Tag Archives: La Liga

Schneiderlin could owe Saints a debt of gratitude for blocking his move to Spurs!

Let me take you back if you will to the heady summer of 2014.

Some bands I’ve never heard of were producing some mediocre dreary dross that may as well all be by Ed Sheeran and Southampton Football Club were clearing out their deadwood.

Embarking on an exciting new journey under Ronald Koeman, chairman Ralph Kreuger and director of football Les Reed were slowly but surely ridding the squad of those without the desire to work hard for their dreams, those in search of short-cuts

One of those identified as not being surplus to requirements was French midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin. With his heart set on following departed Saints boss Mauricio Pochettino to White Hart Lane, Schneiderlin did what every level headed professional does in a situation of vocational disappointment; had a twitter tantrum.

‘6 years of an amazing journey #saintsfc DESTROYED in 1 hour!!’ read the public outburst, proving that when they…

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Alder right noises: Toby is a Saint!

It was a pretty eventful transfer deadline day for Saints with the club leaving it as late as possible to announce their new players.

The first through the door last night was Belgian international defender Toby Alderweireld on a season long loan with option to buy deal from Atletico Madrid.  Alderweireld was part of Atletico’s La Liga winning and Champion’s League runners up squad last season and it is somewhat of a coup to see him arrive at St. Mary’s.

Capable of playing at both centre half and right back he not only provides vital cover but also the ability to take the club up a level in defensive terms.

I spoke to Kristof Terreur from the website ‘One Man in England‘ and asked him for the lowdown on his countryman.

It’s came from nowhere, but this seems to be a very good signing for Saints. What can we expect from Alderweireld?
KT ‘Alderweireld is a strong, determined central defender with an excellent long pass. He can also play as a right back. Despite the fact that he’s not the tallest, he’s strong in the air and a threat on set pieces. He likes too tackle too. ‘

Any specific strengths and weaknesses?

KT ‘Strengths: His presence, his long ball, his tackle, his treat on attacking set-pieces.

Weakness: he’s not the quickest, and both at Atlético and Ajax he was sometimes caught out of position and made some errors. Although he has a good long ball, he’s not the most accurate passer either, like the other Belgian central defenders in the PL.’

Toby the Saint!
Toby the Saint!

 

Do you think he will be able to adapt quickly to the Premier League?

KT ‘With his determination and tackling he’ll win hearts easily. He has the capacities to turn his hand to the English game.’

With the outgoings at Saints this Summer, many have suggested there is a lack of ‘ambition’ at the club. Does this signing refute that?

KT ‘Well, it’s only a loan. Alderweireld was linked to Arsenal a lot, but the interest was never concrete. Neither with the other big teams. Because he’s Belgian everyone is jumping on the bandwagon as the next big thing. But as a central defender he will always be behind Kompany or Vermaelen in the national team.’

Alderweireld at the World Cup.
Alderweireld at the World Cup.

So there we have it. Saints first of two deadline day players sounds like someone with a big future in the game. Thanks to Kristof for his time. The lowdon on Sadio Mané coming soon…..

Chris

Mauricio Pochettino: The Man with a Plan

Have we all recovered from the shock yet?

It is going to take a while isn’t it. The thought that Nigel won’t be in the dugout on Monday is a little terrifying. But life goes on, and we have to support the team and the new man. This isn’t their fault.

But who is the new man? I know very little of him, he is the man who tripped Michael Owen for the match winning penalty at the 2002 World Cup. He is a former centre half who played for Newell’s Old Boys, Espanyol, Paris Saint-Germain, Bordeaux and Espanyol again. He was then the manager of Espanyol until he left in November.

Other than that I don’t know anything else, so as is the custom at georgeweahscousin.com I found someone who does! Gary Linton is a Spanish football expert who writes for several sites that specialise in La Liga.

Mauricio Pochettino is unveiled at Southampton.
Mauricio Pochettino is unveiled at Southampton.

