Tag Archives: Rickie Lambert

My Ultimate XI

Dear reader, I’ve no doubt that this will open me up to some criticism and that’s fine, all I ask you is that you make that criticism constructive and debate worthy!

Recently Saints have launched their campaign to find the ‘Ultimate’ Saints XI.

As a fan you are entitled to vote for a Goalkeeper, four defenders, three midfielders, three forwards and a manager. Simple right? Not quite. Only those with 150 plus appearances qualify. That to me is an odd rule. There have undoubtedly been players who made less than that but had more impact than some that did, but anyway, that is their rules and like the submissive man that I am I shall simply take that restriction on the chin and vote while mumbling Dean Richards quietly under my breath.

The beauty of a public poll like this is, that everyone interprets it their own way. For instance I immediately decided I couldn’t vote for those I never saw play.  This was a sub-conscious but clear decision. This is MY Ultimate XI. To me the idea that someone in their 20’s is voting for Mick Mills is a little ludicrous. This is your team, not your Dad’s! But, as it is your team then you are entitled to interpret it however you see fit.

Due to my decision, basically anyone who played for Saints prior to 1986 was basically out. This might seem reckless, but no matter how good they might have been they don’t mean the same to me as they might those who were there at the time. And besides, olden days football was a rubbish standard right? (joke).

Anyway never-mind the reasoning, here is my team:-

This side would of course be managed by Gordon Strachan.

As everybody will think, my team seems self explanatory to me, but I’ll explain it anyway.

Goalkeeper:- Antti Niemi

The Flying Finn, was simply put, a fantastic Goalkeeper, and undoubtedly the best I’ve seen for Saints (even without the 150 appearance rule).  His shot stopping was often spectacular and he was certainly one of those keepers that was worth a few points a season.

Left Back:- Wayne Bridge

Now a star of reality TV, Bridge really was as good as we made out at the time and his further career at Chelsea, Man City and with England goes to prove it. The local lad I watched from debutante to high profile transfer exit. It seems odd to think he is two years younger than me!

Centre Half:- Claus Lundekvam

Our Claus, the Norwegian with a Hampshire twang to his accent was somewhat of an anomaly. It is rare in modern football that somebody earns a testimonial, even rarer when a foreigner does it, but Claus took the city and the club to his heart and backed it up with solid performances.

Centre Half:- Mark Wright

This was the first time when I was selecting where the appearance rule proved a problem. Wright only just sneaks into my own personal criteria, but I have to say the choices in this position weren’t awe inspiring. Wright was a classy ball playing defender, perhaps ahead of his time!

Right Back:- Jason Dodd

For me Dodd was Mr. Dependable. Over 400 games for the club and I don’t remember a bad one. Maybe not the most dynamic right back in the league, but one you could trust and never lost his affinity with the club, even drinking with the fans in Milan last year!

Midfield:- David Armstrong

Largely regarded as one of the most underrated players in English football, though he was recognised internationally. I didn’t worry too much about balance in my team, but I do feel Armstrong is key to that. A tidy midfield player who chipped in with goals.

Midfield:- Morgan Schneiderlin

Like Wayne Bridge, this one has a sense of journey about it. I watched this lightweight French kid who looked useless at first develop into one of the most accomplished midfielders in the Premier League. A defensive midfielder, but so much more, under Pochettino then Koeman he was consistently outstanding.

Free Role:- Matthew Le Tissier

The greatest of all time. Surely there wasn’t anybody who didn’t vote for him, except himself?

Forward:- Danny Wallace

This could easily have gone to Rod, but not Ray. Sorry Ray. Eventually I went for the one with the most goals. Again, I wasn’t looking at balance (but perhaps I was) but with one target man, I wanted my other strikers to be the exciting pacy kind.

Forward:- Rickie Lambert

Had he not continued his fantastic form into the top flight then maybe this position would be filled by a Beattie or a Shearer, but he did. Of course he did. Perhaps the first player to capture the imaginations of Saints fans since Le Tiss. A gentleman, and a great goalscorer.

Forward:- Marian Pahars

 

Impact. Longevity. Talent. The kid from Latvia who dazzled us both with his fantastic ability and his affection for the club. His celebration v Portsmouth still sends shivers down my spine, the man from Riga celebrating like he grew up in Sholing. Some will overlook him, but they would be wrong to, had injuries not hampered him I’ve no doubt he’d be talked in higher regard.

