In this ever modernising age, Saints have become a club with a far bigger catchment area than just Hampshire/the South Coast of England. As well as a significant rise in Southampton fandom internationally, recent successes have perhaps even persuaded local Southern kids to ditch any ill conceived ideas of supporting a bigger club from further afield.
To that end, it struck me that every Summer we will have new fans arriving in our midst, fresh faced and buoyant with unparalleled levels of optimism. We have to stamp that out. First and foremost being a Saints fan carries huge responsibility. Sure, enjoy the good times, but make absolutely certain you show your worst self at the ‘bad’ (chortle) times.
To help with that, we here at gwc.com have come up with a handy flow chart for new supporters which simply explains how to react to any Saints based news over the Summer! Hope this helps!
Please enjoy this free cut out and keep brown paper bag for when it all becomes too much!
Last Saturday Saints played out an uninspiring draw at home to Watford in what for many was an Anti-Climax to the exciting build up to the start of the season.
Despite a much improved second half it is fair to say that most were left a little deflated by the result and performance against Watford. In many cases feelings ran a little high. In fact, I was staggered to see the level of reaction by many, which frankly resembled a particularly spoiled hysterical child who hadn’t got their own way.
One game into the season and the new manager, the new players, the tactics, the board and anything else related to the club was written off as not good enough. This was less knee jerk, more collective full body spasm. It was ugly.
I watched the game as usual with the Dubai Saints, who I have to say, on the whole are as level headed as you will find [a few years around the block will do that for you eh fellas ;-)]. But even we found ourselves getting into a fairly heated ‘discussion’ about the level of player investment and ‘ambition’ at the club. I’ve grown to hate that word in all honesty. What exactly is ambition? Some would argue finishing in an automatic qualification place for Europe is as ambitious as Saints can realistically get, others would say that the sky is the limit. There is no rules as to what determines ‘ambition’ and only the people in the boardroom will know what they see as a realistic achievement.
The centre of our well oiled debate in the ‘Francis Benali Stand’ of the Barasti Beach Bar was whether the club should stick with bringing kids through or spend big to improve the squad now.
It got me wondering what it really is Saints fans want?
I’m yet to meet one who doesn’t take pride in the Academy at the club. When one of our ‘own’ turns out for England it gives us all a lift, and over the years we’ve all loved watching young players make their first team debut and go on to be stars in their own right. It’s something that sets us apart from other clubs. We know it and they know it. Parents are now trying to get their kids into Staplewood and not Carrington (Manchester United) and our facilities and coaching methods have become the blueprint for many of Europe’s top clubs. Ex-Southampton Academy graduates scoring 60% of the 7 goals in a much overhyped game between Arsenal and Liverpool at the weekend is the advertising that keeps the wheel turning!
We love this about our club. We love the fabled ‘pathway’. But at what cost?
Everybody likes to see their club sign players. These days it’s an obsession amongst fans, to the point where they aren’t even really bothered who it is, as long as there is a new face holding up their shirt. It’s all a little camp and kitsch, with the latest monstrosity coming from Manchester United when they announced Paul Pogba. With every passing season football becomes more like the X Factor, classless and lacking in any real substance whatsoever. This is heightened of course by massive fees, transfer deadline day and the hype that surrounds it. Has anyone in history not looked a dick in a yellow tie?
But still, we all like a new player through the door, and this Summer (and most Summers), Saints fans would have liked a few more. With exits in key positions again, most have been frustrated that like for like replacements have not been brought in.
But where do you draw the line? What is the right balance between keeping the ‘pathway’ and strengthening the squad.
Like it or not, and my impression is that most people do, Saints have positioned themselves in the market as a club that will accept first team players moving on for the right price, and might not necessarily replace them. Why? Because you cannot maintain the ‘pathway’ if you keep blocking it with big money foreign imports.
It’s a long term strategy and one not without it’s risks, but if Les Reed was to take an occasional glance at Saints supporting presences on the web (Hi Les!) he could be forgiven for placing his head in his hands when he sees the same people bemoaning Harrison Reed’s lack of playing time last season, crying over the club not replacing Wanyama this.
For the club to keep attracting the best players into the Academy at a young age there has to be continuous evidence that the club will give those kids a chance at the top level. Logically, if you replace every player that leaves with a like for like copy those kids will be destined to never fulfil their potential at Saints, and eventually other kids will decide it’s not the place to be, especially as others catch up in terms of facilities and methodology.
My hunch is that the modern Southampton supporter would rather see big investment in players each Summer, some would still favour the pathway, while many will be honest enough to admit they aren’t bothered either way as long as the club keeps progressing.