As you might imagine, we are all a little bemused by Adkins being sacked, and replaced with a man most of us know little about, do you have any words to reassure the Saints fans?

GL:- ‘Of course I can, first of all every Southampton fan will have read the stat, when Pochettino left Espanyol they were bottom of the league with just 2 wins in 14 games, that of course is a fact.

What else is fact is that when he first took over the club, Espanyol were in the drop zone, 8 points adrift of safety and in a bad way, it was their 13th man in charge in just 11 years. Pochettino had around half a season to steer them clear of relegation. In the end he did, in fact, in the end he finished 10th. Along the way he beat Barcelona in their own back yard (Something they have yet to repeat since) They lost just 5 games out of the 18 he managed that season – Facts.

He had to by the end sell most, if not all of his top players each and every season, and work not even on a shoe string budget, there was no budget, yet he managed to finish the following seasons 11th in the league, then 8th then 14th. Fact.

In the end, he may have been sacked, but he was left with nothing, nothing at all and it was the right move for the club and for the manager himself. He couldn’t do anymore, to be honest I’m surprised they weren’t relegated through-out his time, it just shows how good a job he did.

If that doesn’t show how good a job he’s done, this might – At one point in his stage he was a realistic choice to become the new Real Madrid manager.’

We’ve got used to attractive attacking football under Adkins, what can we expect from the new boss?

GL:- ‘You can expect the players to work hard in training for a start, and not slack off, just ask Pablo Osvaldo, he once said on Pochettino’s training: “At times you want to kill him simply because he makes you suffer like a dog. But in the end you get the right results”

That’s just for the training, as for the game itself. Attacking football you say, well that’s what you’ll get from him. Espanyol were a side that pushed high up the park, playing their football from the back always trying to work hard and press the opposition and most importantly they loved the possession-based style, keep the ball at all times. 

Most would have saw the quote from Pep Guardiola about Pochettino’s team, if not then here it is here: “There are teams that wait for you and teams that look for you: Espanyol look for you. I feel very close to their style of football.”

If that’s not a compliment of the highest order from a man who was at the time the manager of one of the best footballing sides the world’s ever seen, then I do not know what is.’ 

Pochettino is said to encourage development from the academy which is in line with Saints vision, but do you think he will move in the transfer window and what sort of player will he go for?

GL:- ‘He’s a man who loves youth systems, he’s a big believer in them and rightfully so. At Espanyol he worked very closely with the youth set-up at every level, he’d even make each team play in an age group above to speed things up, to improve them quicker and help build them up. During his time as manager, he was well into double figures with the amount of youngsters he brought into the first team, it was over 20 players he had brought through by the time he left, the youngest at 16 years old, he was a believer of the ‘If you’re good enough, you’re old enough’

On transfers, one thing is likely and that’s a profit each transfer window. During his time at Espanyol, a club he had played at for many years he developed a friendship with many he had to manage, it didn’t stop him selling and getting rid of them. Each transfer window he made a profit, and mostly a big profit. For example, he sold Albert Riera to Liverpool for just under €9 million, Espanyol bought him 4 seasons prior for just €2.6M – Had Pablo Zabaleta had to sell, but sold him for double what they paid, 3 seasons before. Nicolás Pareja bought for €4.4 million, season and a half later, sold for exactly double. He bought and kept the likes of Euro 2008 winner, Sergio García, he purchased what can be described as Espanyol’s most influential player in Joan Verdú, on a free transfer!

So yes, he does very well in youth development but also does well in the transfer window.’

Pochettino at Espanyol.
Pochettino at Espanyol.

How did you rate his time at Espanyol?

GL:- ‘He did well, in fact he did very well. As I said before, he led them away from the relegation the first season, made them into a mid-table team with next to no money and having to sell his best players and relying on youth to make the step up. 

He then took them just 9 points away from a European spot, a team like that in Europe, if someone had said that at the start of that season, they’d be laughed away, he was this close to doing it.

