Tag Archives: Premier League

Have Saints found pragmatism too late? Or will Hughes Spark them into life?

So, the Saints board finally caught up with the rest of us and lost patience with the Argentine Branfoot and gave him his marching orders (#youmarchon) after the frankly diabolical display at Newcastle. Too little too late? Perhaps, but the last couple of days has felt like a fresh start, and for the first time in a long time there would appear to be hope.

Now he is gone, I wish Mr. Pellegrino no ill will, seems like a (too) nice bloke, just wildly out of his depth. I did ‘celebrate’ his sacking though, and I feel no guilt in doing so. This isn’t a bloke on £15k a year who has just been made redundant from the local factory as the result of some Tory inflicted austerity scheme, who now has to worry about how he pays his rent and feed his kids. This is a highly paid man (no doubt already comfortably off from his playing career) who showed incompetence from day one. Worse than that, he didn’t learn and was loyal to the end to his turgid style and failing system. What’s more he didn’t even have the decency to resign when it was plain to see he was taking us down. He will have received a handsome pay off for his trouble and will now be having a lovely holiday in a luxurious resort. With respect Mauricio, I wish you luck in your future endeavours, but I am glad you were fired, please don’t ever darken our door again.

This current Saints board had never been more under pressure. They left the sacking of el confundido far too late, he should have gone after the Leicester debacle and in not removing him sooner have left us staring into the abyss with a very difficult run in. This is self inflicted pressure, and meant the job of replacing him was not an easy one. You could argue the logic behind the appointments of both Pellegrino and Claude Puel, both were employed in pre-season, and both looked like long term options, sadly both failed. Employing someone with 8 games to save the season is a different kettle of fish altogether. Premier League experience is absolutely essential, we aren’t in a position to be letting someone learn as they go, and in Mark Hughes we got the best available.

While Pellegrino floundered on the touchline, it cannot escape attention that the players were not performing to their ability, and that may have been a question of motivation. What we have now in Hughes is someone who knows this league, knows how to organise a team and won’t accept dropping standards of his squad.

To those who I’ve seen complaining about the appointment, I always ask the same question? Who would you have brought in? You can rule out the currently employed. Why would they risk it, when they can wait until the end of the season and see if Saints are still interested, and more importantly what division they are in?

That leaves the unemployed, and risking someone without experience of the Premier League would be one risk too far. The current Saints board are 1 for 2 when it comes to appointing foreign first timers, 1 for 3 would be relegation and their own positions untenable.

Hughes’ record in the Premier League is decent, there is no doubt about that, and despite a poor spell at car crash club QPR and this season with Stoke he would firmly be considered a middle tier manager, and here’s a newsflash. We aren’t a middle tier club at the moment, we are lower tier and in danger of being out of the top flight.  Lest we forget, that in removing Hughes, Stoke have ended up with Paul Lambert. A fate worse than death in my opinion. The point is right now we don’t have a ‘project’ to sell to a fashionable foreign manager like we have had in the past, we are in a desperate situation. We should be grateful Hughes has put his reputation (never having been relegated) on the line for us.

Yesterday’s press conference gave everyone a lift. A football man, talking a good game and not the riddle messr’s Puel and Pellegrino gave us. We need grit and we need fight from our squad, they have the talent. Hughes is the man to get it.

It’s time for the fans to stop the infighting and the ‘woe is me’ attitude to go. This is what being a Saints fan is all about. We had it far to easy for far too long and we got comfortable and we got entitled and we got lazy. On Sunday Mark Hughes will start his reign with a trip to league one Wigan and the potential to take us to an FA Cup Semi-Final and as we know from last season once you get a semi anything can happen. Then it is 8 cup finals.

Get behind the manager, get behind the team and as always keep the faith.

The Weekly Rannt: Ex Infatuations

Yesterday Saints beat Watford 1-0. Perhaps not the most inspiring or dominating victory, but a victory nonetheless, and passageway into the 5th round of the FA Cup.

I opened up Twitter this morning to see what the assembled masses had made of our performance, the manager’s tactical decisions, maybe even an honest appraisal of the striker that was promised and how he will save our season.

But no. The first so many tweets I saw were all melancholy teenage angst surrounding the performance of Jay Rodriguez for West Brom. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it was an impressive showing from the former Saints forward,  as he bagged a brace and duly put a van Dijk inspired (snigger) Liverpool defence to the sword and out of the cup, but should it be the primary focus of the Southampton support?

It’s an odd phenomenon amongst our fanbase, especially the social media wing of it that certain players are elevated to the status of deity when they move on.

If you read the words of our fans on twitter today, with no previous knowledge of Rodriguez and his time with Saints you would form the impression that he had left the club against it’s wishes on the back of a goalscoring season the likes of which could barely be believed. The reality of course is that he never looked the same after his horrific injury against Man City and scored just five league goals in the three and a bit years that followed it.

It’s called Jack Cork syndrome. Cork, like Rodriguez was a good player for Saints and a decent servant, but as the club moved on in terms of the quality of player it attracted his playing time reduced and at what was the right time for both him and the club he was moved on. Both Cork & Rodriguez went to clubs where they were more likely to play and neither pulled up any trees. Yet, every time they put in a decent shift for their new clubs, the Saints fans unite in their bemoaning of ‘the one that got away’ and how shortsighted the club were in letting them go.

The fact is the club have improved on both those players. Several times.

If you stop being blinkered and analysing one off games you will see that they aren’t actually being consistently brilliant for their new clubs either and there was a reason Saints let them go. Despite a considerably higher amount of game time for West Brom, Jay Rod has scored just four league goals for the Baggies, Austin has six for Saints in a third of the minutes on the pitch!

