An early exit for Redknapp, and that can come as no shock. You have to ask yourself how bad your signings were though when the man that brought Ali Dia to the club knocks you out! Oh wait…. Calum Davenport.
As far as jumping on the bandwagon goes, this is as shameless as it gets….
Seemingly started by Richard Osman of Pointless fame with his ‘World Cup of Chocolate, using the new twitter poll feature as a way of deciding who or what is the best at something in a Knockout competition is a bit a of harmless fun that has now been replicated for all sorts of subjects.
I decided to start my own ‘World Cup’ (although in retrospect it should be FA Cup) of Saints Managers.
This is just for fun. It doesn’t really decide anything, and based on the demographic of Twitter I only went back to Lawrie McMenemy (one of the clear favourites). I also only included those who were permanent managers. Except I forgot Steve Wigley. Sorry Steve.
Saints fans can be forgiven for saying that they don’t owe much to former chairman Rupert Lowe, but on the 27th June 2008, Lowe made one of his wisest decisions.
Lowe agreed to pay a small fee (with possible rises to £1.2 million) to RC Strasbourg for 18 year old French midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin. Although the name may have been alien to fans in English football, Schneiderlin was a young man turning the heads of several clubs.
From the Alsace region of northern France, one of the smallest, and more famed for it’s skiers than it’s footballers, Schneiderlin was already making a presence on the international scene having represented France at every level up to U18 when Saints came calling.
This was after countryman Georges Prost’s time at Saints, but you can’t help but think that the legendary French youth development coach may have had a hand it. With Chelsea and Arsenal both interested in Schneiderlin it eventually came down to a straight choice. Premier League Portsmouth or Championship Southampton, thankfully for us, Morgan chose club size, potential and facilities over temporary league superiority and joined Saints when perhaps they were at their lowest ebb.
To say it was a risky move for both the club and Schneiderlin would be an understatement. With the club in a difficult period financially and having just survived a Championship relegation battle on the final day of the season, this might not have been the best place for a young foreigner to take the next step in his career.
2008/09 was an even more difficult season. Off the field Saints were unravelling and on the pitch the amount of playing time Schneiderlin was getting in the first team would be a telling tale as to the quality on offer. In what was a very poor side, Schneiderlin, being young, in a foreign country and far from the finished article looked seriously exposed. Saints finished second from bottom and the fans weren’t sold on their new French midfielder. The strength of feeling can be seen in a thread from the most populated Saints internet forum ‘Saintsweb’ – ‘Schneiderlin – The biggest waste of cash ever?’ narrowly beating English lower league plodder Paul Wotton as the best option for central midfield.
I won’t lie, I also thought Schneiderlin was poor and not cut out to take part in a League One campaign. The phrase ‘lightweight French ponce’ was said to me by a friend and I can’t say I disagreed.
If we are being fair though that was a hideously poor Saints team, and Schneiderlin would have done well to shine in it. Rupert Lowe’s disastrous Dutch experiment with Jan Poortvliet at the helm, coupled with bad financial decisions meant that this was a difficult time to be a Southampton player. For many Schneiderlin was a write off, a waste of money and not good enough. Saints had had a brief upturn under Mark Wotte, and the former Saints coach had this to say about Schneiderlin ‘Intelligent player great basic skills,cool composed passer,perfect sitting and passing midfielder,could be a bit more dominant’.
‘Quand on a le droit de se tromper impunément, on est toujours sûr de réussir.’
The 2009/10 season was the start of Saints new dawn, and the same could be said for Schneiderlin. As Saints lived through an uncertain summer in administration it might have been a good time for Morgan Schneiderlin to make his escape, but whether it was down to a lack of interest (everyone was for sale) or a lack of enthusiasm on Morgan’s part the Frenchman was still a Saints player when the club was rescued by Markus Liebherr. Under new boss Alan Pardew Saints looked a much better prospect and Schneiderlin started to show his worth.
In a season that ended with a trophy (sadly Schneiderlin missed the Johnstones Paint Trophy final with a hamstring injury) and Saints just missing out on the playoffs despite a -10 point penalty, it was clear the club was embarking on a bright new period, and Schneiderlin was very much a part of it. The fans had started to see a different side of the player as his confidence started to blossom, both the good and the bad. As well as showing a calmness on the ball, so associated with the continental players, he also showed his combative side, losing his temper and picking up bookings and being sent off twice.