He then kept them mid-table during his time there, in the last season, after every ‘good’ player had been sold, fans were then getting a little annoyed, the board not helping or backing him and with the man himself getting a little miffed and tired, they decided it was time for him to go. Which I guess was fair, but the main point is, he had taken them far enough and when you get ‘NO’ backing, what else can you do. 

In fact, he done an excellent job all things considered.’ ‘

Do you think that he might look at any of his old Espanyol players to improve the Southampton team?

GL:- ‘I don’t see why not, if I was a manger I’d be more than interested in the likes of Joan Verdu, Víctor Sánchez, Christian Stuani or maybe even the goal keeper, Cristian Álvarez to name but a few. I do think though that his best asset will be the long term plan from the youth system. 

But if he has to buy a player or two, I’m sure he’ll come knocking on a few La Liga clubs doors, find the likes of the new Michu kicking around, if anyone can do that then a man who’s been in Spain for that many years, with that many contacts can.’

On the whole do you see this as a good appointment for a Premier League club?

GL:-  ‘I 100% do, I understand the Saints fans point of view, that they didn’t need to sack their manager, he should have got the season and with the job Nigel Adkins did who can blame them.

But what I do believe is that, even though he’s gone, do be happy with who you have in as manager. This is a man who may not be able to speak English but knows how to manage a club who’ll avoid relegation, get behind him as I’m sure you will and together you supports and the manager can come out at the end of this season still in the Barclay’s Premier League.’

Hopefully that will help make Saints fans feel a little more confident about the coming weeks. We have to back this guy now, and it would seem he is no mug.

Thanks to Gary for these enthusiastic answers! Follow him on twitter @AlbaEspana

Chris

The Class of 2005: Who were the real winners?

22nd April 2005, approximately 21:58. Fifteen year old Edward Upson hits the ball first time from twenty five yards. Andrew McNeill is helpless in the Southampton net. Goal Ipswich Town.

A heartbreaking end to a memorable season for the Saints youngsters, losing the FA Youth Cup final with just two minutes of extra time left to be played.

The first leg had been played at St. Mary’s four days earlier, Saints leading through David McGoldrick before being pegged back by a double from Irishman Cathal Lordan, Leon Best netting the equaliser that kept the tie on a knife edge. The second leg had remained goalless despite Saints dominance, Ipswich thankful to keeper Shane Supple that it got to extra time. Seemingly heading for penalties, substitute Upson was the youngest player on the pitch when he stole the headlines, and the silverware for the Suffolk side.

For young lads with the world at their feet, it must have been difficult to take.  For some it was to be their career highlight, for others, just the beginning. Football is a cruel world, and as is commonplace, despite being the cream of the crop as young players not all would be destined for the top.

Actually in this instance it was the losers who have fared better, the Saints squad boast four current Premier League players, the Ipswich squad none. While the Saints players have commanded massive transfer fees between them and gained many international caps, the Ipswich team have not. Having said that, not all of the Saints squad has achieved all of their footballing aims.

I decided to find out where they are now, and how different the careers of these players now hitting their peak age of 24/25 have fared.

Saints

Andrew McNeil – The Scottish keeper left Saints in January 2006, returning to his native Edinburgh with SPL side Hibernian, he forced his way into the first team at Easter Road, including playing in the 2007 League Cup final win. He was later replaced in the side and released in 2009. He spent a season in the third division with Montrose before signing for First Division Raith Rovers in 2010. He was released by Raith this summer and signed for Livingston where he is currently first choice.

Craig Richards – Local lad Richards was released by Saints in the summer of 2006. He was picked up by Conference side Salisbury City in 2007. Spells at Eastleigh, Bognor Regis Town and Winchester City followed. He now plays for Whitehawk FC in the Ryman League Division One South.

Sebastian Wallis-Tayler – The frenchman left Saints the summer after the Cup Final and signed for Havant & Waterlooville before playing for Bognor Regis Town and Lewes. He is now back in his native France playing for non-league outfit CA Lisieux.

