. James Ward-Prowse is sold to newly promoted Cardiff City for £1.2 million.

20th June 2013. Kelvin Davis announces his retirement.

30th June 2013. Saints sign Newcastle United goalkeeper Rob Elliot on a season long loan.

14th July 2013. The Saints board make a statement saying that the past seasons have taken a toll on the club financially and it is now up for sale.

16th July 2013. Martin Hunter is promoted from U21’s coach to first team manager.

2013/14 The Championship

Saints open the season with defeat at Nottingham Forest, lining up Elliot, Chambers, Seaborne, Martin, Targett, Chaplow, Hammond (c), Ritchie, McQueen, Barnett, McGoldrick. Despite the poor feeling around the club and the coming season, Saints start well and are 9th by the start of October.

A run of defeats sees them drop to 15th and with strong rumours that the board are looking to cash in on the performances of youngsters Calum Chambers and Sam McQueen, relegation seems a very real possibility.

Calum Chambers looks to be the next young star out of St. Mary's.
Calum Chambers looks to be the next young star out of St. Mary’s.

As the club hit January they sit in 13th and the board reiterate their stance that the club is for sale.

4th January 2014. Calum Chambers is sold to Liverpool for £2.8 million.

16th January 2014. Saints announce that the club has been sold to an American investor.

28th January 2014. Saints sign Danny Ings from Burnley as the first player under the new regime for £1.8 million.

Saints see out the remainder of the season in indifferent form that quickly turns to poor form culminating in a 10 game streak without a win, but with the goals from Ings and a unified more confident squad under the new owners, they find themselves safe from relegation with two games to play and would spend the summer preparing for a third season in the Championship.

It’s worth remembering that in reality the last four seasons have been pretty good…

Chris