Manager:- Gordon Strachan

I spent more time on this than perhaps on any of the others. There were three periods as a Saints fan I really loved. Under Messrs Strachan, Pochettino and Koeman. Poch didn’t qualify so it was a choice of two. At the end of the day both got us into Europe after prolonged breaks but only one got us to a cup final!

So there it is. Make of it what you will, but please remember, this is MY Ultimate XI, I’m not asking you to change yours. There will be thousands of different combinations, all with great justification but ultimately democracy will decide! I do think the more recent players will win as this is an internet competition for the internet generation, but let it be said, that every nominee in the list deserves our respect and our gratitude for being Saints!

Vote here:- https://southamptonfc.com/news/2017-10-13/southampton-fans-ultimate-xi-sea-city-museum-exhibition

Keep the faith!

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

Top Ten of Saints Shirts: Part Two

Following on from Saturday’s run down of the top Saints shirts from 10-6, Jon Carney of  Classic Football Shirts give’s us his top 5!

5. 1987-89 Home Shirt

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‘Rare shirt produced by German manufacturers Hummel with an added classic Draper Tools sponsor as worn when the side finished 12th & 13th in the First Division under boss Chris Nicholl. The shirt mirrors the exact design of the Denmark shirt worn in Mexico at World Cup ’86.’

4. 1993-95 Home Shirt

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‘This bold Pony number with its interesting named Dimplex sponsor was controversial at the time of its release for abandoning simple stripes for the huge geometric Pony logo on the upper front which dominated the design. Today however, bold shirts; whether it be with a huge geometric logo or an acid-house inspired pattern, are enjoying something of a renaissance – perhaps in response to the simplicity of modern day designs. This Pony template was also followed in claret and blue by West Ham in 1993.’

3. 1991-93 Third Shirt

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‘Rare third shirt donned by Premier League legends Le Tissier and Shearer as the side narrowly avoided relegation by just one point during the inaugural 1992-93 Premier League campaign. With a bold pattern throughout this shirt forms part of a brilliant era of football shirts between the late 80’s and early 90’s when designs brazenly toed the line between future classic and garish monstrosity (see 1991 away shirt!) in a reflection of music and fashion. The shirt also gives a nod to the club’s tradition of donning yellow and blue away/third shirts introduced in the 1970’s as part of a wider trend of clubs wanting to emulate Brazil (seriously). On the Wembley turf in May 1976, they did just that.’

2. 2010-11 Home Shirt

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‘The club returned to its roots with this classic sash design which marked their 125th anniversary, with subtle touches including 1885-2010 detail to the crest and a sponsor-less front. The shirt helped inspire them to win promotion from League One with the side boasting an incredible array of talents for the level, including future internationals Lambert, Lallana, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Schneiderlin, and Jose Fonte (plus Jason Puncheon)!’

Editor’s Note:- This is my personal favourite, for this simple, classy design, the lack of sponsor and the team that played in it! – Chris

1. 1980-83 Home Shirt

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‘Extremely rare home shirt with great vintage design and famous Rank Xerox sponsor as worn when the side achieved consecutive top seven finishes in the First Division under boss Lawrie McMenemy. The Saints were helped by the goals of ’78 and ’79 Ballon D’Or winner Kevin Keegan who joined from Hamburg and enjoyed a stunning campaign in 81-82 scoring 30 goals in all competitions. With its tailored look and collar detail, the design remains a firm favourite with fans who ask for it to be adapted for the new season shirt most summers.’

So there it is, an outsider’s point of view on the best Saints kits so far. Feel differently? Let us know!

Check out some classic Southampton shirts here bit.ly/1NGtSxI and tell us which is your favourite?

The Long and the Short of it…

For some time now it feels like that as the end of the season approaches, there are numerous positives about Saints and their campaign that I could write about, and this is no exception.

One of the negatives this season, that I feel needs addressing, is that Shane Long might not be voted the player of the season.

In any other season he would have had it sewn up, but with the performances of Virgil van Dijk at the other end of the pitch catching the eye too, it is likely he’ll be a valiant runner up to the Dutchman.