I don’t have an issue with still liking those players, or appreciating what they did in their time at the club, but do we need the constant outpouring of support every time they have a good game? We don’t put as much energy into supporting the players that are currently at the club!

I don’t know what it is about them that makes them so universally popular still, perhaps it is because they are clean cut young English lads? I don’t know. But the time for them to go was right.

Move on. They have.

Keep the faith.

 

Hello darkness, my old friend

Saints are 18th in the Premier League with fourteen games to go.

‘Hello darkness, my old friend,
I’ve come to talk with you again.’

We’ve been here before. We hoped we’d never be here again, but the ever growing competitive nature of the Premier League means that for a number of reasons 2017/18 is one that will not sit comfortably in the memory whatever the outcome, unlikely FA Cup win aside.

Before I proceed I want to make my position clear. Were I in an executive position on the board of Southampton Football club Mauricio Pellegrino would be out of a job by now, in fact he’d have gone immediately after the frankly embarrassing Leicester thumping at St. Mary’s. Having said that I am prepared to accept that while his tactical naivety is the overwhelming factor in our current decline, it isn’t the only variable that has seen us slip into a relegation battle like it’s the mid-90’s.

But let’s start with the manager. Like it or not, the manager’s one and only remit really is to get results and he isn’t doing that. Saints have a habit of starting games well, which suggests he isn’t so tactically unaware, the problem seems to come once we are in front. His immediate thought process seems to be to stop what was working and settle for what we have. Sitting back and inviting pressure has only gone one way so far, three points have rapidly evaporated.

Great goal Sofiane, but we did discuss holding out for a point. So…

My other concern on the manager is his response to changes by the opposition or lack thereof. The Watford game is a perfect example of this. Saints were two goals to the good and comfortable against a side themselves in disarray, but their introduction of Troy Deeney changed the dynamic and Saints were on the back foot. We didn’t react (one like for like sub in the 63rd minute) and although there was a huge element of fortune in the Hornet’s equaliser, it had been coming and their reading of the situation meant they gained a point, our misunderstanding of it meant we dropped two.

We have won just four league games all season, and barring an element of fortune against West Ham, a Forster masterclass at Selhurst Park and a moment of individual Boufal brilliance it could so easily be one. I know it’s not as simple as that, and we could analyse our draws and defeats and make a case for where we deserved more, but the fact of the matter is, our only truly convincing league win this season was a home thrashing of Everton, who themselves were in free-fall (something they have rectified with a new manager).

But. I think we have to accept that the manager isn’t going, if there was any chance he was under scrutiny by the board then surely they’d have made their move by now? So assuming it isn’t coming then we have to look at what else is going wrong.

I’ve seen many question the qualities of the squad, but to me this is poppycock and a compelling argument as to why the manager has failed. This is not a bottom three squad. No way. I will argue that with anyone. We have a better and more talented group of players than 5 or 6 clubs currently above us in the league. Is it as strong as it was in previous seasons, no I don’t think it is, but departures have weakened it, not destroyed it completely.

We do have an issue with a lack of depth. An injury to Charlie Austin (given his history, something that shouldn’t have taken anyone by surprise) and our already lacking goals scored column becomes almost non-existent. A caveat to this though is that we do have a talented striker not getting game time? If we go down with Manolo Gabbiadini as unused sub we’ll be a laughing stock.

The same could be said for Mario Lemina. The lad looks like a real talent yet seems to be out of favour, if you add Sofiane Boufal to the mix that is three of our better players getting splinters.

The mis-use of Steven Davis is frustrating to see also. For me Davis is a consistently good performer in a Saints shirt, if he is played as part of the support three. He isn’t a defensive midfielder, and always plays poorly when asked to be one. The fact that he has been used there when Romeu, Lemina and Hojbjerg are available is baffling to say the least.

Decent. Team.

Football isn’t rocket science. Play your best players, and in the position they are most suited to play.

The biggest factor and the one that is effecting everybody is ‘the fear’.

‘And the vision that was planted in my brain,
Still remains.’

There is a trepidation amongst the players, coaching staff and fans alike that is worrying to say the least, and the capitulations from winning positions reek of 2004/05 and the last time we dropped out of the top flight.

The atmosphere on and off the pitch is the same now as it was then. As most of you will know my physical presence at games is limited now due to my living abroad, but I did have the ‘pleasure’ of being at the Huddersfield game. Again Saints led and looked comfortable, but the Terriers equaliser was met with ‘the fear’, and we might consider ourselves lucky to have come away with a point. Immediately the players heads dropped and the attitude of the crowd changed, like the outcome was now a foregone conclusion.

Overcoming ‘the fear’ will be key to our survival this season, and that is where the crowd plays it’s part. We are Southampton, this isn’t our first relegation battle. We have to draw on that experience, and those of us who, like me, were there for the regular anxiety of the 90’s will tell you that one of the reasons we were very good at getting out of it was the backing of the crowd.

Nobody wanted to come to the Dell in that situation because the crowd backed it’s players and got on top of the opposition and we have to make sure St. Mary’s is the same. Especially when we entertain those around us. It’s all very well getting up for Spurs, but just like the players, we as fans have to take the same attitude into games against Brighton etc.

And please. Get off Nathan Redmond’s back. A promising player who was recognised by England looks a shell of his former self, and some of the abuse he has received while other under-performers seemingly get off scot-free is frankly disgusting.

I know it’s frustrating to watch at times, but to a point you are stuck with the manager and the players, so back them. Save your discontent for the end of the season come what may.