If fans weren’t sold on him at this point. The subsequent two seasons would complete his turnaround. Flourishing under Nigel Adkins, while the club continuously changed personell around him to plan for the Championship, Schneiderlin was a mainstay. As Saints pushed for promotion Schneiderlin was coming into his own in central midfield and was becoming one of the most vocal and passionate Saints players, often leading the chat in the pre-match huddle.
Saints made an impressive return to the Championship with Schneiderlin now one of the first names on the teamsheet playing in a defensive midfield role alongside Jack Cork. He had earned himself a new contract in the summer and now Saints fans were celebrating his stay rather than bemoaning it. Saints made it back to back promotions and the Premier League beckoned.
The Premier League has been the great leveller for many a player that has been ‘rated’ in the lower leagues. Saints were now three years into a five year plan to build a side to compete in the Premier League and Schneiderlin was still very much a part of that. Like his other top division shy teammates from the lesser tier era Jack Cork, Jose Fonte, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert he hasn’t failed to impress. The Frenchman, now an old stager and part of the furniture at St. Mary’s has been fantastic, mixing it up with some of the best in the world. Having perhaps been Saints best kept secret while his team mates are linked with moves elsewhere, people have started to sit up and take notice.
His progress since 2008 has been almost immeasurable, and it is hard to imagine Saints lining up without Schneiderlin in that anchor role between defence and attack, they would certainly be the weaker for it. The French often have a philosophical way with words, and when Eric Cantona described French captain Didier Deschamps as ‘nothing more than a water carrier’, Deschamps rightly retorted that ‘every team needs water carriers’ and that is undoubtedly true. To compare Schneiderlin to Deschamps would be frivolous at this stage of his career, but he certainly adds that sense of calm and consistency to Saints midfield. Breaking up play, taking control of the ball and moving it on productively. If I can be so bold, I would say that Schneiderlin is 50% Deschamps in style, and 50% that of another successful countryman Claude Makélélé. Again perhaps I am being a little over zealous but to date this season Schneiderlin has made 162 tackles and interceptions, more than any other player in Europe’s top 5 leagues. Couple that with an 85% pass success rate you can see that this is a man in control of midfield, despite facing the best there is.
Having become a key player for Saints, and a man that the media and pundits are starting to talk about, it seems crazy that he is just 23 years old, and has already amassed 172 first team appearances for the club.
It has been an up and down relationship between Morgan and Saints, who has suffered the recent lows and enjoyed the recent highs. He is now very much a part of Saints folklore. He has blossomed at the club and grown as the club has grown, and alongside Kelvin Davis is all that is left of the dark days of 2008. The sky really is the limit now for Morgan, and I for one would not be surprised to see Didier Deschamps give him a chance in his revamped French squad, he would certainly have deserved it.
As Saints are now in another exciting new era, Schneiderlin epitomises everything that ‘The Southampton Way’ is about, young, talented and growing from an 18 year old rough around the edges to leading the first team out as captain against the European champions. With Mauricio Pochettino coming in as head coach and renowned in Spain for working with and improving young players it will be interesting to see how good Schneiderlin can become. He himself was quoted this week saying about the new setup “I believe he will make us better players. He has a lot of new ideas.”.
The shared journey of Southampton and Schneiderlin is hopefully far from over. Saints are insistent that they are no longer a club who develops talent then moves them on for a profit. Statistically he is currently one of the best defensive midfield players in the Premier League. That £1.2 million isn’t looking too bad now is it….
The last time we played Watford, it was very much a game of mixed emotions.
Saints under Mark Wotte were struggling, the end of our Championship life seemed nigh. A far cry from our days as a Premier League mainstay, this once great club stood a shadow of it’s former self the amongst the mist and the cold of Vicarage Road on a Tuesday night. Yet two thousand and thirty two hardy souls, me amongst them, had made the trip from the South Coast, still clinging to the hope that survival was possible.
Without a win in six, Wotte’s men were picking up draws, but not converting those points into vital wins. Saints were 23rd in the Championship and crying out for a saviour.
An unlikely one emerged in Hertfordshire. Dutchman Jan-Paul Saeijs.