The turnaround in the perception of Long in the eyes of Saints fans has been remarkable. Cast your minds back to August 2014, the 12 million pound transfer from Hull came with some unkind remarks about his perceived value in comparison to the fee paid, and I will not shirk the fact that I was one of those detractors.

This criticism was largely based on the fact that Long’s goal return wasn’t overly impressive for a ‘striker’, based largely on the fact that he had never hit double figures in any of his four previous Premier League campaigns with Reading, West Brom and Hull City respectively.

If the pressure was already on him in his early days as a Southampton player, it was compounded further by his number. Seven. The number that Matthew Le Tissier had worn, and had most recently been vacated by the just departed fan favourite Rickie Lambert. It sounds like a small detail, but people react to such decisions, and an a level of expectation is made.

Long’s first season at Saints was perhaps unremarkable, though it is easily forgotten that he weighed in to a record breaking debut by Ronald Koeman with five goals, despite being not a regular in the starting lineup (Long started 16 times).

It is this season that Long has come into his own though, so far starting 21 games, missing some through injury and has remodelled himself as a player who draws attention to when he isn’t in the team rather than when he is.

His effervescent displays this season, be it up front or as part of a support three have been dazzling at times, and though he might never be considered the most cultured player in the world, many an opposition defence will have felt relieved his constant hassling of them was over.

Relentless energy and supreme efficiency with the ball makes Long a valuable asset, but I shouldn’t fail to address his goal return or perceived lack of it.

Long has hit 10 Premier League goals this season, putting him joint top with Sadio Mane and Graziano Pelle but there are further statistics that puts the Irishman out in front. Both Mane and Pelle have started more games than Long, but further still their goal to shot ratios are nowhere near as good. Both the Senegalese and the Italian have score their 10 goals having had 80 shots apiece. Long has achieved the same total from just 59 shots.

Goals are of course important, but I think Long’s contribution has been as much about the team dynamic as it has been the amount of times he has hit the back of the net. Ronald Koeman has built a style that utilises both the wide positions (and particularly the use of crossing) and often at pace. Long is ideal for it, and the added bonus that he is better in the air than you might expect means that he is comfortable in any of the forward positions.

Saints are at the culmination of another decent season, but this Summer you can add Shane Long to the list of the players fans will be anxiously hoping stays at St. Mary’s. He might not be Southampton player of the season, but he is a Southampton player for a reason.  Who saw that coming?

Chris

 

Player of the Season. A Two horse race?

With @SouthamptonFC announcing that voting was open for this year’s ‘Player of the Season’ award, it became pretty clear on social media that this would be a contest with only two contenders.

So who will join an illustrious list that includes Kevin Keegan, Mick Channon, Peter Shilton, Alan Shearer, Rickie Lambert and of course three time winner Matt Le Tissier.

Will current captain Jose Fonte be the first person to equal Le God’s feat? Will Fraser Forster become only the fifth goalkeeper to take the crown? The answer to both is almost certainly no.

So here are the clear front runners:-

In the Red corner….

….hailing from Breda in Holland, the two time Scottish Premier League winner and undisputed ‘in the box’ champion. Virgil van Dijk.

Undoubtedly, van Dijk has been one of the signings of the season, and not just for Saints, but for any club, his immaculate displays at the heart of the defence have often been spell binding. Having barely put a foot wrong, the Dutchman has filled the Alderweireld shaped hole that appeared last Summer nicely and winning this award could eclipse his predecessor’s achievements. A monster in the air, yet delicate with the ball at his feet, Saints have unearthed another star, and he would be a worthy addition to the list of winners.

In the White corner….

….from Gortnahoe in Ireland, the former Football Association of Ireland Young Player of the Year, Reading Player of the Year and Munster Minor Hurling Championship winner. Shane Long.

Not many would have predicted Long being such a clear favourite this time last year, but his performances in a Saints shirt this season have been superb. Often bemoaned as a striker who doesn’t score enough goals, Long’s input in this campaign has been crucial. The Irish forward has netted 11 times this term (so far), many of which were part of match winning turns. Long’s tireless effort and attitude whether playing up top or as part of a support three is breathtaking and given the indifference from Saints fans and the scoffing from Scousers when he was linked to Anfield in January, a Player of the Season award would be a fitting end to a point proving campaign!