As fans our input is only vocal but it is important. Don’t let the players be faced with the sound of silence.

Keep the faith.

Inverta-brat. The van Dijk conundrum and other fairy tales.

Of the millions of species in the world, 98% are invertebrates. Invertebrates don’t have a back bone. Common examples of this are Jellyfish, worms and over precious, multi-millionaire Premier League footballers.

It’s somewhat of a mystery to me, that someone as relaxed on the ball as van Dijk, someone as commanding in the air and with such physical presence can find themselves ‘not in the right frame of mind’ to play for their club in a pre-season friendly because their dream move to perennial also-rans Liverpool doesn’t seem to be going to plan. It beggars belief it really does.

Now let me be clear. I have zero issue with someone wanting to better themselves, and despite my tongue in cheap dig at the Scousers in my previous paragraph, they are back in the Champion’s League, and that is where a player of the Dutchman’s quality belongs. So yes, he may have his heart set on a move, but when you are highly paid to do a job that most would kill for, how about you do it in a professional manner? Just get on with it. Do your job, and do it for the club who is paying you until that club agrees a fee with somebody else.

Let’s not overlook that he has taken this stance before a game being played for the benefit of the victims of the Grenfell fire, I wonder what his team mate Ryan Bertrand makes of that? Dream move or not, this whole episode is not putting him in a very good light as far as being human is concerned. He seemed to be enjoying his trip to Disneyland Paris instead and I think Lucy put it best…

Southampton are trialling the new Anti-Liverpool head magnet this Summer…

I’m very much in the camp that believes he should be moved on now as soon as possible. If that is to Liverpool then so be it. If they meet the asking price then move him on, he’s a bad apple. His actions have shown he has zero respect for the fans who chant his name, and the club that gave him the platform to shine. Sadly, he’s a bad apple who is exceptionally good at football. If a deal could be done with any club other than Liverpool then that would be a nice bonus. Our new manager has a handle on it having told ‘the boy’ to train alone. Many would have us stand firm and stick him in the reserves and I understand their frustration, but that is an expensive asset to have hanging around stinking the place up in a permanent sulk. Besides, that money could be invested in the next van Dijk, and God knows we want to be able to go through all this again in a couple of Summers time.

The board are (yet again) in a shit situation regarding a key player, and while I can sympathise with their position, they have to take some of the responsibility themselves having given in in the past. I suggest they make clear decision one way or the other, can they get a final year a la Schneiderlin/Wanyama or cash in and invest the money in new players. Either way, it’s yet another Summer of distractions for Saints and poor Forster has already been caught out at Brentford after spotting a van Dijk lookalike in the crowd at the worst possible time….

Anyway, at least we have all the new incoming players to take our minds off van Strijk. Oh wait…

Personally I’m not of the opinion that we need wholesale changes, but one or two new players to freshen up the squad would be nice. I’m certainly not as desperate as some, and I have to have a little chuckle when I see the same people who were telling us that Puel wasn’t getting the best out of a talented squad now telling us that the squad is poor. Make your mind up lads and lasses.

This squad finished 8th last season with van Dijk and Austin missing for large chunks, and with Puel’s odd negative tactics and a terrible home record. If Pellegrino is the man we all hope him to be then we shouldn’t need an influx of new players to have a better season. Jan Bednarek has come in, in a position that actually we are stronger in than we ever realised given Stephen’s performances in the run in last season, and maybe we could do with another attacking midfielder? I’m not sure we need a lot else.

If van Dijk is sold then I would expect that money to be reinvested in the squad, the board must surely understand that, but if he doesn’t then I don’t think we are in bad shape.

Silly season sees us linked with all sorts, and when they sign for someone else try not forget that may never have really been interested and they may not have improved our squad. We aren’t going to sign the likes of Hernandez and Sigurdsson, it jut isn’t our way. If we sign anyone else this Summer it will likely be someone you’ve never heard of, and in two years time you will be bemoaning his impending big money move to another club…

Enjoy the rest of the window dear reader.

Keep the faith.

 

THE WINNERS OF THE 2016/17 ALI’S! THE RESULTS ARE IN!

Yet again, the voting response to these awards was fantastic, it genuinely surprises me every time, and grows every year!

This is what everyone associated with Saints dreams of getting their hands on at the end of a season:-

ali_trophy

So without further ado, here are YOUR winners….

Player of the Year

This was calculated like so:- Each player got 2 points for a vote as winner and one point for a vote as runner up. Here are all those that received votes and their points percentage.

Scored points:- Martin Caceres (<1%), Stuart Taylor (<1%), My Clitoris (<1%), The Penalty Spot (<1%), Jack Stephens (<1%), Manolo Gabbiadini (2%), Nathan Redmond (3%), Steven Davis (3%), Ryan Bertrand (4%),  James Ward-Prowse (5%), Maya Yoshida (10%)

3rd Place:- Cedric (11%)

2nd Place:- Virgil van Dijk (14%)

And the winner is……with a huge 48% of the points, after a stand out season in the middle of the park……

Most Improved Player

Received Votes:- Sam McQueen (2%), Oriol Romeu (3%), Cedric (12%)

3rd Place:- Jack Stephens (16%)

2nd Place:- James Ward-Prowse (28%)

And the winner is…… Jose who?

Young Player of the Year

Received Votes:- Thomas O’Connor (<1%), They’re all shit, I agree with Ronald (<1%), Nathan Redmond (4%), James Ward-Prowse (15%)

3rd Place:- Josh Sims (19%)

2nd Place:- Sam McQueen (20%)

And the winner is……

Unsung Hero

Received Votes:- Forbsey (1%), Claude Puel (1%), Eric Black (1%), Hugo Scheckter (1%), Oriol Romeu (1%), Stuart Taylor (1%), Jordy Clasie (2%), Jack Stephens (2%), Nathan Redmond (3%), Ryan Bertrand (4%), Cedric (15%)

3rd Place:-  James Ward-Prowse (17%)

2nd Place:- Steven Davis (21%)

And the winner is….