What do #saintsfc fans really want? The 'Pathway' or 'Big Player Investment'? Honest answers.
The obvious answer, though there is no right one, is that the balance has to be correct. The club needs to find a workable solution where the kids get their chance, but the squad is strong enough to compete. I would say they had this pretty close under Mauricio Pochettino.
The blip in all this, was the reign of Ronald Koeman, and it didn’t surprise me when there was talk of the club not being overly disappointed that he was off. As good a job as he did, he took the organisation ‘off message’ and long term that wasn’t what the board wanted.
Claude Puel would appear to be the ‘anti-appointment’ to Koeman. A man with a track record of giving some pretty good players their first opportunities in France. Yes, the first game was a little underwhelming, but when have Saints’ opening day fixtures not been? Let’s give him a chance.
Tomorrow night, we take on Manchester United at Old Trafford. A huge money ‘name’ like Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Paul Pogba could win the game for them, but then Matt Targett or James Ward-Prowse could win it for us. Which would be sweeter?
There has been much made of whether or not Saints have had a ‘successful’ Summer transfer window or not, and on the face of it, losing Morgan Schneiderlin and Nathaniel Clyne was always going to make it difficult to convince a lot of the fanbase that it could be anything other than a failure.
Lots of people have raised concerns recently about the clubs policy of replacing the outgoing players with cheaper alternatives, and this coinciding with a poor start on the pitch meant people’s worries were seriously heightened. I don’t pretend to be completely comfortable with it myself but talk of relegation and impending doom is way too early. With the confirmation on deadline day that Saints had ended the window as the Premier League’s ‘net spend’ winners you have to say that if Ronald Koeman can get his team back to form and have another decent showing come the end of the campaign, then we perhaps have the shrewdest owners in football.
It is still too early to tell just how good or bad the incoming players are, but for me these three signings give Saints fans good reason to be optimistic.
I was a little put out by the lack of fuss the English media made of this signing, and in my opinion it was somewhat of a coup. Let’s be honest, if Koeman wasn’t in charge, Saints are never signing this player. You can’t take too much notice of supporter born superlatives, but the ‘Dutch Xavi’ is highly regarded in Holland and was long the subject of interest from Manchester United. Many people have said that they don’t see him as an adequate replacement for Schneiderlin, well let me put it to you that he isn’t here to be that. I think he is seen as a replacement for Steven Davis, sitting in front of the defensive midfield two and dictating play. Davis has done little wrong in a Saints shirt, but I see Clasie as a step up and it was gutting to see him pick up an injury so early into the campaign.
2. Oriol Romeu
If we are talking about Schneiderlin replacements, Spaniard Romeu is the man with that huge task on his hands in my opinion. The former Barcelona youth/B teammate of Messi, Fabregas et al looked to have made his breakthrough at Chelsea under Andre Villas-Boas but proved less popular with subsequent managers in West London and found himself one of the many victims of the Stamford Bridge Footballer borrowing library. Romeu has already proved to be a competent and combatant competitor in defensive midfield and could prove to be a steal at just £5 million. If Victor Wanyama can get over himself and forge a partnership with Romeu it will likely be one of the toughest in the division.
3. Virgil van Dijk
When the fallout of the farce involving Toby Alderweireld was that the Belgian had proved himself to be just another of football’s snakes, Saints fans were rightly worried about the lack of options at centre half. With many still untrusting of Maya Yoshida (though in my opinion he has been outstanding of late) and Florin Gardos both untested and then joining the long term injury list there was a clear gap in the squad. With all due respect to him, the loaning of Steven Caulker did little to appease that feeling, so the drawn out abut ultimately successful pursuit of Dutchman van Dijk was a nice way to round off the Summer window. I have high hopes for this transfer.van Dijk is a classy ball playing centre half and although there are no guarantees in football I think he will successfully make the step up. The lure of the Premier League has already improved his international prospects, having been called into the Dutch squad on Thursday and the incentive for him to stay there is to prove a hit in a better league.
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.’
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.’
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.’
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!’
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. ‘
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.’
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.’
BM ‘Chelsea, again. Despite concerns over Diego Costa’s hamstring.’
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.’
Who do you most want to beat this season?
Me ‘Whoever we get in the cup final.’
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. ‘
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.’
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). ‘
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!
Sometimes I scroll through the #saintsfc twitter feed and wonder how some of our fanbase might have coped with the mid-90’s.
With only newspapers to go on and the odd snippet of a rumour (taken from that day’s papers) coming round approximately once every 100 seconds on the ceefax ‘other transfer news’ page the need for updates on new signings was fulfilled on fairly irregular basis. The fans of the 70’s of course would scoff at that as a ‘luxury’ .