Somebody’s 0 has got to go.

Vote here:-

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Also remember that georgeweahscousin.com will also be hosting it’s own prestigious awards as always, so keep an eye out for the voting form come the end of the season!

Kangaroo Court: The Ward-Prowse Debate

As Saints fans we have always had a vested interest in the progress of our Academy products. Long a gold mine of talent, when a Southampton kid makes their first team debut it comes surrounded in hope and expectation.

James Ward-Prowse has been one that has perhaps split opinions. The Pompey born midfielder has been consistently in and around the first team squad, but is yet to command a regular starting berth.

Often praised for his technical ability, his goals and assists record leaves a lot to be desired and often he seems to struggle to make an impact on games.

I put it to twitter (and misspelled kangaroo again FFS) to ask if Ward-Prowse is destined to be the star we all hoped he would be, or has he not lived up to expectations?

The case for the Prosecution:-

@peter_stephens Now where do we start on the English wonderkid that is James Ward-Prowse? Another kid hot off the Southampton academy conveyor belt ready to take the country by storm and force a move to the big 4? Probably not.

The issue with JWP is that you can watch a match and forget he is even out there, his best position in the team is still tbc but he *looks* like a footballer, or a bloke doing an impression of one…. His delivery is generally very good from set pieces, which is ALWAYS noted by commentators, but is that enough to merit his place in the team? In open play he is lost, he has played in a few different positions and hasn’t excelled in any. 

If he wasn’t an English kid from our academy, would fans still clamour over him as they do?

 I have no agenda against him, I just don’t think he merits a place in the team, or even the squad right now. He lacks pace, aggression, has no ‘trick’ and doesn’t score goals (yeah yeah a FK and a pen, bravo). All of his 4 assists have been from corners, again set pieces. While a true DMF option in Harrison Reed has disappeared, JWP continues to flatter to deceive in whatever position he is tried in.

But, “he takes a cracking corner”. Yawn.’

The case for the Defence:-

@TheDanJames James Ward-Prowse. Over 100 club appearances, captain for his country at u21 level, already receiving recognition from the current manager of England Roy Hodgson. Yet some people seem to not think he’s got ability or potential?

He was given his break by Adkins in the cup competitions, grabbing his first goal in a victory over Coventry. Months later, on our return to the premier league he started at the Etihad against reigning champions  Man City at the tender age of 17. You don’t get that opportunity for no reason.

He’s used heavily as a role model in the club academy. He’s a level headed, intelligent and driven young man who loves the club. He possesses a superb delivery from set pieces, recently grabbing his first goal of the season from a well taken free kick, reminiscent of his former set piece tipster Rickie Lambert. Still at the age of 21 he’s got a lot to learn and he will make mistakes, but doesn’t everyone?

Playing at Premier League level will only help him develop and find his position in our team. He’s been tried in many different roles but hasn’t nailed down one spot as his own. As long as he takes chances and continues to perform well he’ll find his place in the Saints starting XI and the national team.  

Future captain material for sure.’

Verdict:-

As the vote shows, though there are some doubters, JWP is still considered a ‘Young Star’ at the club. Perhaps upping his output in terms of goals and assists will see it swing even further in his favour.

Get enhanced odds on this weekends football action!
Get enhanced odds on this weekends football action!

Big Time Charlie, More like About time!

If there is one complaint that all Saints fans have had in common of late, it’s that we were in desperate need of a striker.

There was one name that was repeatedly on the lips of the supporters, an out and out goalscorer who had proved his point in the Premier League in the last campaign, and seemingly the ideal man to come in and lead the line at St. Mary’s.

It’s not often though that the supporters and the club find themselves on the same wavelength when it comes to transfer business so the breaking news on Saturday morning that on this occasion they actually were, was both perfectly timed and a pleasant surprise.

To seal such a sought after striker, whose record is prolific at every level at such a bargain price of £4 million, is staggering business for the club and the only thing left to ask is, what took so you long Charlie?

You see, ever since this site was in it’s infancy, and Saints were playing in League One, it’s always felt to me like destiny that Charlie Austin would one day turn out for us. As mentioned in a nostalgic piece here, the then Swindon Town forward was our ‘tormentor in chief’ at the time.