Signing of the Season

3rd Place:- That old keeper (<1%)

2nd Place:- Nathan Redmond (12%)

And the winner is…..

Performance of the Season (Team or Individual)

Received Votes:- Team v Sunderland (A) (<1%), Sims v Everton (H) (<1%), Forster v Liverpool (A) (<1%), Redmond v Watford (A) (<1%),  Tadic v Watford (A) (<1%), Team v Bournemouth (A) (<1%), van Dijk v Inter (H) (<1%), Team EFL Campaign (<1%), Team v Arsenal EFL (A) (<1%), Stephens v Liverpool (A) (<1%), Fans in Milan (2%), Team v Leicester (H) (2%), Gabbiadini initial impact (2%), Team v Liverpool EFL (H) (5%), Team v West Ham (H) (5%), Team v Inter (H) (5%)

3rd Place:- Team at Wembley (13%)

2nd Place:- Gabbiadini EFL Cup final (20%)

And the winner is…… Team v Liverpool EFL (A)

Goal of the Season

Received Votes:- Tadic v West Ham (<1%), Martina v Arsenal last season (<1%), Gabbiadini offside at Wembley (<1%), Bertrand v Bournemouth (<1%), Redmond v Watford (2%), Gabbiadini v Sunderland (2%), Boufal v Boro (2%), Gabbiadini v West Ham (3%), Clasie v WBA (5%), Rodriguez v Bournemouth (8%), Clasie v Arsenal (8%)

3rd Place:- Gabbiadini 2nd at Wembley (11%)

2nd Place:- Long v Liverpool (13%)

And the winner is…..

Comedy Moment

Received Votes:- Fonte’s countless interviews justifying his move (<1%), Bournemouth Fans (<1%), Cup Final Penalty Decision (<1%), Steven Davis being picked every week (<1%), Roger East reffing (<1%), John Stones defending (<1%), Puel celebration at Anfield (<1%), Pompey getting owned on Social Media (<1%), Les Reed went to Europe… (<1%), The League Campaign (<1%), Sims performance v Everton shoving it to Koeman (<1%), Shane Long (<1%), One Wayne Bridge Chant (<1%), Weak Long finishes (<1%), Cuco’s Moonwalk (<1%), Mike Dean (<1%), Puel Out Brigade (<1%), #cucobants (<1%), Forster’s save attempts (<1%), Palace Away (<1%), Liverpool not scoring in 4 games (<1%), Signing Caceres and not using him (<1%), Klopp believing Saints had an ‘agenda’ against them (<1%), Isgrove’s new contract (<1%), Long pen miss v Boro (<1%), Tadic pen v Hull (2%), Team’s finishing (2%), Hull at home (2%), The ‘song’ (2%), Fonte’s West Ham form (3%), Fonte getting his move to ‘United’ (3%), Harry Kane pen (3%), Not signing a centre half in January (4%),  Tadic & Austin penalty row (5%)

3rd Place:- Shane Long double substitution v Man City (11%)

2nd Place:- Fraser Forster’s clearance v Palace (13%)

And the winner is…. Ruining what have been the biggest moment in Bournemouth’s history….

Best Opposition Team

Received Votes:- Arsenal (<1%), Hull City (<1%)

3rd Place:- Man City (14%)

2nd Place:- Spurs (19%)

And the winner is…..

Best Opposition Player

Received Votes:- Sadio Mane (<1%), Officials (<1%), Stefano Okaka (<1%), Vincent Kompany (<1%), Victor Wanyama (<1%), Eldin Jakupovic (<1%), Andy Carroll (<1%), Harry Kane (<1%), David Silva (<1%), Hal Robson-Kanu (<1%), Alexis Sanchez (<1%), Toby Alderweireld (<1%), Kevin de Bruyne (2%), Christian Eriksen (2%), Harry Maguire (2%), Leroy Sane (3%), Mousa Dembele (4%), N’Golo Kante (4%)

3rd Place:- Diego Costa (5%)

2nd Place:- Zlatan Ibrahimovic (24%)

And the winner is….

Best Opposition Fans

Received Votes:- Inter (1%), Watford (1%), Swansea (1%), Arsenal (1%), All shit like ours (1%), Everton (joke) (1%),  Middlesbrough (2%), WBA (2%), Leicester (2%), Man City (2%), West Ham (3%), Bournemouth (3%), Liverpool (3%), Spurs (3%), None (3%),  Burnley (4%), Chelsea (6%), Hapoel Beer Sheva (7%), Hull (8%)

3rd Place:- Sunderland (9%)

2nd Place:- Man Utd (11%)

And the winners are…..