The twitter era has given anyone with a voice a public platform to speak, even if they’ve got nothing worthwhile to say. So called ‘in the know’ accounts are getting the attention they crave and the tabloids are finding their oh so gullible audience even faster than ever before. The journalists have an instant echo too and some of them only use it when they know they are right, and it gives them an exclusive in every meaning of the word. Others feed off the scraps of their peers regurgitating what they have already seen elsewhere, piecing together nonsense in the hope of looking knowledgeable and taking a ‘scattergun’ approach to hitting the nail on the head. It’s a risky game, and while they lap up the praise when they blindly hit a bullseye (usually with someone else’s dart) they become incredibly precious when there is nowhere to hide when they get it wrong.
All of this just fuels the need for transfer news that the modern fan requires. The medium is instant, so therefore the business should be too right? Wrong.
It’s the panicking I find so frustrating, like whether or not a new world class player is brought in is a matter of life or death. To read some tweets you would think that this was the most important thing in some people’s lives. The period between Toby Alderweireld’s big ‘F*%k You’ and the signing of Jordy Clasie was almost unbearable. Constant whinging about how the club was ‘missing out on it’s top targets’. The evidence for this? Crystal Palace had signed Yohan Cabaye and Aston Villa had signed Idrissa Gueye, two players that the tabloids had linked with a move to St. Mary’s. There is no evidence whatsoever that the club were ever in for the players and arrogantly I would suggest had they been, they would have got them. The club’s main target in midfield was unsurprisingly Koeman’s former protege at Feyenoord and despite the need for about 23 medicals over the course of about 5 days, Les Reed got his man.
You’d think that the signing of a highly rated midfielder, in addition to the Portuguese and Spanish internationals that had already been brought in, oh and the World Cup finalist goalkeeper would mean we would get some respite from the bed wetting and for a few days we did. Football (remember that?) was a timely distraction with Saints looking impressive on their tour of Holland, but then the unfortunate news of an injury to Florin Gardos came to pass. With the club having already confirmed they were looking for a centre half that need suddenly became the focus of the gathered digital masses. Our friends in the media played their part with the use of the words ‘frantic’ in their description of Saints search for a defender and ‘crisis’ to describe the situation.
Now call me crazy, but with a proven proficient Premier League centre back in Maya Yoshida to partner Jose Fonte and the emergence of Jason McCarthy, Jack Stephens and Jordan Turnbull (Swindon rave about the performances of the latter two after their loan last season) I’m not sure ‘crisis’ is the right word. Do I think we should bring another experienced player in that position in? Yes, but only if they are better than we already have, and I do not see the point in panic buying the first one that becomes available.
Bizarrely the press insist on continuously throwing Ron Vlaar’s name into the hat despite his announcement that he has a long term injury and the fact that he is pants, something we saw first hand in our demolition of Villa at the end of last season. Other names that have appeared are Virgil van Dijk from Celtic and James Chester from Hull City (feels good that they are still City doesn’t it?) but they come with varying reviews from the online experts.
The interest level of the average supporter can be measured over the length of time the club has been without a late night announcement. This week for instance many met the news of apparent interest in James Chester with veritable disdain. ‘Not good enough’ and ‘You’ve got to be joking’ to ‘We need someone world class’ and ‘Les needs to get his arse into gear’ could be seen in black and white alongside the numerous complaints about tickets. Give it a week or so though and when Chester is pictured holding the famous shirt aloft the same people will be tweeting ‘Great signing #WeMarchOn’ and ‘Welcome to the club #SaintChester’ and the like. You see the perceived level of the player is completely irrelevant, this is the age of the instant and the signing isn’t the issue, it’s the furore that surrounds it that is important.
I’m as guilty as anyone. It’s easy to get dragged along in the excitement and the package of photographs and videos that come with it from the excellent club media team mean that even the most modest of signings #WelcomeVegard #SaintBignall etc. come with an air of romance.
I’m not asking people to not be excited about transfers, I’m just asking that people show a little restraint. If Saints don’t sign a centre half (I’m pretty sure they will) or they don’t sign one who is world renowned (I’m pretty sure they won’t) perhaps have some faith in the people running the club. They’ve very rarely let us down in the past *cough* OSVALDO *cough* and they know what they are doing.
Bill Shankly famously once said ‘Some people believe football is a matter of life or death. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.’ He was wrong. Saints will be fine this season, they might not finish as high in the table again, they might not challenge for honours but they will be there or thereabouts and it will be another cracking season. Try to enjoy it.
p.s. If your season ticket hasn’t arrived yet. It will. I promise.