Having grown up on the South Coast, I remember feeling he might have been one that had slipped through Saints proverbial net, having caught the Robin’s eye while banging in the goals at Poole Town!

Austin was often the difference in games between us and Swindon, and he also notched against Saints in the Championship with Burnley, not to mention last season’s spectacular strike at St. Mary’s in the Premier League.

As Saints have progressed so has Austin at an equal rate, and now is the time for them to move on together!

Austin’s addition couldn’t be any more welcome, and with supporters starting to feel restless after a poor run of late, the return of Fraser Forster, two good wins on the bounce and the announcement of such a good goalscorer joining the squad has brought the confidence flooding back into the stands.

Saints fans love a goalscorer and it was perhaps fitting that Charlie Austin was sat in the stands watching his new team-mates while a former legendary front-man in Rickie Lambert returned with West Brom.

Graziano Pelle and Shane Long have been great in patches this season, but this added competition can only be a good thing, and in Austin it feels like we might have another talisman forward on our hands. Perhaps even the man to takeover from Lambert and join predecessors James Beattie, Le Tiss et al as the focal point in the team.

It feels like a move that makes perfect sense for all parties for a change. QPR got a fee before losing out altogether in the Summer, Saints got their goalscorer, and Charlie Austin has a six month crack at the England Euro 2016 squad.

It’s been a while since Saints made a transfer that inspired such confidence in the stands, and there was a buzz amongst the fans I was watching the WBA game with, while those St. Mary’s were clearly audibly lifted!

Just when it feels like Saints are getting us down again, they know just how to scoop us back up.

Acceptable to be excited again? I think so.

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It’s time to talk about Graziano…

Football is as fickle a business as they come. Already this season we have seen fans on social media outlets ludicrously question Ronald Koeman’s position as manager after a shaky start, and as crazy as it seems now, the instantaneous medium that the likes of twitter offer means football’s fickleness is at it’s peak.

If anyone had seriously doubted Ronald’s credentials, it would be interesting to know on what grounds. It can’t be results, in that department he has surely exceeded expectations. It can’t be the standard of football, Saints on their day are as exciting as anyone in the league in terms of their approach. So perhaps it is signings? Wrong again, and that brings me neatly to the subject of this blog.

Nothing epitomises the Dutchman’s success in the transfer market than Graziano Pellè. If we are talking about kneejerk reactions, the Italian striker has suffered every type. Initially written off as not being good enough, then revered, before being written off again on the back of a lean spell in front of goal. Even during his run in the goals last season there were many who weren’t taken by Pellè and perhaps have allowed those initial thoughts to form into a stubborn prejudice that now refuses to acknowledge his contribution.

The reality is, Pellè has been a revelation. A bone fide fantastic signing. You might often hear people say that he doesn’t score ‘enough goals’, but given his all round contribution to the way the team plays I would argue that isn’t a disaster. Having said that 23 in 56 appearances isn’t bad in this day and age anyway.  It is actually an almost identical goal ratio in English football to Romelu Lukaku for instance.

Over the Summer many Saints fans (myself included) were insistent that the club should be looking at other strikers. The likes of Charlie Austin were long talked about and perhaps we had all got a little carried away with ourselves and the now traditional Southampton need for constant improvement. So far this season Pelle has been fantastic. Sure, when the early season form was poor from the team as a unit, he suffered as he was getting little to no service at times, but as the team began to click so did the Italian, and he has been almost unplayable since.

Recent performances against Manchester United and Chelsea particularly highlighted his importance, and why Ronald Koeman has complete faith in him. Superb in the air, never letting the centre halves have a moments rest, setting up chance after chance with his back to goal before burying one himself. Mix all that up with the odd unnecessary flick or back heel and that is Graziano Pellè in a nutshell. I read a tweet (but I can no longer find it unfortunately to credit the author) that described Pellè as the ideal mix of old school English striker and fancy dan foreigner. Perfect.