Best Saints Related Tweeter

Received Votes:- benstanners (<1%), Me (<1%), Nathan Redmond (<1%), TalkSaints (<1%), saintandy7 (<1%), jamiedriver98 (<1%), Healey17 (<1%), Puel_Out (<1%), chrs00 (<1%),  Max Sopel (<1%),  Lucy Highnett (<1%), Deppo (<1%), alexgbourne (<1%), Alex Crook (<1%), Saints News & Views (<1%), Whoever did the Long Titanic video (<1%), Always SFC, (<1%), saintsmike (<1%), Billy Fingers (<1%), Brian Smithson (<1%), Not you (<1%),  Consortium 11 (<1%), Archers Road (<1%), Oriol’s Northam Army (<1%), Soton PL_panel (<1%), TheFalseLibero(<1%), St. Mary’s Musings (<1%), Anyone but MLG (<1%), Simon Peach (<1%), Don’t use twitter (<1%), Fresh Saints (2%), Matt Le Tissier (2%), Cedric (2%), Maya Yoshida (2%), Official Account (2%), Dubai Saints (2%), L1MINUS10 (3%), Hugo Scheckter (4%), Luke Osman (7%), Adam Blackmore (7%)

3rd Place:- @crstig (9%)

2nd Place:- @SamDobson1 (10%)

And the winner is…… @SAINTSINFRANCE!

So that concludes this season’s Ali’s! Congratulations and thanks to everyone who voted and massive congratulations to all the winners!.A big thank you to Alistair Downs for the Photoshop wizardry! Keep the faith!

For previous years awards results see here:- http://georgeweahscousin.com/awards-history/

Chris

Our 6th Birthday!

Blow me readers! georgeweahscousin.com is 6 years old!

Here we are just 6 days away from a major final, as yet again the Saints journey becomes even more of a fairy tale! Where have 6 years gone?

As has become as traditional as Saints making at least 5 changes per game, we celebrate our birthdays by awarding the ‘Ali Dia award for services to Southampton’ this year proudly sponsored by Fonte’s Face spiting Nose biters!

You can see the previous recipients of the award here. But who will take this year’s crown? The wait is finally over.

As every year, the jury (myself, Ali Dia, Kleber Chala & Graham Potter) found it extremely difficult. Amongst those nominated were Stuart Taylor for turning up and milling about as the figure head of the ever growing Southampton Goalkeeper farm, Jose Fonte for spurning ‘Legend status’ and heading to the London Stadium to ‘win trophies’ and Juanmi for well being Juanmi. But. When it came down to it there was one man who stood out amongst the rest.

We here at georgeweahscousin.com are delighted to announce that the sixth winner of the ‘Ali Dia award for services to Southampton’ sponsored by Fonte’s face spiting nose biters, for providing the icing on the cake to an already memorable semi final against Liverpool with the perfect screenshot:- It’s Dejan Lovren!

Ever since Lovren’s head decided to part company with his neck and head (pun intended) to Anfield early, the Croat and his performances as part of the ever hapless Liverpool defence have provided us with much amusement. From being nutmegged by Tadic, going to pieces under the abuse at St. Mary’s to this perfectly captured shot of his gormless face realising some of his former Saints team mates might pick up Silverware before him no one can say Dejan isn’t a sport!

Cheers Dejan!

Is there a lack of ambition at Saints?

Yet again I find myself apologising for a lack of posts of late, but I am currently working on a very exciting Saints related project and that is occupying my spare time.

Anyway, of late it seems that there are somewhat of a split amongst Saints fans, and the use of certain buzz words to describe each faction is commonplace in the corner of the internet that is associated with the club.

You’ve all heard them, ‘happy clapper’, used to describe someone who looks to the positive aspects of everything and ‘bed wetter’ aimed at those whose Saints mug from the club shop is permanently half empty.

Personally, I like to think I am in the middle, and am willing to see both sides of the coin, the trappings of which mean I have had both titles aimed at me.

I’ve debated with plenty on twitter about whether the club is being run well or not and there are many who have a different point of view to mine. A lot of them are incapable of having that debate without resorting to personal insults or aggressive posturing. In James George though I find that although we often (pretty much always) have an opposing take on things happening at St. Mary’s we are able to discuss it like adults. That’s why I invited him to put his thoughts online, and to each of his points I will make a retort, hopefully leading to us covering most bases and giving alternative views.

Over to you James….

JG  There is no doubt that since Markus Liebherr saved Saints in 2009, we have all been on an amazing journey. With the ambitious Nicola Cortese at the helm the 5 year plan to get to the Premier League was achieved in just 3 seasons! Yes Cortese had his faults and also some random ideas. (Banning the press, getting rid of the red and white stripes and sacking Nigel Adkins being just a few.) but he was the driving force behind the scenes. My inside information tells me Cortese had no control over the club’s finances and the signings of Ramirez and Osvaldo were two of the least successful over the last few years, but you could never doubt his ambition and his determination to get the club to as high as it could possibly go.’

CR ‘This is where we no doubt agree, although I’m not sure Cortese was the only reason the club was succeeding. Astute managerial appointments and transfer window moves that would have been committee based decisions (let’s not forget this was Cortese’s first ever role in football).

JG ‘Cortese obviously wanted full control of the club and when Markus passed away and Katarina took over, she was no longer willing to let him run wild. Whilst she obviously wanted to continue her Father’s legacy she also wasn’t willing to let Cortese have an open cheque book. Cortese left but the structure he had built lived on and the club has somehow continued to improve every season.

CR ‘I think the clash came because the Liebherr family wanted the club to be sustainable and Cortese wanted to borrow to push the club has hard as he could to success. So many clubs have gone belly up because of trying to be too much too soon, personally I can see why there was an air of caution. Somehow? It isn’t a coincidence, continued progression is down to the meticulous nature behind the scenes.’

JG ‘Cortese was a stubborn man and would never be pushed around by anyone, least of all the players and agents. He sold Oxlade-Chamberlain but it was for a good fee and there was no way of keeping a player of his quality whilst we were still in the lower leagues. But there was no way he would of allowed the club to sell so many of it’s best players over the last 3 years.’

