Tag Archives: Premier League

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

Has it really been ten years?

Saturday 19th May 2001.

Approximately forty three minutes past four.

Paul Jones’ long free kick towards the Milton Road end dropped at the edge of  the Arsenal box, James Beattie won the ball in the air, knocking it down for substitute Matthew Le Tissier. Le Tisser took a touch, turned and smashed a thunderous half volley into the top corner, Alex Manninger dived in vain but the proverbial script had long been written and the Austrian was only in the supporting cast.

That was the last official goal at The Dell. It could only be Le Tissier that scored it, it could only be spectacular.

Le Tissier sends the old girl off....

Uwe Rosler scored the last actual goal seven days later in a special friendly against Brighton, but it is the Le Tissier goal that everyone still talks about. It hardly seems real that it was ten years ago. St. Mary’s still feels new to me, but actually, it has been our home for more than half my time as a Saint.

There really was something magical about The Dell, it might sound like a cliche, perhaps it is, but for all it’s flaws(and it had many), The Dell was special, and it was ours. For many years it embodied everything that typified Southampton, the plucky little club punching above it’s weight rubbing shoulders with Old Trafford and Anfield. The years of Premier League survival were miraculous anyway, but with a capacity of just over fifteen thousand, how Saints competed and sometimes bettered the likes of Spurs, Everton and Chelsea was often baffling.

It is often said that stadia have character, and The Dell was certainly not lacking in that department. From the odd shaped “chocolate box” two tiered terrace at the Milton Road, to it’s 1993 Right angled triangle all seater replacement. In the front row of the East Stand where I had my Season Ticket(£96, how is that for some football nostalgia?) you were so close to the players you could clearly hear their conversations and interact with them.

This closeness gave the home team an edge, they were safe, the opposition were not, and famously hated it, David Beckham the most notable to audibly complain about playing there. It was a weapon in our arsenal, we used it and we did well there, the top teams often succumbing to the pressures of the close knit ground and finding themselves turned over. In the 1998/99 season Saints finished bottom of the “Away” league table with just ten points, but stayed in the Premier  League by five.

The club was lucky enough to move on to our nice big, new stadium in 2001, which is essential in the current financial competitiveness of modern football, but we should never forget where we came from.

So come the new season, when you are enjoying the concourse facilities, or the nice view from your seat, or browsing the megastore, or even not struggling to get a ticket. Spare a thought for The Dell, she wasn’t pretty but she served us well.

The Dell. 1898 - 2001.

Chris

Le Tiss, not in the coaching biz….

Southampton football genius turned Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday telly pundit Matt Le Tissier admits that he’d rather talk nonsense than be a manager!

Being a Sky Sports pundit looks like a giggle…

“It’s brilliant. How can you not enjoy watching football matches with your mates? Jeff Stelling has a great sense of humour and I get on famously with Thommo [Phil Thompson], Charlie [Nicholas] and all the lads.”

There’s a fair bit of mickey-taking…

“And therein lies the fun! We usually meet up on a Friday night in the hotel, get drunk and talk all sorts of nonsense. Then we just carry that over to the show on a Saturday afternoon.”

Ever said anything on air you later regretted then?

“I did say that the referee was c**p once and producer said in my headphones: ‘I think the word you were looking for was rubbish.’ (laughs). It’s all part of the fun though and we enjoy stitching each other up.”

Tell us more…

“We tease each other about our accents, especially the Scottish lads. Charlie Nicholas pronounced the Wigan goalkeeper [John] Filan as feeling and said once” ‘It’s a yellow for feeling.’ I said: ‘I thought you only got a yellow for pushing and shoving Charlie.’ It tickled me anyway!”

As an ex-player do you tread softly when someone has a nightmare?

“A player knows if he’s had a shocker so there’s no need to rub it in. I usually say he’s had a miserable game but I’m sure he’ll be better next week. Some pundits can cross the line and turn their assessment into a character assassination. I’ll always give an honest opinion so if anyone doesn’t like it – tough.”

Le Tissier in his prime.

Reckon you could be England manager then?

“Ha ha. I thought about management briefly when Harry Redknapp left Southampton but I didn’t have any coaching qualifications. You need all that stuff now but I find it a load of bull.

“I got three quarters of the way through level two coaching but it seemed pointless. It goes against everything I believe in – playing naturally and off the cuff.  A guy who had never played the game was showing me how to pass the ball ten yards with the outside of the boot – but I’d been doing that on the pitch for 20 years. I was pulling my hair out…”

Are you annoyed that players put cash before their club now?