After the rout of MK Dons, for which Pellè was rested I was amazed to see some fans complain that the Italian might be brought straight back into the team.  The fact that he has 7 goals and 5 assists against much tougher opposition escaping those whose prejudice has long been formed. As much as we all want Jay Rodriguez to return to the force he had become, it has to be as part of a team alongside Pellè, he could certainly benefit from the Italian’s expert hold up play, much as Sadio Mane has.

If that wasn’t enough evidence of his greatness, it is worth pointing out that at the age of 29 he received his first call up to the Azzurri last season and has been a regular ever since. As he joins up with them this week his record to date is 3 goals in 6 games, a pretty good start at international level.  Italy manager Antonio Conte recently said that he hopes ‘Pellè can be an example for other players to follow’.

If goals, assists and all round impressive play at all levels aren’t your cup of tea though, what about passion? Since arriving at St. Mary’s Pellè has really seemed to embrace being at the club and his reaction to scoring is always like it’s his first ever goal. For me he is part of the furniture now and has the potential to join other strikers like Rickie Lambert, Marian Pahars and James Beattie (another who suffered the odd barren spell) as cult heroes at the club.

I guess my point at the end of all this is simply that Graziano Pellè is certainly a player you’d rather have with you than against you. Is he the most natural player in the world, perhaps not, but he produces the goods on a fairly regular basis. Scoring goals is an art form, and while not everyone can do it with the constant grace of a Messi or a Ronaldo, simply doing it is enough.

Pellè is Southampton’s and Southampton is Pellè’s.

Talking Saints: The Bloggers Take on The New Season

Amongst the many previews out on offer as we approach the (official) start of a new season, none bring together many as many of the voices of those who give up their time to talk about their club. I gathered together the Saints blogging fraternity to see what they expect from the new season.

Which new signing are you most excited about?

Me ‘Cedric has looked impressive in pre-season so far, and looks like he will offer even more going forward than Clyne did. We shall see if he can recreate that level of form in the Premier League.’

Glen de la Cour (from League One Minus Ten)  ‘Cedric Soares looks an exciting addition especially as it fits our ethos of selling big and replacing with better quality for less money.  The most important though is Jordy Clasie because of the boots he has to fill.’

Connor Armstrong (from All of the websites) ‘For me it’s probably Cédric, so far. It looks like he’ll give us great balance when Bertrand is back too, as well as another genuine attacking threat.’

Sam Dobson (from The Saints Hub) ‘Excited is probably the wrong word, but Cedric Soares looks the most impressive so far’

George Galpin (from St. Mary’s Musings) ‘I’m really excited about Jordy Clasie. Morgan Schneiderlin was a fantastic player for Saints, and will be remembered as an icon of the club’s recent rise. But people move on, and the Utd move is something that not many would be able to say no to.’

Ben Stanfield (from Teamtalk Fanzone) ‘Cedric Soares. I think he looks like a really bright young talent who, in glimpses against Vitesse, showed he will thrive in getting forward to create opportunities for Saints. He looks physically strong, is quick and seems to have an experienced head on young shoulders. The acid test, which hasn’t really been seen yet, is his defending – particularly against Premier League attackers..’

Ben (from Go Marching In) ‘Cédric Soares – Has looked very assured already despite only playing a few games in a Saints shirt. I like his positivity going forward and have a feeling he could bag a couple of goals in his first season.’

Ben McQuaide (from McQuaide’s Musings and SportsPulse) ‘Without a doubt, Jordy Clasie. I’ve wanted him at Southampton for quite a while now and after watching him a fair bit in the Eredivisie I’m convinced he’ll be a hit in the Premier League.’

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There’s not been this much pressure on a bloke called Cedric to perform since the Tri-Wizard tournament…

Which Saints player do you think will have the biggest impact (secure move to United/Liverpool/Spurs) on the Premier League this season?

Me ‘Sadio Mane. He is such an exciting player and already making a name for himself. Still only 23 I think he is destined for the top sooner rather than later.’

GdlC ‘Sadio Mane- he will hopefully be better equipped in his 2nd season to keep a high level of performance right through.’

CA ‘It’s going to be Sadio Mané. He’s gonna tear it up. Big Vic will keep being Big Vic too, so he’s another who will have a big impact. Let’s hope that Jay Rodriguez makes his mark too.’

SD ‘Sadio Mane. He will win us games single-handedly .’