Sean Rudd – After being released by Saints, Rudd had an unsuccessful trial with former club Oxford United before sadly retiring through injury. Now works for a Sports Shoe company.

Martin Cranie – Had already played first team football on loan at Bournemouth and Premier League football for Saints at the time of the Youth Cup final. He played in the Premier League under Harry Redknapp, before finding chances limited under George Burley in the Championship. Cranie had two spells on loan at Yeovil Town before reuniting with Redknapp at Portsmouth for the 2007 season. Spent time at QPR and Charlton on loan before joining Coventry City in 2009 where he is still a regular for the Championship outfit. Has gained caps for England at U21 level.

Lloyd James – The Welsh utility man earned a professional contract with Saints in 2006, and made over seventy first team appearances in the Championship and League One before his somewhat surprise release (having been a regular in the team) in 2010. He soon signed for Colchester United and is now an established member of the U’s first team. A Welsh U21 international.

Tim Sparv – Finnish midfielder Sparv left Saints in 2007 to sign for Swedish club Halmstads BK, he is now playing in the Dutch first division with FC Groningen via a loan spell in his home country. He has been capped fifteen times by Finland.

Tim Sparv. Now in the Dutch Eredivisie.

Nathan Dyer – The tiny winger made his first team debut for Saints at the start of the season following the final. He was loaned to Burnley before coming back and getting more regular gametime at St. Mary’s. He went on loan again to Sheffield United in 2008, before really flourishing at Swansea City, firstly on loan before joining permanently in 2009 and he is now a regular in their Premier League side.

Theo Walcott – Made his first team debut at sixteen and was soon turning heads at a higher level. Chelsea had already shown an interest in him, but it was Arsenal who paid £5 million with a potential outcome of £12 million (although that is seemingly no longer the case) for him in 2006. He has now played over one hundred times for the Gunners. He became the youngest ever full England international in 2006 and was the surprise inclusion in Sven Goran Erikssons’s World Cup Squad of 2006. He has now played eighteen times for his country.

Leon Best – The Irish striker had already played in the Premier League for Saints by the time of the final, and also spent a period on loan with QPR. Further loans with Sheffield Wednesday, Bournemouth and Yeovil Town followed before he rejected a new contract with Saints in 2007 and joined Coventry City, the tribunal setting the fee at £650k. His performances for the Sky Blues were enough to persuade Newcastle United to move for him and is now a first team player with the Toon in the Premier League. He has represented Ireland at senior level.

Leon. Doing his Best for Newcastle in the Premier League.

David McGoldrick – McGoldrick was handed a first team debut in the September following the match at Portman Road, but it would take him another three years and loan spells at Notts County,  Bournemouth and Port Vale before he would be considered a regular. He was an ever present in the Saints team that dropped out of the Championship, scoring twelve goals and left for Nottingham Forest for £1 million the following summer.

Kyle Critchell – Defender Critchell was hampered by a serious injury in 2005 and was eventually loaned out to Torquay United in 2006. He was released the following summer and joined Chesterfield. He joined Weymouth in June 2007 before signing for Wrexham the following season, injuries again stunted his progression and he was loaned to York City before rejoining the Terras. He currently plays for hometown club Dorchester Town in the Blue Square South division who he signed for in 2009.

Ashlee Jones – Sub keeper Jones was released in the summer of 2005 and signed for Rushden & Diamonds, he has played for an array of clubs since and eventually made his football league debut for Darlington in 2009, he now plays for Braintree Town in the Blue Square Premier division.

Adam Lallana – The only member of the squad still at St. Mary’s, the creative midfielder is now a lynchpin in Nigel Adkins side and has made one hundred and thirty appearances for the club, now catching the eye of Premier League suitors he has been capped at U21 level by England.

Adam Lallana, still flying high with Saints.