“I don’t blame them for that. If a player is going to get offered twice his salary to move clubs of course he’s going to consider it. It’s just a reflection of society in general.”

What about Chelsea’s millions?

“Their wealth inflates the whole transfer market and it makes players get greedy. I can’t quite comprehend why you have to negotiate a contract at Chelsea. When there’s that much money involved why argue the toss over £90,000 and £100,000. Not being funny, but how much can you spend?”

Do you miss your playing days?

“I don’t miss training one bit, especially pre-season. I miss walking out to a full stadium at five to three on a Saturday afternoon and the hairs on the back of my neck standing up with excitement. I can cope without it though.”

With Gareth Bale following Theo Walcott, are Saints becoming a conveyor belt for potential England stars?

“I trained alongside Theo a couple of years ago and thought: ‘This lad can play’. He left Southampton too early though and lost his way by not playing competitively. Gareth may be a defender but can really influence attacks with his set-pieces and foraging runs. I think he’s got every attribute to be a world-class full-back and I’d be very surprised if he didn’t go right to the top of the tree.”

This interview first appeared in Shoot Magazine and appears with permission of the publishers. You can now catch Shoot on line at www.shoot.co.uk

Killer Instinct….

Everybody loves a trier, someone who simply won’t quit.

We have been blessed with a few of these over years at the Dell and St. Mary’s, and one that particularly stands out for me is Michael Svensson. I was shocked to see this week that the towering Swede is about to embark on a playing comeback, two and a half years since he last took to the field. This is remarkable anyway, but even more so, when you realise, it isn’t the first time Svensson has done it.

The powerful centre half arrived at St. Mary’s in the summer of 2002, a relative unknown quantity, from French side Troyes. “Killer”, as he was soon to be nicknamed took to the Premier League like the proverbial “duck to water” continuing a strong tradition of Scandinavian success in the English arena. Strong, uncompromising in the air, and fierce in the tackle Svensson became the scourge of many a striker as he played an integral part in Gordon Strachan’s successful 2003 side. Andy Cole was famously on the end of Svensson’s fierce intensity, in a 2-0 Southampton defeat of Blackburn Rovers in 2005. Svensson declaring to the assembled guests in the Mick Channon suite afterwards in true Scandinavian deadpan “Cole was annoying me throughout the game. So I hit him”.

Svensson became a cult hero with Saints, and the downturn in form of the club’s performances on the pitch coincided with his knee problems. Killer missed the entire 2004-05 relegation season, his replacements, the like of Andreas Jakobsson and Callum Davenport were never going to fill the gap. Svensson went on to play just a handful more games for Saints until the club, with heavy hearts released him in 2007, and seemingly a great career had been cut short……

Svensson - Still coming out fighting.

……in August 2008 Michael Svensson, aged 32 and having not been with a club for over a year, re-signed for Southampton and was installed as Captain. People were naturally sceptical, but “Killer” completed the full 90 minutes in the opening game of the 2008/09 season, some twenty-one months since his last competitive game. Sadly, it wasn’t to last, and he played just three more full games before joining Mark Wotte’s backroom team, and surely now this was the end of Svensson’s playing career.

But. Perhaps not. Svensson headed back to Sweden and former club Halmstads BK as assistant manager in 2009, having seemingly officially retired, but now he has his sights firmly set on leaving the technical area and getting back amongst it again.

I doubt there is a Saints fan around that won’t be hoping this latest attempt at a return goes to plan for Killer, I for one will be looking out for Halmstads team lineups from now on. Just one glimpse of the red haired man with the ice cold stare doing what he does best and scathing down(ball first) an onrushing attacker could get the blood pumping and the crowd going. What would we give for a “Killer” now?

Chris

Puncheon below his weight….

It was with little surprise to Saints fans, when Jason Puncheon scored the consolation goal in Blackpool’s 1-3 defeat by Premier League Champions Chelsea last night.

You see, Puncheon has become somewhat of a phenomenon amongst the St. Mary’s faithful this season. I am not sure if he is the first and only player to go on loan from a League One side to a Premier League team, but I am sure there can’t be many?

So how does a League One player end up on loan in the promised land? He must have been having a cracking season for Saints right? Wrong.