GG ‘I really think this is Sadio Mané’s year. He’s settled into the team well, but it was noticeable how much physically he had grown and looks frighteningly quick. He could become a real superstar this season.’

BS ‘Sadio Mane. I’m really looking forward to seeing Sadio have a full season with Saints. He was one of the more consistent performers across last year and has already shown in pre-season that he is ready to go. I think he should, and will, be targeting 20 goals for Saints this season. He could well be the key to us winning a few close games.’

B ‘Sadio Mane – One the most fouled players in the Premier League last season. Feel that if he has another impressive season we’ll be fighting off some big offers for him next summer.’ 

BM ‘Sadio Mane, if he can maintain or better his form from the second half of last season for a whole season he’s gonna tear teams apart and I think he could score 15+ goals this season.’

The Mane man this season?
The Mane man this season?

How do you rate our transfer business out of 10?

Me ‘So far I would say it is a 7-8, add another centre half, and in my opinion an out and out striker and then it would be higher.’

GdlC ‘Hard to tell until they’ve adapted (or not)…. on the face of it, it looks like an 8 or 9 out of 10.  A top quality centre back in addition to Caulker will make it even better.’

CA ‘8/10’

SD ‘6 or 7. Difficult to argue that we won’t be worse off without Clyne and Schneiderlin, but the players that have replaced them aren’t THAT much worse, so we should still be competitive.’

GG ‘If Saints can get the CB to replace Alderweireld, 10 for me. The players who had left all had understandable reasons for going, but once again the transfer committee seem to have brought in the right replacements.’

BS ‘I’d say a 7. We seemed well prepared for any departures but, unlike last year, we didn’t need wholesale changes this summer anyway. If we can get a top-class CB in, like Van Dijk for example, then that 7 can become an 8/9 and I think we’re ready to go!’

B ‘8/10’

BM ‘Probably a 6, the replacements look pretty solid for those that departed but I think we may be slightly weaker than last season, starting XI wise. ‘

Ronald, who was it the fans tweeted you to sign?
Ronald, who was it the fans tweeted you to sign?

Morgan Schneiderlin. Impossible to truly replace?

Me ‘Not impossible but incredibly difficult. I hope the Wanyama/Clasie partnership hits the ground running, if it does then we are going to be fine.’

GdlC ‘Maybe hard to immediately replace but you have to give time for a player to grow into the role.  Once Clasie gets used to English football, he may well be that man.  He has roughly the same number of caps for Holland as Morgan has for France – all he doesn’t have is the English football experience.’

CA ‘Probably, but we’ve given it a very good go.’

SD ‘He will definitely be missed, but we’re still pretty strong in that area of the pitch. Victor Wanyama is one of the best midfielders around and if Jordy Clasie doesn’t cut it, Harrison Reed will be ready to step up.’

GG ‘In all honesty, he is not impossible to replace, because no one is for a club the size of Southampton. He was an incredible player, but like I said earlier; people move on. Le Tissier retired, Channon left, Nick Holmes, Terry Paine, Rickie Lambert.. They all stopped playing for Saints, but the club is still there.’

BS ‘No player is ever truly irreplaceable. Morgan was a class act, no doubt about that, but I really feel Wanyama can step up to the same level Morgan was playing at each week and become the star of our Midfield. I wish Morgan well but we will survive without him.’

B ‘I think so. The ability to win the ball back, control the game with his distribution and an engine to cover every blade of grass on the pitch. A lot of players only specialise in one of those areas but Morgan was capable of them all. In Jordy Clasie we have a player who can certainly tick a lot of those boxes, but I think he’ll need time to find his feet in the Premier League. But at 24 there’s plenty of time for him to become as integral to Southampton as Morgan was.

BM ‘Wouldn’t say irreplaceable, top class player but I think Clasie will replace him well.’

Jordy Clasie will have to soon master the balancing head jump with Big Victor...
Jordy Clasie will have to soon master the balancing head jump with Big Victor…

Who will win the Premier League?

Me ‘Chelsea, but not as easily as they did last season.’

GdlC ‘Vitesse Arnhem’s feeder club.’

CA ‘Chelsea. Manchester United will push them but the Blues have got the knack.’

SD ‘Man United.’

