Tag Archives: Pep Guardiola

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

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