Feliciano Condesso – Portuguese midfielder Condesso left Saints in 2007 without playing for the first team, somewhat surprisingly he joined La Liga side Villarreal but couldn’t break into the first team setup there either. He played for their ‘B’ side in the Spanish third tier before joining UD Logrones and now plays for Ontinyent CF.

Gareth Bale – The youngest member of the Saints squad, aged fifteen, Bale made his first team debut in 2006 and played forty times that season as Saints made it to the Championship play offs. Hot property, the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester United were said to be interested, but it was Spurs who signed the Welshman for an initial fee of £5 million that rose to £7 million and Tommy Forescast. Bale struggled to make an impact at White Hart Lane to start with, but is now considered one of the best players in the world. A notable hat trick in the Champions League against Inter at the San Siro propelling him to super stardom. He has played thirty times for Wales.

Josh Dutton-Black – Winger Dutton-Black left Saints in 2007 and signed for AFC Totton. He has since had spells at Salisbury, Kidderminster, Eastleigh, Bognor Regis Town and Didcot Town. He now plays for North Leigh in the Southern League Division One South & West.

Ipswich Town

Shane Supple – Retired. Now a Gaelic Football player.

Michael Synott – Released by League of Ireland side Dundalk in the summer of 2010.

James Krause – Now playing for Cambridge City in the Southern League Premier division.

Chris Casement – Now playing for Linfield in the IFA Premiership. Capped by Northern Ireland.

Aidan Collins – Now playing for the University of London FC.

Sammy Moore – Now playing for AFC Wimbledon in League Two.

Cathal Lordan – Now playing for Cork City in the League of Ireland First division.

Liam Trotter – Now playing for Millwall in the Championship.

Owen Garvan – Now playing for Crystal Palace in the Championship. Eire U21 international.

Owen Garvan. Tipped for big things, now at Palace.

Liam Craig – Now playing for St. Johnstone in the Scottish Premier League.

Daryl Knights – Now playing for Newport County in the Blue Square Premier League.

Danny Haynes – Now playing for Barnsley in the Championship.

Blair Hammond – Now playing for Ipswich Wanderers in the Eastern Counties League division one.

Charlie Sheringham – Now playing for Dartford in the Blue Square South.

Ed Upson – Now playing for Yeovil Town in League One.

Andy Reynolds – Now playing for Lowestoft Town in the Ryman Premier divsion.

Stuart Ainsley – Now playing for Lowestoft Town in the Ryman Premier divsion.

It is clear to see that the losing Saints squad have, on the whole fared better than their Ipswich counterparts. Although it is staggering to see that of the thirty four players involved, fifteen of them are now playing at non-league level.

This isn’t a fate exclusive to these young finalists either, of the 2007 Liverpool winning side, only two players have since played for the first team, and only one (Jay Spearing) is still on the fringe. Their defeated opponents that day Manchester United fielded Danny Welbeck who has now become a first team player, the rest of the names are less familiar. In fact if you were to go through the lineups of all the previous finals, you would find only a handful of players plying their trade at the top of the footballing tree. Another case of foreigners ruining the English game? Hardly. These days half the youth teams are foreign players as clubs look to invest abroad as early as possible, all hoping to discover the next Lionel Messi. The fact is the standard required gets higher every season and more are likely to fall by the wayside with every intake. Also, I always wonder how much difference in ability there is between some players playing non-league and those in the lower echelons of the professional game. Not that much I would wager, and in reality we could probably fill another four divisions of professional clubs if it were possible.

Either way, the differing fortunes of some of these young players is a harsh reminder that the career of a footballer is a privilege to be treasured.

Chris

Thanks to Gordon Simpson (Daily Echo), Martin Brodetsky (Oxford United FC), David Seabourne (Bognor Regis Town FC Supporters Club), Graham Large (It’s Round & It’s White), Jon Dalton (Granley Rovers FC), Samuel Ridout.


