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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 Comprehensive Saints Summer Update: Part 1

It’s July. It’s unlikely that anyone has had as turbulent a Summer as Saints so far (Quelle surprise!), so I thought I would give my thoughts on some of the (it’s) happenings at St. Mary’s.

Outgoings

As common an occurrence at the South Coast’s premier club as a bottled North London title challenge, we are used to seeing our top assets walk out at the first sign of fluttered eye lashes from one of the Premier League’s oh so powerful ‘MASSIVE’ clubs. I have to admit though, the loss of Wanyama and Mane in quick succession was a tough one to take. I’ve made no bones that they were two of my ‘favourite’ players from recent squads, and both will be difficult to replace.

In Victor’s case, it was no real shock, I think he got the same treatment as Schneiderlin had previously and was told he could go in the Summer if he knuckled down and got on with it, which he did. Spurs are in the Champion’s League, and Wanyama is a much better player than a lot of Saints fans give him credit for. On the bright-side though Oriol Romeu’s performances were a massive credit to him when he played last season, and most would argue that he is a more than capable replacement. I personally think he is not ‘Victor level’ just yet, but the signs are positive and he is becoming a popular figure with the crowd.

Mane’s move to Liverpool struck me as a purely financial decision by the club. £34 million plus add-ons is a lot of money for a player who can blow hot and cold. Having said that, he is unplayable on his day and the club did the right thing holding out for a ‘silly’ offer before conceding. I can understand a player’s motivation for wanting to play for Liverpool, but it irks slightly that Mane has moved to a club who finished below us last season, and without European football, albeit on no doubt a much higher salary.

Nathan Redmond has already joined so technically Mane’s position is covered. I’m a big fan of Redmond, and believe he has huge potential, but like Romeu I think the issue could be that he isn’t at the same level as Mane yet.

Oh, and Juanmi left. *Shrugs*.

See you in Europe Sadio. No?
See you in Europe Sadio. No?

The New Boss

Claude Puel. What do I know about him? Very little in truth, but unlike some, who immediately wrote him off as ‘underwhelming’ or an ‘unambitious’ appointment, I did the due diligence and read all I could.

It’s fair to say his reputation in France is good. He has a good record with every club he’s been at, won the league with Monaco, got Lyon to the Champion’s League semi finals and Nice into the top four twice, but more importantly, he has a reputation for playing ‘the best’ football in the French league and promoting youth. A move back to the Southampton ideals a certain Dutchman was happy to ignore?

Since he joined I’ve been impressed with his cool persona. He’s as French as they come, and the nonchalant expression as he was shown round the club’s facilities was official Saints YouTube channel gold. In my head he was simply thinking ‘Ok, stadium and changing rooms, great. Show me where I can get a double espresso.’

He will be assisted by the superbly named Pascal Plancque and Eric Black. I know nothing about Plancque, but Black is a well respected coach who happens to be fluent in French (a shrewd move).

I look forward to seeing what this new coaching setup gets out of our talented squad.

Eric. Which one is Mane? Errr Boss...
Eric. Which one is Mane? Errr Boss…

The Kit

Announced yesterday after a series of teaser trailers, the new strip would appear to have been worth the wait.

In my opinion (abusive replies can be made in the comments section below) it is the smartest home kit we’ve had since the sash and the away strip is decent too.

As a long term admirer of Under Armour equipment (I used to use their cooling t-shirts literally under armour in my highly decorated military adventures in the Middle East) I was excited to see what they come up with and I think they have hit the nail on the head.

Some people are worried about sizing with the emphasis these days on designing for the elite athletes rather than the beer bellies in the crowd (seems misguided), but I ordered yesterday on the basis that I wear large UA coolswitch t-shirts for running and they fit me well. We’ll see.

The main complaints I saw from the terminally diagnosed naysayers were firstly ‘It looks like a bra at the top’, which was most brilliantly shot down by one of our female fans who questioned why a lot of our male fanbase seemed confused about the position of breasts in relation to the chest.

https://twitter.com/ChloeLN96/status/750324313715343360

Secondly, it seemed a lot of people wanted a Yellow away strip. Now this is going to be controversial (comments section) but I for one didn’t want a yellow kit. I get the tradition and the history, but yellow kits are consistently garish. Besides, last season was the 40th anniversary of the cup win, so that was the time to have yellow. The black shirt is smart.

Each of the new kits hanging in the St Mary's Satadium chaging room (L-R: GK Home, Away, Home, Away, GK Away) Southampton FC and global performance and innovation brand Under Armour have today revealed the first home and away match kits of their new seven-year partnership. Arriving today on England’s south coast, Saints super-fan Ed Powell oversaw delivery of the first kits to St Mary’s Stadium after winning a competition to learn more about the innovation behind each Under Armour-designed strip.

Incomings

Right now our squad is not as strong as it was last season, in fact I would say it is considerably weaker. But I think we can expect a few through the door once Claude has made his assessments of the current squad.

In my opinion we need another defensive midfielder, another striker/winger and perhaps another goalkeeper.

We’ve already been associated with pretty much anyone who has ever kicked a ball, so I am not going to comment on particular names, most of which are being also linked to much bigger parties anyway so seem unrealistic.

All I ask though, is that you try not to have a tantrum when other clubs sign somebody. We only need to worry about our own club, and in the last 5 years, with regards to incoming transfers they’ve (almost) always got it right.

Keep the faith.