Southampton’s lack of depth this season has seen their campaign fizzle out and, while both QPR and Burnley may not have collectively made the grade at Premier League level, they have both had some standout players.
Here are five who I think could give the Southampton squad an edge.
1) Tom Heaton
If I were in charge of Saints, Heaton would be on my list of priority signings. The Burnley stopper has been exceptional and the Southampton travelling fans saw that first hand on their trip to Turf Moor. With Fraser Forster out for the foreseeable future, having to use Kelvin Davis and Paulo Gazzaniga at this level has cost the club dear. Heaton was, rightly in my opinion, touted for England honours earlier in the season, and he could be just what the club needs to…
It sounds like a summer blockbuster, the sequel to last August’s thriller on the South Coast. Exodus 2: The Awakening.
If the British press get their way this time will be bigger and better than the first.
The national press revelled in the exits of Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw, Dejan Lovren and Calum Chambers in the last close season, predicting doom and gloom on the team that had offended them so much with their non-English speaking manager and their ideas above their station; and they have started the ball rolling on the misery all over again.
Pick up any of today’s newspapers and you will find Morgan Schneiderlin, Nathaniel Clyne, Toby Alderweireld and Jay Rodriguez all being linked to their ‘dream moves’ to the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United and Spurs. This campaign is still 10 games away…
Well yesterday was great. No sooner had I written this for ESPN:- ‘In the Know? Off you go…’ the greatest thing since the beginning of Twitter happened.
Somebody posted this picture (taken at Ocean Village) and posted it to twitter:-
Cue Hysteria. Andrea Pirlo was coming to Southampton. Such was the frenzy that the fact that it was a GB registered plate was ignored, the fact that it was a right hand drive dismissed, one of the greatest players in world football was heading to St. Mary’s. What a coup. A signal of intent and the best transfer in British football since European Footballer of the Year Kevin Keegan made the same move.
Soon a search on the hashtag #saintsfc came with the handy ‘related search’ options of ‘Pochettino’, ‘Rickie Lambert’ and….. ‘Pirlo’.
Even Italian journalist Tancredi Palmeri got in on the act.
Sadly a spoilsport was quick to tell us that the car belonged to a local namesake who owned a chain of hairdressers, and soon our dreams of Pirlo joined those about Bierhoff, De Pedro, Del Piero, Owen, Korneev and Lineker in the great Saints fantasy team in the sky.
What is great about such moments is the reaction of the fans, some believe, some mock and some (like me) go into pisstake overdrive!
All in all it was a fantastic day for all those that dare to dream! I don’t mind admitting that were Saints ever to sign Andrea Pirlo, I would weep uncontrollably for weeks.
‘It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.’ – Nelson Mandela
It’s never ‘easy’ being a Saints fan. Having looked like Premier League safety was a given a few weeks ago, we still managed to play ourselves back into the battle and only secured it on Sunday with a laboured point against Sunderland.
Time to relax then surely? Nope.
Yesterday news broke that Chairman Nicola Cortese was considering his future at the club. The reaction amongst the social networking sections of Saints support was quite staggering. Since his arrival at the club in 2009 Mr. Cortese has built quite a reputation, and one that is often negative amongst our own supporters and worse amongst other clubs, yet yesterday the standard reaction of Saints fans was that of grief and nervousness about how the good ship Southampton might fare without the shrewd Italian at the helm. It is some turnaround, given that as recently as January, when he dismissed the hugely popular Nigel Adkins, Cortese was finding his sanity questioned and on the end of some hideous criticism. This wasn’t the first time either.
Behind the scenes Mr. Cortese has faced huge criticism from within and the club and outside it, something that has never appeared to faze him. He has had public fallouts (though he didn’t make them public) with ex-players and been accused of disregarding the history of the club. There have been several bizarre tales of strange behaviour away from the public eye revolving around toilets, teaspoons and an unapproachable personality. In fact, many would be more than happy to see the back of him.
But. From a professional point of view it is impossible to argue that he has done anything but a fantastic job. Brokering the takeover by Markus Liebherr in 2009 he spoke of a five year plan to get the club back into the Premier League. He completed that in three. He has at times made what would appear as ‘rash’ decisions, but you can look back at almost all of them and struggle to find fault retrospectively. He said himself that he wasn’t here to ‘make friends’ and just like he promised he achieved the goal of the Premier League and is now talking about the top 10 and Europe. His ambitions are clear, and they are built on the premise of building the club up from it’s foundations, overseeing big investment in our already World Class Academy.
So what’s changed?