Athletic Bilbao Take First Markus Liebherr Memorial Cup…

In what a was a first of its kind in terms of format, Southampton Football Club paid tribute to their late saviour Markus Liebherr by playing in a triangular tournament of forty five minute games against some of the cream of European football.

Athletic Bilbao and Werder Bremen would provide some stern tests for Nigel Adkins men. The Spaniards whose red & white striped shirts, legend has it were inspired by the Saints own, came armed with World cup winners Llorente and Martinez, while the Germans came fresh off the back of some impressive Champions League performances last season.

It was the Germans that got things under way against the hosts (sporting their return to stripes), and were taken by surprise by the underdogs. Goals from Connolly, Guly and Lallana saw the Saints get a shock opening win in the tournament, the Grün-Weißen (Green & Whites) looked shell shocked as the home side passed the ball round neatly and took control of the game.

Saints: Bialkowski, Butterfield, Fonte, Seaborne, Harding, Chamberlain, Hammond, Cork, Lallana, Guly, Connolly.

Werder Bremen: Mielitz, Wolf, Schmitz, Schoppenhauer, Wesley, Marin, Hunt, Trybull, Wagner, Schindler, Thy.

The ever impressive Adam Lallana battles Brazilian defender Wesley.

There was no respite for the Bundesliga side, after a short break they were back on the St. Mary’s pitch to face their Spanish counterparts. It was a better showing from Werder, but Athletic’s class shone through. A thirty yard freekick by Gabilondo and a tap in from Toquero were scored either side of Bargfrede’s volley.

Athletic Bilbao: Iraizoz, Gurpegui, Castillo, San Jose, Amorebieta, Orbaiz, Lopez, Herrera, Llorente, Toquero, Gabilondo.

Werder Bremen: Wiese, Trybull, Arnautovic, Fritz, Rosenberg, Schmitz, Hunt, Papastathopoulos, Trinks, Balogun, Bargfrede.

So it meant that the final game between Saints and Athletic would be a “winner takes all” encounter. Southampton emerged from the tunnel in their new Brazil colours away strip but couldn’t find any samba inspiration. Igor Martinez put Los Leones (the lions) in front and the Spanish side never looked back. Susaeta hit a wonder strike to suit any occasion in the dying seconds to ensure Bilbao were the first name on the Markus Liebherr trophy.

Saints: Davis, Richardson, Martin, Jaidi, Dickson, Holmes, Schneiderlin, Chaplow, Forte, Doble, Barnard.

Athletic Bilbao: Fernandez, Iraola, Ustaritz, San Jose, Ocio, Iturrapse, Susaeta, DeMarcos (De Galarreta 43), Martinez, Saborit, Gomez.

Morgan Schneiderlin fights for the ball.

A fitting end to a nice day, personally I am more of a fan of permanent physical tributes than friendly matches, but Saints also had this covered opening the new “Markus Liebherr Lounge” at the tournament. One thing that was guaranteed was the wonderful impression our club gave to the visiting fans and players from Spain and Germany.

I was lucky enough to catch up with German football journalist Tim Röhn, editor for top German newspaper Bild who was at the tournament. Here is what he had to say about his St. Mary’s experience:-

“Just an insignificant tournament. I did not have big expectations when I took my flight to London to watch the “Memorial Cup” in Southampton. I am an editor for Germany’s biggest newspaper BILD and most of the time I write about Werder Bremen. So it was me that was chosen to see the club in the UK.

When I arrived at St. Mary’s Stadium, ninety minutes before the first match I was really surprised. What an awesome ground! The stands so close to the pitch, no fences – it is not like as it is in the German Bundesliga. There were not many supporters at this time, but when the Saints started against Werder there were probably around 9000 people. And they made noise like there were three times that many!

It was amazing. They supported the team like many German second division teams could only dream of being supported even in championship games. The whole stadium (the part that was crowded) was singing after the first goal. I really liked the atmosphere – and the way the Saints play as well. So fast from the defence to the attack. Great! The 3:0 win was well-deserved.