CR ‘Arguably he was pushed around by Chamberlain’s father, and in modern terms £12 million for AOC doesn’t come across as a fantastic deal on Saints part. It’s easy to say he wouldn’t have let players leave, but actually we didn’t see him really tested.’

JG ‘In 2014 Ralph Krueger was installed as Chairman. An Ice Hockey coach who thought football involved wearing a helmet and the quarter back was the main man. I still remember his big speech in May 2014 when we made big claims that we were not a selling club and we would not be selling our best players.’

CR ‘Pure conjecture on your part there James, with regards to Ralph Krueger’s opinions on football. Some might say that he was more qualified than Cortese, given that he was from a sporting background. I agree on the ‘selling club’ speech, it was unwise, Saints have always been so and it is difficult to escape it.’

JG ‘Pochettino who replaced Adkins in bizarre circumstances was an amazing appointment by Cortese and was obviously destined for the top of the game. The players obviously respected him and letting him go to Tottenham was obviously a bad move.’

CR ‘It was an amazing appointment, though none of us thought it at the time. I take exception to the statement that he was obviously destined for the top of the game. That sounds like hindsight talking. None of us knew who he was, and he was just off the back of almost getting Espanyol relegated!’

JG ‘Since then we have sold every single one of our best players.’

CR ‘This is nothing new where Saints are concerned. It happened long before the Liebherr administration was involved. With the exception of Le Tiss, anyone who has ever played for us that you would consider top quality has moved on to bigger clubs for more money. It seems more prevalent now because, due to the success of the Liebherr era and the work behind the scenes, we have a higher percentage of great players!’

JG ‘That summer Lallana, Lovren, Chambers, Lambert, Shaw and even the mighty Guly all left. Yes, we got decent money for them but it was selling all of these players that has set a precedent for years to come. Morgan Schneiderlin wanted out. He had seen all of his friends move on to bigger clubs for more wages and so why would he and others want to stay?’

CR ‘It’s always difficult to take a spate of top players leaving, I agree, but let’s be pragmatic. Of that list, which of them starts for Saints now? It doesn’t take long. Lallana. Finished. I’m not saying they aren’t good players, I’m saying that the club has done a good job of recruiting when it let’s players go (don’t mention centre halves though at the moment) and actually improving the squad.’

JG ‘Then Southampton made a genius appointment. Ronald Koeman! One of the greatest players ever to have played the game walks through the door. Half the team had been sold and we were tipped for relegation. There’s no doubt the club had a great scouting network and bought some real gems. Under Koeman the club managed to improve once more but once again big name players left that summer.’

CR ‘Let’s be clear on something here. Koeman didn’t walk through the door of his own accord. He was offered the job after a recruitment drive and spell of due diligence by Les Reed and the board. The same people that are vilified for letting people go, are the same people who make these great managerial appointments and sign these players in the first place.’

JG ‘Koeman once again worked his magic and even with a dreadful run through November and December we managed to get our highest ever Premier League finish, sixth, only 3 points from qualifying for the Champions League. Yet again though the board let an amazing manager leave and more of our top players go that Summer! You can start seeing a pattern here.’

CR ‘It’s a long warn out argument, but Koeman left because he thought he could hold the board to ransom. He did a fantastic job for us, but when it came down to it, in modern football money talks, and a man who had talked of the Dutch national team and Barcelona ended up going to Everton, a club who have a very similar glass ceiling to us.’

JG ‘It seems as if the club is now only being run so that we maintain out Premier League status and the value of the club goes up. Very much like Newcastle. We only buy players with player sales and the hundreds of millions earned from TV money seems to be going in the owners back pocket. We fall in love with a player and the next summer they leave. The club claims it doesn’t want to buy too many players so we don’t block a route to first team football for youth players, but its seems they just want to play youth players to sell them on for a bigger profit. It just doesn’t feel as if the owners want the club to win so the fans can enjoy success. They just want us to win so the players value go up and we can sell them for more profit.’

CR ‘Where to start with this! I don’t think we are anything like Newcastle. They have a huge fanbase and still get it so wrong in terms of Managerial appointments and player recruitment. In fact we are the anti-Newcastle, punching well above our weight, while they play the roll of the well supported journeyman who occasionally gets put on his arse! I’m not sure there is any evidence that the owners are pocketing any money, in fact I’m pretty sure (but prepared to be corrected) that the club owes them money based on the last accounts? I’m not sure if the club is playing moneyball or if we are just victims of our own success but yes it is frustrating to see the top players leave. It is always to clubs with bigger resources than us though, and until we can compete with them on the pitch and in terms of numbers through the turnstiles I’m not sure how this could ever change. Player power is paramount.

JG ‘We are just a stepping stone for players now. They aren’t coming to the club to win things. Players are coming to the club to get first team football and get a bigger move. We had a group of players and a scouting network which had the potential to challenge and possibly win the league. But that opportunity was lost and now any player who is half decent is going to want to leave.’

CR ‘I’m afraid we always were. This says more about the attitudes of the modern player than it does the club for me. If the potential to win the league was there why didn’t they all stay and try and achieve it? If we win on the 26th February there will be a delicious irony that Steven Davis will have won a trophy before pretty much all of those that have left in recent years.’

JG ‘I will always support my club and the journey from League One was the best years of football in my lifetime, but I’m not sure when I will allow myself to fall in love with a Saints player again. I just know they will only break my heart and leave. I personally feel new owners are a must. Owners with the ambition of Cortese could take this club to the next step. Yes, I know we were in League One and Le Tissier single handedly kept us in the Premier League for years, but even now we have the potential to be something greater. We have potentially the best centre half in the world, a great left back and few other decent players too. There are some very good youth players and we have proven we can sign top class talent. So lets not sell everyone again this summer. Lets keep what we have and invest in top talent.’