Puncheon signed for Saints in January 2010, and came with warnings to me from fans of both Plymouth Argyle, his parent club and MK Dons where he had been on loan, that he was very much an enigma, a natural talent no doubt, but often lacking the required attitude. I often take the opinions of fans on an outgoing player with a pinch of salt, as they may come with a drop of bitterness, and I thought this was the case when Puncheon hit the ground running in a Saints shirt.

Puncheon quickly established himself as the first choice on the right wing, producing mesmerising energetic performances and chipping in with the odd goal, as Saints made a late push for promotion. Firmly becoming a fans favourite, it looked like alongside Jose Fonte, then Saints boss Alan Pardew had signed one of the crucial final pieces of the Saints jigsaw.

As has been well documented something, somewhere didn’t go to plan in the summer. Saints had a poor start to a season, in which expectation was high. Puncheon was one of those who didn’t look himself, his performances looked lethargic and unenthusiastic. The crowd began to get on his back and to make matters worse for Puncheon, his drop in form coincided with the emergence of talented teenager Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Saints parted company with Alan Pardew at the end of August last year, and this spelled the beginning of the end for Puncheon. New boss Nigel Adkins found less and less requirement for Puncheon to start games due to the impressive and match winning performances of Chamberlain. Rumours spread of a training ground bust up, and it was with little pre-warning that Puncheon joined Championship side Millwall on loan in November. After his lacklustre performances at League One level this season, Saints fans couldn’t believe their eyes as Puncheon scored the winning goal on his debut for the Lions and went on to help himself to five goals in seven games at the higher level. He looked like a completely different player, in fact he looked like the 2009/10 Puncheon as he terrorised the Championship’s defences.

Jason Puncheon - Finding his feet again?

Several comments in the media by Puncheon made it pretty clear that he wanted to stay at Millwall, including remarks about being at a club where he felt loved and wanted. He even mentioned being prepared to take a paycut. Unfortunately for Millwall and the player, it was pretty obvious that they wouldn’t be able to meet Saints asking price for the player or for that matter match his wages.

Puncheon returned to Saints in January, and found himself in the starting lineup for the FA Cup victory over Premier League Blackpool and the draw with Notts County but after far from Millwall level performances, it was rumoured that he was back on the bench for the trip to Tranmere, but refused to travel. This was speculation of course, but I don’t think many were surprised when Puncheon left on loan again at the end of January. This time though his destination was the Premier League, could it be that a player that that couldn’t hold down a place in a League One side was going to play regularly at the highest level?

Puncheon hasn’t necessarily nailed down a place as first choice at Bloomfield Road, but when called upon his performances have been again energetic and eye catching. His goal last night against the reigning champions was his second in just three games for the Lancashire outfit.

I think it is clear that Puncheon’s differing performance standards have nothing to do with ability or the level he is playing at, but more about desire. Something about his time at Saints went wrong and his desire to play for the club had gone in my opinion. His almost instant success at two other clubs playing at higher levels would seem to prove this.

Some players need to be first choice, and need to have an arm put round them, it certainly isn’t that Puncheon isn’t “good enough” to get in the Saints team, but his drop in desire and form coinciding with the mercurial rise of Chamberlain meaning he had to fight with a 17 year old(all be it a 17 year old being coveted by some of Europe’s top clubs), which may have been difficult for Puncheon to swallow.

I have always had a hard line in my opinion with players who have temper tantrums and attitude issues, as no player should be bigger than or dictate their position to the club, therefore if the rumours of Puncheon’s outbursts are true, particularly the refusal to travel, then for me he should have played his last game for the club. I think he made it clear during his time at Millwall that he didn’t want to be here, and by proving himself at Premier League level, would suggest a permanent move won’t be far away.

The worrying thing for Puncheon is, that if he doesn’t settle somewhere soon he is in danger of being labelled a journeyman. Ten different clubs already in a relatively short career is pretty high, and it makes you wonder if settling in is his biggest problem.

I for one shall be watching the rest of his career with great interest, and hope he doesn’t become another wasted potential.

Chris

Nobody puts Bebe in the corner…

Well Sir Alex Ferguson did, by playing him on the wing in Manchester United’s FA Cup 5th round victory over non-league Crawley Town! And thanks go to him for that!

Bebe played so woefully bad, that he is being compared to the one and only Ali Dia(George Weah’s Cousin), and in the weekend I launched this site that couldn’t be better timing. Having witnessed both Dia and Bebe though, I have to say, he has a long way to go to reach those levels of incompetence, let’s see if he ends up on trial at Gateshead in the summer……

Chris

Bebe. The new Ali Dia?