I talked to some spectators after the first match. Nice guys! Emotional guys! Fair guys! Even after I told them that I was German ;). Red and white are the perfect colours for football clubs – I am biased though because I am a big fan of Fortuna Düsseldorf (2nd division, Germany) and they wear the same colours.

I am thinking about coming back to see Southampton in the Championship. I want more – undoubtedly!”

Athletic Bilbao - 2011 Markus Liebherr Memorial Cup Winners.

Chris

Swiss Roll or Mountain to Climb for Saints….

The Saints players are once again in Switzerland for their pre-season preparations, and will be hoping for things to go slightly better this time…

Much was made of last years pre-season efforts, that were followed by a poor start to the season, injuries and accusations of bad practice. The likes of Rickie Lambert took a while to fire, and new boy Frazer Richardson was one of the high profile to suffer injury setbacks, as Saints “favourites” tag looked to be way off as they stuttered to 22nd place after the first five games. So how important are these pre-season trips?

Nigel Adkins says “Vital”. And I agree.

It isn’t just about fitness of course, the need to for any successful team to have a good spirit and camaraderie is as, if not more important. Nigel Adkins looks like he thinks the same, and black sheep Jason Puncheon hasn’t travelled with the squad, for fear of disruption.

So what did Alan Pardew do so wrong? And what will Adkins do differently? Well for a start do we actually know that Pardew did wrong? Let’s face it, had we gone unbeaten in the first five games last season, there would have been no questioning of Pardew’s methods. There were several comments in some of the early season defeats of lethargic looking players. Frazer Richardson was injured on the pre-season tour of 2010, as was Rickie Lambert, who uncharacteristically scored just two goals in the first twelve games, remarkable then that he would go on to be the clubs top scorer with twenty one by the end of the season. Fitness was clearly an issue, something Lambert has talked about himself since.

When Nigel Adkins took over, he was quick to mention fitness and the lack thereof after overseeing a drab 0-2 defeat at MK Dons, and by this point in the season, Saints were gaining a reputation for starting games well and taking control before succumbing to defeat. As Adkins influence became more apparent, the side became more resilient and control became victories.

Nigel Adkins - Controlling the controllables....

Adkins, comes from the opposite side of the coaching spectrum to Pardew, the “new breed” if you will, his previous employment as a Physiotherapist is well documented, and he is obsessed with sports psychology, so it is natural to assume that this time round the Swiss trip should produce fitter players, less injuries and even a squad that is better prepared mentally.

Saints will officially start their pre-season tomorrow evening in the Gurzelen Stadion to take on Swiss Challenge League (Championship equivalent) side FC Biel-Bienne, before heading to the AFG Arena to face recently relegated Super League side St. Gallen on Saturday. Returning new boy Jack Cork, somewhat of a coup signing will get his first run out back in a Saints shirt during these games, while it will also be a chance for returning loanees Ryan Doble and Joseph Mills to stake a claim.

The purpose of the Swiss tour and games, may be more about physical shape, team building and even some commercial links than it is about results, but the squad will be truly tested on their return to the South coast. A week of training will be followed by the inaugral “Markus Liebherr Memorial Tournament” and two forty five minute games against European heavy weights Atletico Bilbao from La Liga and Werder Bremen from the Bundesliga. The squad will get to mix it up with World Cup winners and Champions League regulars in the round robin format and against that level of ability any fitness issues will be sorely punished. The technical ability of the likes of Javi Martinez will be difficult enough to deal with, without chasing their shadows.

West Brom and Yeovil Town will make up the rest of pre-season opposition for the first team before the season opens live on Sky (again) against Leeds United at St. Mary’s on the 6th August.