This summer sees a ‘natural’ contract break for the chairman, which leads the Liebherr Trust to negotiate a renewal. It would appear these talks have broken down (or didn’t even start). As far as I can see it there could be several reasons for this.
1. The ambitions of Mr. Cortese and the Liebherr Trust don’t match. This is the most worrying for me, Cortese has often spoke of the level achievement he wishes for the club, and he has proved that he will spend money to do it. If the Liebherr trust no longer want to spend that money and are happy at the current level then it is logical that Cortese would move on. It is also logical that Saints will no longer progress.
2. The Liebherr trust are not happy with the negative press about the Chairman. Markus Liebherr was a practising christian, and he often spoke about doing things the ‘right’ way. If his family are of the same ilk then they may have viewed some of the talk of Mr. Cortese’s behaviour uncomfortable.
3. Mr. Cortese would like a much improved contract financially to stay. There has been talk of interest of other clubs (AC Milan the standout) and given his achievements over the last few years it’s not exactly unreasonable of Cortese to expect a reward. Players do it, managers do it. Why not an extremely successful chairman?
4. The Liebherr trust are looking to sell the club. This has been rumoured pretty much since the day Markus sadly passed away. The club was only ever the dream of the late billionaire, not his family. They may feel that having restored the club to the Premier League they have fulfilled their obligation and can walk away. Nicola Cortese has often spoke of contingency plans and wealthy investors should this ever happen. Is this plan now about to come into effect, and he would need to leave as Chairman to launch his own takeover?
5. The Liebherr trust aren’t happy with the progress. Perhaps they have taken a leaf out of Cortese’s book a la Pardew/Adkins and decided that the club aren’t doing well enough and could do better under somebody esle? This seems unlikely, but everyone is under scrutiny in big business. Saints have spent money on several players who don’t play. Viewed as a failure?
This is of course all speculation. It could be a very simple contract wrangle that is easily resolved. As I said earlier some Saints fans are revelling in the news, and have long wanted rid of the Italian Chairman, but others (and I would say the majority) are rightly worried. Love him or hate him, Nicola Cortese has been the driving force behind the rise of Southampton Football Club over the last four seasons. He has fronted out all the abuse for his decisions, and bore the brunt of any unrest aimed at the running of the club. He has earned the right to be respected, and it could be a disaster for Saints should he move on. Cortese and Markus were friends, and that drives him on to reach Liebherr’s goals, a replacement may not have the same personal desire.
‘A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.’
Hopefully in the next few days we will hear that there has been some development and perhaps even a resolution. Nicola Cortese might never be a popular person amongst all sections of the crowd, but he has earned the right to lead this football club into this exciting new era.
Stephen Crainey Danny Higginbotham Calum Davenport Olivier Bernard
Ryan Smith David Prutton Nigel Quashie Lee Molyneux
Jonathan Forte Dany N’Guessan
The bad, the very bad, and the ugly.
Not a great team is it? What do they have in common? They are all master strokes by Saints in the fabled January transfer window. I challenge any club to come up with a worse lineup from January signings than that?
If you look at our entire signing history since the January window came about, it is ridiculously unimpressive.
Bartosz Bialkowski, Alexander Ostlund, Jim Brennan.
Lee Molyneux, Ryan Smith.
Jose Fonte, John Otsemobor, Dan Seaborne, Lee Barnard
Jonathan Forte, Richard Chaplow, Dany N’Guessan
Tadanari Lee, Billy Sharp
There are some clear exceptions, Jose Fonte, Dan Seaborne, Lee Barnard, Richard Chaplow and Billy Sharp have all made big contributions, and Tadanari Lee hasn’t had much of a chance to show us what he’s got, but when John Otsemobor isn’t making that eleven it shows just how poor it is.
January is the time when managers might panic buy, and looking at some of those names (Anyone seen a worse professional defender than Calum Davenport?) that must have been the case.
Undoubtedly we will strengthen again this season (though Nigel Adkins has surprised a few by saying there won’t be another keeper coming in), but let’s hope they are more the calibre of the last few seasons than the early 00’s!
More Jose Fonte’s, less Olivier Bernard’s please.
The players brought in in the summer look to have been pretty solid so far, so let’s hope the transfer policy continues in the same vein over the next 30 days. You can make or break your season with the acquisitions you make in this window. More quality needs to come in, but not at the expense of the team spirit and unity. Not an easy job.
No doubt we are in for some of the usual bonkers rumours, but we should remember to be patient.
p.s. If this hasn’t depressed you enough, have a butchers at the players that have LEFT us in January transfer windows….. Chris Marsden, Antti Niemi, James Beattie, Theo Walcott…
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