The centre half had been signed on loan in the previous January by countryman Wotte, Saeijs had come with no reputation to speak of, unheard of by the Saints fans when he arrived from JC Roda, but he soon proved himself to be the kind of player you would want on your side in a dogfight. Strong and determined the Dutchman would get stuck in, and was good in the air, shame the same can’t be said for a lot of his teammates.
With the crowd in full voice, it was Saeijs who opened the scoring at Watford. Rising above Scott Loach in the home side’s goal, he nodded the ball into the back of the net for his first goal in English football. Sadly, as was commonplace with Saints at the time, the lead wasn’t to last long. Just eight minutes in fact.
Saints battled with their hosts, Ryan Smith, having his best game for the club as I recall it, but inevitably after spurning several chances themselves, they fell behind. Former and now born again Saint Jack Cork flicking the ball on for Tamas Priskin to give the away support that same sinking feeling they seemed to have every week.
Desperate times called for desperate measures, and what followed I would usually not condone. In the dying seconds of the game, Saeijs made an uncharacteristic maizy run towards the Watford box, he was tackled, but went down pretty easily. The whistle blew, two thousand and thirty two mouths sighed collectively. There was no need for it, and the chance was gone. But wait. The referee had been suitably fooled. Freek kick Southampton. Proverbial last throw of the dice. Who would take it? Skacel? Lallana? Surman? Nope. The dutchman was dusting himself down and hovering over the ball. I don’t know what it was that made me feel so confident. Perhaps it was his confidence emanating on to me, perhaps it was nine months of emotional withdrawal and the final step into delusion, but I knew he would score.
The crowd bemoaned the ridiculousness of letting the centre back take it. Many were eyeing the exit, already, the quiet contemplation of the M25 in their minds. Another away trip, another defeat, another step closer to the dreaded trapdoor and third tier football. Saeijs kicked the ball. Silence. It sailed, bending majestically towards the top right corner. The keeper couldn’t get to it, I’m not sure he moved. I cared, neither then or indeed now. Goal. The cacophony and collective euphoria that accompanies a last minute goal will never be equalled by any moment watching any other sport. The embracing of strangers and the general outpouring of relief would be hard to explain to an alien.
We only had a point. In reality it wasn’t enough, but it still gave us hope. For that moment we were still alive, and still fighting.
Saeijs left the club in the summer and returned to Roda before becoming a teammate of Steve de Ridder’s at de Graafschap where he still plays. Saints face Watford again on Saturday. Top of the Championship.
Saints welcome Steve McClaren and his Nottingham Forest side to St. Mary’s this Saturday and will be looking to bounce back from their defeat to Leicester City. It hasn’t been the best of starts for the former England manager at the City Ground, with rumours of unrest on his part after not being able to bring the players he wanted in during the transfer window. Results haven’t gone well either, with just one league victory so far against struggling Doncaster Rovers.
McClaren has gone on record as saying he thinks his squad is in need of a major overhaul, but on paper it still looks strong to me, and what he does have at his disposal are three ex-Saints…
Keeper Smith joined Saints in the 2004 January transfer window. Coming armed with a growing reputation as a top young performer between the sticks at Brentford he was initially understudy to Antti Niemi. Due to injuries to the first choice Finn, he did end up making nine appearances for the first team including five starts in the Premier League, albeit in the ill fated run in to relegation.
Smith looked impressive in his forays into first team action leading Saints fans to believe they had a ready made replacement for Niemi who was increasingly likely to leave after demotion to the Championship. This is exactly what did happen in January 2006, and Smith had the chance to make the number one spot his own, unfortunately his confidence seemed to have deserted him and George Burley turned to new boy Bartosz Bialkowski and veteran free transfer Kevin Miller to take his place.
Smith was sold to League One Forest the following July.
“A real ‘hero to zero’ time in a Forest shirt. Once a staple part of our starting eleven, his perceived lack of confidence got the crowd on his back and seemed to heighten the already awful defending prevalent at the time. Firmly on the bench under Lee Camp now, and I think he would benefit from a move away from the City Ground. An excellent keeper who has lost his way and confidence here. I still think he’s technically a better goalkeeper than Camp, but without the overbearing confidence (or arrogance?) our current number one exhibits. He’s been made a bit of a scapegoat and unfortunately the moron element in our fan base make it impossible for him to flourish for Forest again.”
