Dear reader, I’ve no doubt that this will open me up to some criticism and that’s fine, all I ask you is that you make that criticism constructive and debate worthy!
Recently Saints have launched their campaign to find the ‘Ultimate’ Saints XI.
As a fan you are entitled to vote for a Goalkeeper, four defenders, three midfielders, three forwards and a manager. Simple right? Not quite. Only those with 150 plus appearances qualify. That to me is an odd rule. There have undoubtedly been players who made less than that but had more impact than some that did, but anyway, that is their rules and like the submissive man that I am I shall simply take that restriction on the chin and vote while mumbling Dean Richards quietly under my breath.
The beauty of a public poll like this is, that everyone interprets it their own way. For instance I immediately decided I couldn’t vote for those I never saw play. This was a sub-conscious but clear decision. This is MY Ultimate XI. To me the idea that someone in their 20’s is voting for Mick Mills is a little ludicrous. This is your team, not your Dad’s! But, as it is your team then you are entitled to interpret it however you see fit.
Due to my decision, basically anyone who played for Saints prior to 1986 was basically out. This might seem reckless, but no matter how good they might have been they don’t mean the same to me as they might those who were there at the time. And besides, olden days football was a rubbish standard right? (joke).
Anyway never-mind the reasoning, here is my team:-
This side would of course be managed by Gordon Strachan.
As everybody will think, my team seems self explanatory to me, but I’ll explain it anyway.
Goalkeeper:- Antti Niemi
The Flying Finn, was simply put, a fantastic Goalkeeper, and undoubtedly the best I’ve seen for Saints (even without the 150 appearance rule). His shot stopping was often spectacular and he was certainly one of those keepers that was worth a few points a season.
Left Back:- Wayne Bridge
Now a star of reality TV, Bridge really was as good as we made out at the time and his further career at Chelsea, Man City and with England goes to prove it. The local lad I watched from debutante to high profile transfer exit. It seems odd to think he is two years younger than me!
Our Claus, the Norwegian with a Hampshire twang to his accent was somewhat of an anomaly. It is rare in modern football that somebody earns a testimonial, even rarer when a foreigner does it, but Claus took the city and the club to his heart and backed it up with solid performances.
Centre Half:- Mark Wright
This was the first time when I was selecting where the appearance rule proved a problem. Wright only just sneaks into my own personal criteria, but I have to say the choices in this position weren’t awe inspiring. Wright was a classy ball playing defender, perhaps ahead of his time!
Right Back:- Jason Dodd
For me Dodd was Mr. Dependable. Over 400 games for the club and I don’t remember a bad one. Maybe not the most dynamic right back in the league, but one you could trust and never lost his affinity with the club, even drinking with the fans in Milan last year!
Midfield:- David Armstrong
Largely regarded as one of the most underrated players in English football, though he was recognised internationally. I didn’t worry too much about balance in my team, but I do feel Armstrong is key to that. A tidy midfield player who chipped in with goals.
Midfield:- Morgan Schneiderlin
Like Wayne Bridge, this one has a sense of journey about it. I watched this lightweight French kid who looked useless at first develop into one of the most accomplished midfielders in the Premier League. A defensive midfielder, but so much more, under Pochettino then Koeman he was consistently outstanding.
Free Role:- Matthew Le Tissier
The greatest of all time. Surely there wasn’t anybody who didn’t vote for him, except himself?
Forward:- Danny Wallace
This could easily have gone to Rod, but not Ray. Sorry Ray. Eventually I went for the one with the most goals. Again, I wasn’t looking at balance (but perhaps I was) but with one target man, I wanted my other strikers to be the exciting pacy kind.
Forward:- Rickie Lambert
Had he not continued his fantastic form into the top flight then maybe this position would be filled by a Beattie or a Shearer, but he did. Of course he did. Perhaps the first player to capture the imaginations of Saints fans since Le Tiss. A gentleman, and a great goalscorer.
Forward:- Marian Pahars
Impact. Longevity. Talent. The kid from Latvia who dazzled us both with his fantastic ability and his affection for the club. His celebration v Portsmouth still sends shivers down my spine, the man from Riga celebrating like he grew up in Sholing. Some will overlook him, but they would be wrong to, had injuries not hampered him I’ve no doubt he’d be talked in higher regard.
Manager:- Gordon Strachan
I spent more time on this than perhaps on any of the others. There were three periods as a Saints fan I really loved. Under Messrs Strachan, Pochettino and Koeman. Poch didn’t qualify so it was a choice of two. At the end of the day both got us into Europe after prolonged breaks but only one got us to a cup final!
So there it is. Make of it what you will, but please remember, this is MY Ultimate XI, I’m not asking you to change yours. There will be thousands of different combinations, all with great justification but ultimately democracy will decide! I do think the more recent players will win as this is an internet competition for the internet generation, but let it be said, that every nominee in the list deserves our respect and our gratitude for being Saints!
Keep the faith!