CR ‘Glad to hear it! My tip is don’t fall in love with any player, they are in the main money motivated individuals, even if we won the league they would still be interested in doubling their wages at Man City. With regards to new owners, the interest from China is certainly intriguing, but be careful what you wish for. In terms of foreign ownership we hit the jackpot with Markus Liebherr. There are plenty of fans protesting against the way their clubs are being run due to numerous balmy initiatives taken by their foreign owners. 

JG ‘Why not aim for the sky and see where we finish, rather then just being happy with little old Saints.’

 CR ‘Amen brother. The main difference between me and you is, I think this is what the club is doing and so far so good! See you at Wembley!’

At the end of the day, we are all Saints fans, and everyone is entitled to their opinion. Has this season been as exciting as previous ones in league terms, perhaps not, but we do have a cup final coming up! There is too much emphasis on ‘progress’ for me. Personally I would rather finish 15th this season and win that final than lose it and finish 6th, but each to their own.

Thanks a lot to James for sparing the time to put his thoughts across.

Keep the faith.

Chris

Being a Saint

‘It’s always great when we have guest contributors on gwc.com, and especially so when it is someone as respected as Ben Stanfield. Here he has a rallying cry for everyone associated with the club after a difficult week! Over to you Ben!’ – Chris

Many of us never chose to be Saints fans. For the majority, it was already chosen for us before we could even put one step in front of the other. It was in our blood. The red blood cells and the white blood cells. Circulating all our bodies in a proud, striped formation.

Sure some decide, once they can walk, that they’d prefer to sit in an armchair and ‘support’ a team who play on TV each week, spend vast sums of money on any player they like and who often retain Premier League trophy after Premier League trophy. But that’s the easy option.

Being a Saints fan – and always remaining a Saints fan – is about a number of things. It’s certainly not about the easy option.

It’s about being able to successfully manage the emotional rollercoaster that you will sit on every week.

It’s about not getting too carried away when you win a game. It’s about not getting too despondent when you lose a game.

Its appreciating that, however well the Club are doing during a particular season, you simply won’t have a right to win every single game you play. You will definitely lose some. Unfortunately.

Its appreciating that, when it comes to managers, the Club aren’t a ‘hire them, fire them’ organisation. Managers will always get the time they deserve to try and deliver the best they can.

Its appreciating that, whether we like it or not, players will be sold. Players who can, and will, demand far higher wages from the top Clubs in Europe, compared to that which we will ever likely be able to offer.

It’s about appreciating the positive achievements that are made, and not purely focusing on the negatives.

It’s about appreciating that every season will throw up different challenges. Challenges that will test both you and your support.

But it’s certainly not just about us as fans. The Club have their own responsibilities as well.

They have a responsibility to inspire the next generations of fan.

They have a responsibility to make that next generation of fan want to visit St. Mary’s week in, week out.

They have a responsibility to make that next generation of fan want to wear their Saints shirt in public, with pride.

The Club have a responsibility to show the commitment to deliver as many of the hopes and expectations that fans have.

To employ staff, both on and off the pitch, who want to entertain. Who want to embrace ‘The Southampton Way’.

They also have a responsibility to achieve as much of the above whilst managing themselves, and their finances, astutely and accurately.

They most definitely have a responsibility to make sure that that next generation of fan doesn’t take the easy, armchair, option mentioned above.

But it’s not just about the Club. Or the fans. It’s about the manager too.

The manager has a duty to get results.

The manager has a duty to motivate and inspire his players.

The manager has a duty to adapt formations. Tactics. Personnel.

The manager has a duty to inspire the next generation of fans as well. To play a brand of football that is expected of Southampton. By pressing. By being exciting. By being fast-paced. By ultimately being rewarding.

But it’s not just about the manager. Or the Club. Or the fans. It’s about the players too.

As long as they are employed by Southampton Football Club, the players have a duty to put on that red and white shirt and give everything they have. Every week.

They have to be able to adapt to any formation/tactic any manager asks of them.

They have to each shoulder their own responsibility. Whether it’s being the first to take a shot. Make a tackle. Win a header. They should always have that mentality to want to be the first to do something. Not the last.

They have a duty to entertain. To inspire. To motivate. Both each other and their fans.

They have a duty to sign autographs. To have photographs taken. To smile.

They have a duty to remember that they have the best job in the world and, in many of our completely bias red and white opinions, the opportunity to play for the best team in the world.

If, as a fan, a Club, a manager and a player you can appreciate, cope with and deliver all of the above then that’s the true test of being a Saint!

Anyone can take the easy option. But not just anyone can be a Saint.

Jose Fonte: Are Saints fans in danger of becoming bitter and twisted?

It’s the 7th December. We are still 25 days away from the opening of the transfer window, yet par for the course the papers are awash with talk of the ever widening St. Mary’s exit door.

Speculation on the whole surrounds the centre half pairing of Virgil van Dijk and Jose Fonte, and as usual it is causing disruption and unrest when we should be talking about a win or bust Europa League game on Thursday night.

In the case of van Dijk, his near immaculate performances since joining from Celtic in 2014 have seen him gather an army of admirers. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Dutchman is one of the best in the league at what he does, if not the best. To see him linked with the usual suspects at the top of the table should be, and isn’t, of no surprise. As usual we are the club that took the risk on a player, blooded him, improved him, and now the vultures are circling

Jose Fonte on the other hand is an altogether more curious case. His superb displays for 8 years at the club have largely gone under the radar. Fonte has quietly gone about his job, while a succession of partners seem to attract all the praise. Dejan Lovren, Toby Alderweireld and now van Dijk are lauded as the key member of the central defence club. While Jose is overlooked as the constant, the variables are enjoying the plaudits and so far managed to secure bigger contracts with ‘bigger’ clubs.