Nottingham lad McGoldrick started his career in his hometown with Notts County, making his first team debut at just sixteen years old. His talent was soon spotted by Saints and he was signed in the summer of 2004. He was a key member of the Southampton youth team that reached the Youth Cup final in 2005 and his performances earned him a first team debut in the League Cup in September 2005. He went back to Notts County on loan before coming back and having a prolific scoring season for the Saints reserve and youth sides.
This sharp shooting didn’t go unnoticed and George Burley handed him his first league start in April 2006. In and out of the first team for the next couple of seasons, McGoldrick went out for two spells on loan at Port Vale and an impressive tenure at Bournemouth where he scored six goals in twelve games.
In 2008/09 McGoldrick finally nailed down a place as a first team regular under Jan Poortvliet and then Mark Wotte, featuring in all forty six league games as Saints limped out of the Championship. Despite twelve league goals for the club, McGoldrick could have given a whole lot more in my opinion, and in a season where Saints needed all hands to the pump McGoldrick often looked like he wasn’t really trying (with flashes of brilliance thrown in). With a distinct hint of “Big I am” attitude it was a certain case of mixed feelings when McGoldrick made his million pound move to Forest.
NFFC Blogger gives his thoughts on McGoldrick:-
“It’s quite apt that the original request to me overlooked McGoldrick. As we saw with Paul Smith, Forest fans (or sections of them) love nothing better than a whipping boy. David is our current one. He’s referred to in such disparaging terms as McGoalDrought or worse – and whilst I dislike any player being singled out for abuse, I do have a little sigh if I see him starting. Injury, squad rotation, a nigh on zero-creative midfield at times and now a managerial change have all contributed to curtail his development as a Forest player. Is he a striker? If so, the likes of Findley, Miller and Derbyshire seem more dangerous options – and of course Dex when he’s fit. Tudgay and Garner also probably have as much credit as David. If he wants to play attacking midfield then he’d need to oust McGugan or Majewski… basically, were it not for the hefty fee we paid for his services I think we’d be looking to offload.”
Of the three ex-Saints amongst the Forest ranks Blackstock is the most fondly remembered amongst the St. Mary’s faithful. Partly for his decent performances and workman like approach to the game, but mainly for two particular events in his time as a Saint.
Signed from the Oxford United youth setup in 2003, it was a baptism of fire for the eighteen year old in the 2004/2005 season as Saints struggling in the Premier League had a front line injury crisis. The young Blackstock rose to the challenge scoring his first three goals in a Carling cup game against Colchester. He then scored his first league goal at the best possible time, equalising in the South Coast derby at St. Mary’s, Saints going on to beat Pompey 2-1.
Harry Redknapp arrived and Blackstock found himself out in the cold, spending the second half of the season on loan at Plymouth Argyle. After relegation to the Championship Blackstock might have hoped for more playing time, but Redknapp had other ideas. Another loan spell at Derby County followed before Arry headed back to ‘his spiritual home’ with his tail between his legs, George Burley replaced him and immediately recalled Blackstock and used him in the first team. The highlight of Dexter’s final season as a Saint came in the cup at Newcastle. All three substitutes used up, Saints keeper Bartosz Bialkowski went down injured, only for Blackstock to step up to the role, eleven minutes unbeaten in the sticks and two pieces of Southampton folklore secured.
Blackstock was sold to QPR in August of 2006.
NFFC Blogger gives his view on Blackstock:-
“Signed on loan from QPR when we were battling relegation back to League One, scored a crucial winning goal in a 3-2 win against Bristol City and we’ve loved him ever since. Bought for a bargain fee as his face didn’t seem to fit at Loftus Road, and has carved out a role as a real grafter in leading the line for us, and had made strides to build a dangerous partnership with Robbie Earnshaw, who of course has returned to Cardiff. Speaking of the Bluebirds, it was there last season he was sidelined when Cardiff City’s Olofinjana raked his studs down his shin whilst he was turning – ultimately leading to a cruciate injury that sees him still recovering. Needless to say no action was taken against the Cardiff midfielder. In the meantime we have signed a considerable amount of competition to our rank of strikers so he will need to work hard to get back into first team contention – which I’m sure he will, and Forest fans will be thrilled to see him take to the field again.”