GG ‘In my opinion, it’ll take a lot to stop Utd if they can add another attacker. ‘

BS ‘If United ‘click’ then I think they could go close – which they should do after the ridiculous amounts of money they’ve spent over the last two years – but I think it’ll be Chelsea’s to lose again. They are generally the epitome of consistency.’

B ‘Arsenal.’

BM ‘Chelsea, again. Despite concerns over Diego Costa’s hamstring.’

I know it was you Fredo...
I know it was you Fredo…

Who will go down?

Me ‘Bournemouth, Sunderland & Norwich.’

GdlC ‘Tottenham, Liverpool and I don’t really care who else.’

CA ‘Bournemouth, Norwich and Sunderland.’

SD ‘Aston Villa, Leicester and Bournemouth.’

GG ‘Bournemouth, Leicester and Norwich’

BS ‘Watford, Leicester and Norwich.’

B ‘Leicester, Norwich and Watford.’

BM ‘Bournemouth, Norwich and Leicester.’

Both to tumble?
Both to tumble?

Who do you most want to beat this season?

Me ‘Whoever we get in the cup final.’

GdlC ‘Tottenham.’

CA ‘Liverpool. For obvious reasons. Chelsea and Tottenham are others, but only because I have mates who support them.’

SD ‘Tottenham, we must be due a win against them by now.’

GG ‘Everybody… ;-). For me, I’d like Saints to beat Tottenham, purely because they’re the only team in the top six clubs that I haven’t seen Saints claim all three points from since promotion.’

BS ‘Liverpool and Tottenham. Both for obvious reasons of course!’

B ‘Probably Liverpool. Tottenham was a close second but the scousers win because they have more ex Saints players in their team. It’s got a lot to do with showing that we’re not weaker without them.’

BM ‘Liverpool, without a doubt. You know the reasons. ‘

Shithouse haircut.
Shithouse haircut.

Chips. Mayonnaise or No Mayonnaise?

Me ‘No. Total Dutch nonsense I’m afraid. HP Sauce (now made in Holland) is your standard chip affair.’

GdlC ‘I am determined to try the mayonnaise option soon! Will get back to you.’

CA ‘Mayonnaise, and lots of it. ‘

SD ‘No Mayonnaise. Sorry Ronald.’

GG ‘I tried chips with mayonnaise in Rotterdam for the Feyenoord friendly, and can see why they love it there. But for me, salt, pepper and vinegar is a winner. So is Reggae Reggae sauce.’

BS ‘I’m afraid this is (probably) the only thing in life that Ronald and I don’t agree on. Chips for me can only ever have one condiment on them – tomato ketchup!! So no mayonnaise for me. Sorry Ron!’

B ‘Mayonnaise. Lots of it.’

BM ‘Mayonnaise, obviously.’

Grim.
Grim.

You wake up suddenly and find yourself in Fratton Park for a Pompey home game. How do you escape unnoticed?

Me ‘There is a scene in the US zombie drama ‘The Walking Dead’ where the heroes smother themselves in zombie blood and guts and then act brain-dead to blend in and walk freely amongst the zombies. Like that. But using fish guts.’

GdlC ‘Grow an extra finger on each hand, an extra toe on each foot and an eye in the middle of my forehead, sing ‘Amarillo’ and shout ‘I HATE FACKING SCUMMAHS’and then (most importantly) blame the owners for everything.  Now that I’m fully blended in… I can leave.’

CA ‘Fratton Park? Isn’t that where the big Tesco’s is now?’

SD ‘Reckon it’ll be pretty easy for me to navigate my way through rows of empty seats.’

GG ‘Stick on a thick coat, and casually walk towards the exit. If they say I can’t get back in, I’ll say I’ve left my car unlocked. Simple!’

BS ‘I’d turn to the only other guy in attendance and advise that I think I’ve left my car unlocked and will be right back….’

B ‘Scary thought. I would probably go for some sort of diversion tactic, saying loudly, “Isn’t that guy over there from HMRC?” and then walk briskly in the other direction.’

BM ‘I think you mean the Portsmouth Dockland Stadium (See below). ‘

When is this finished?
When is this finished?

Cheers to all those who took the time to answer questions. We’ll all meet back here in May and see how right (or wrong) we got it!

Keep the faith!