That might just have changed in the Summer though when Fonte was a key member of Portugal’s European Championship winning team. His profile was raised and rightly so, and with it came some wanted and unwanted attention. Speculation has been rife ever since, with Manchester United and Everton both supposedly keen to improve an area they are poor in. Unfortunately that speculation has led to fan unrest and now we have an unnecessary and unwanted public PR battle between club and player as talk of a ‘new’ contract has divided opinion.

Let’s look at it from both points of view.

Should Jose Fonte, returning from a hugely successful Summer, and having given the club eight successful years feel deserving of a contract extension? Sure, that doesn’t seem to much to ask.

Should Southampton FC feel obliged to extend the contract of a player who is 33 this month? Not at all, that is fully dependent on the long term plan of the club. As we know, for everyone at the club there is already a replacement in mind. If that replacement is already inbound, would it be financially prudent to extend Fonte’s contract?

What we don’t know is what the demands of a new contract are? With the likes of Jose Mourinho and Ronald Koeman interested and in charge of cash rich clubs, perhaps Fonte is looking for a considerably lucrative new deal. It would be naive to suggest ‘super’ agent Jorge Mendes wouldn’t be pushing for it, and will be using the interest of others as a deal breaker.

It is reported, and confirmed by Fonte himself that he was offered a pay rise in the Summer, but it didn’t come with an extension. Did the club do enough?

Given his age, and the fact that he is now entering the twilight of his career would anyone begrudge him a move to a Manchester United sized club? It would be hard to justify any anger in that situation, especially if Saints have no interest in extending his deal and were to get a decent fee. You could argue that this is all ‘perfect timing’ from a business point of view.

However, it would be a sad end to a journey that Jose Fonte has very much been a part of, and with the propaganda and the sniping that appears to be commonplace with such speculation, are fans in danger of becoming bitter and twisted about departures? It’s football right, but the business model of the club, successful as it has been, brings with it a sense of anxiety when our players are seemingly hand picked by those we are competing with.

It feels like only a matter of time before Saints fans have somebody to boo in every fixture they play, and that level of negativity isn’t required.

If Jose Fonte leaves in January (and personally I hope he doesn’t) then his contribution over the years will be outweighing of any unpleasantness over the last six months. He should leave with our blessing and be given a Rickie Lambert-esque reception on his return.

The fact of the matter is, that none of us really know what has gone on behind closed doors and perhaps never will. As a Saints fans we have to roll with the punches. We should be used to it by now.

Keep the faith.

Throwback – Saints Premier League Dream Team (2011)

Back in 2011, prior to Saints return to the top flight I was asked by Shoot magazine to compile my ‘Premier League Dream Team’.

I thought it would be good to look back at it now, 5 years later and with some impressive Premier League campaigns under our belt to see where I might now change that team.

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Goalkeeper (2011) – Antti Niemi

Goalkeeper (2016) – No change. The flying Finn was and still is the best keeper I’ve ever seen in a Saints shirt.

Left Back (2011) – Wayne Bridge

Left Back (2016) – No change. I was a big fan of Bridge, and though I think Luke Shaw might have stolen this had he stayed a bit longer and Ryan Bertrand is consistently immaculate, Bridge still gets the nod. Just.

Excuse the picture of Paul Telfer...
Excuse the picture of Paul Telfer…

Right Back (2011) – Jason Dodd

Right Back (2016) – Nathaniel Clyne. It’s not easy to drop Dodd who was such a fantastic servant to the club but Clyne’s performances in a Saints shirt were superb.

Centre Half (2011) – Dean Richards R.I.P.

Centre Half (2016) – Virgil van Dijk. The Dutchman will go on to be know as one of Saints most impressive and important signings of all time in my opinion. Oozes class and is almost unbeatable in the air.

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Centre Half (2011) – Michael Svensson

Centre Half (2016) – Jose Fonte. Another difficult decision but Fonte’s impact in the Premier League as the constant amongst several partners and the defensive performances that have stemmed from them have to be rewarded.

Central Midfield (2011) – Chris Marsden

Central Midfield (2016) – Morgan Schneiderlin. An all round brilliant midfielder and arguably is yet to be replaced (though PEH looks a decent bet).

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Left Midfield (2011) – Hassan Kachloul

Left Midifeld (2016) – Adam Lallana. The homegrown Lallana may have left a sour taste in the mouths of many when he left, but his performances for Saints were a joy to watch.

Right Midfield (2011) – Ronnie Ekelund

Right Midfield (2016) – No change. Ekelund was at the club for such a short space of time that I feel sorry for those fans who didn’t get to see how good he was.

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Attacking Midfielder/Free Role (2011) – Matthew Le Tissier

Attacking Midfielder/Free Role (2016) – No change. Pretty sure I don’t have to justify this one.

Striker (2011) – Marian Pahars

Striker (2016) – No change. I can’t drop the little Latvian, I simply can’t. He provided too much joy to my younger Dell going self.

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Striker (2011) – James Beattie

Striker (2016) – Rickie Lambert. Very difficult to remove Beattie, but Lambert was much more than a brilliant striker, he was a superb footballer and a talisman too.

Subs (2011) – Lundekvam, Oakley, Ostenstad, Palmer, Benali

Subs (2016) – M. Svensson, Wanyama, Mane, Beattie, Benali

So that’s my updated team, but what is yours?

Chris