All we can hope is that the lessons of last season’s start have been learnt. We came from the back of the pack to secure promotion last season, despite the less than perfect preparations and the woeful opening run of results. The Championship will not be so forgiving. Every season this is a league that looks more difficult to get out of, and with the likes of Birmingham City and West Ham amongst the Premier League relegated, it is almost impossible to predict an outcome. A lack of preperation and a slow start could be disasterous, and missing out on promotion could be the least of of our worries…..

Chris

The Odd Couple…

I love watching the MLS. The American pro “soccer” league is blossoming. A renaissance that started with the signing of David Beckham and continues to build with a somewhat rare mix. It is a league that gives opportunity to those who may be struggling in the more established professional leagues while at the same time attracts big name stars at the end of their careers.

This can lead to some interesting and somewhat unlikely team lineups. I was first fascinated by the LA Galaxy elevens containing both Beckham and former English lower league winger Chris Birchall, but this season the New York Red Bulls have produced an even unlikelier pairing.

Jack Lemmon and Walter Mathau were the original odd couple, where the differing lifestyles of two friends are at constant loggerheads. In footballing terms, the contrasting lifestyles of the Red Bulls forward line is as drastic.

Thierry Henry is football royalty. The Frenchman is as popular a man as he is revered as a player, highly decorated and having played for some of the worlds biggest clubs, he can boast Lionel Messi as a former teammate and is a World Cup winner.

Luke Rodgers is football proletariat. The Englishman has earned a reputation as a troublemaker and a bad boy while plying his trade in the lower echelons of the English professional game. He can boast the likes of Lee Hughes as a former teammate and is a League Two winner.

There is a saying when something extraordinary happens Stateside “Only in America”, and only in the MLS could these two form a successful partnership.

Rodgers & Henry. Firing the Red Bulls to the top...

Henry’s career began in Monaco and the glamourous setting of the French Riviera in 1994. By 1997, it was already clear that his future lay away from Ligue 1, having already secured a league title and a French Young Footballer of the Year award. By January 1999, Henry was a World Cup winner with his country and a £10 million man, on his way to the Stadio Delle Alpi and Italy’s “Old Lady” Juventus. The summer before, Luke Rodgers was starting his career, with Shrewsbury Town in the English Third Division. His spell at the Shrews was successful on a personal front, goals coming with relative ease, but as a club the Gay Meadow side dropped into the conference and non-league football.

It wasn’t all rosy for Henry either. His spell in Italy lasted just seven months, unsuited to the Italian style of play he made an £11 million move to Arsenal and the English Premier League that summer. Henry’s eight seasons for the Gunners are well documented. Premier League titles and FA Cups were joined by unbeaten seasons and being named the PFA player of the year. Twice. Not to mention a European Championship title with his country. In the same time, Rodgers had a achieved a Conference play-off win and a move to League One with Crewe Alexandra.

In the summer of 2007, with heavy heart, Thierry left Arsenal and headed for the Nou Camp in a £20 million deal, in the previous January Port Vale had splashed out £30k for Rodgers services. Henry added the Champions League to his collection of honours in 2009, surrounded by two La Liga titles. While he celebrated the the second of those titles, Rodgers was celebrating his only career trophy, having won League Two with Notts County(the only club where the two shared a former teammate in Sol Campbell, all be it for only one game).

Henry headed to the MLS in July 2010, and was joined by Rodgers in January of this year, their careers couldn’t be more different, but actually in the land of opportunity, Rodgers is taking his. The pair have struck up a potent partnership, and the New York Red Bulls are currently top of the Eastern Conference. Rodgers career may not be glamourous, but he has always been a goalscorer, and one that gives the teams he plays for a good return. He already has five this term for the Red Bull arena side and several assists for his more cultured partner. Henry has seven himself and the New York side look like they will be certain play-off challengers with the combination of the traditional aggressive striker in Rodgers and the tricky ball player up front.

This doesn’t happen anywhere else, perhaps the AFL to a lesser extent, but just think what we could see from the MLS in years to come? Messi &  Dean Bowditch? Long may it continue.

Chris.