Tag Archives: Zlatan Ibrahimovic

What do Saints fans really want?

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.

High hopes for JWP to push on under Puel.
High hopes for JWP to push on under Puel.

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?

I rest my case.
I rest my case.

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.

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?

Keep the faith.

You’ve got to And it to Anders…

The other night I was thinking about that most contentious of issues. The underrated player.

Mainly because, somebody who I have been hailing for some time now is seemingly getting the recognition that he deserves. That man is Richard Chaplow whose performances of late have showed why his £50k price tag and place in Preston’s reserves seems even more ludicrous now than it did at the time when we signed him.

I am a sucker for an underrated player. Those that some just don’t seem to get. I recently wrote a piece on Guly along the same lines, who has since put in a match winning performance at Coventry, yet I still saw comments from fans that other than score and have a hand in the other three goals, didn’t really do a lot…

I put the question to the Saints Twitter faithful on who was Saints most underrated player, and of course the opinions were varied. Suggestions ranged from Perry Groves to Agustin Delgado to Franny Benali to Jo Tessem and current players Ryan Dickson and Danny Butterfield also got mentions. The player that got the most votes was Chris Marsden, but as Sam Dobson pointed out and I am inclined to agree, Marsden is actually pretty highly regarded amongst Saints fans.

One player that didn’t register a single mention, but one that I always felt was sometimes misjudged by fans is likely to line up at Wembley against England on Tuesday for his 122nd or 123rd international cap.

Anders Svensson joined Saints in the summer of 2001 from Elfsborg for a fee of £750k by then caretaker manager Stuart Gray, the 24 year old Swede came in as a relative unknown to the fans, but already had sixteen international caps to his name.

Initially signed as an attacking midfielder to replace the outgoing Hassan Kachloul, Gray expected big things of the Swede “Anders can play off the front man or in midfield. He’s not an out-and-out striker but is certainly a forward-thinking midfield player who pops up in that area.”

Anders Svensson. Turning his opponents inside out.

Svensson was brought in to liven up a goal-shy Saints midfield that had netted just three goals between them in the previous season, and he provided that outlet with some success. Svensson got six goals in his first season, but more notably provided some much needed creativity that saw Marian Pahars race to fourteen goals for the season. As Saints turned their early season poor form around under new boss Gordon Strachan, Svensson was rapidly becoming a key player in the side. Mostly used in central midfield but sometimes on the left Svensson was never really used in his favoured position playing off of a front man, but nonetheless his contributions were notable.

He starred at that summers world cup, famously scoring the free kick that knocked Argentina out!

The 2002/03 season is one that will be forever engrained on every Saints fans mind. Anders played a key role in the side that finished 8th in the Premier League and reached the FA Cup final. Although he started less games than he had the previous season, his starring role and brilliant individual goal against Spurs in the 3rd round of the cup was his stand out performance in a Saints shirt.

Often accused of inconsistency, he was regularly accused of not trying, and the 2003/04 season proved to be the beginning of the end for Anders in a Saints shirt. Gordon Strachan left in February 2004, and Paul Sturrock came in March. If anyone in the squad wasn’t a Sturrock type of player it was Svensson and he ended the season having played almost as many games from the bench as he had started. He didn’t find the net once.

2004/05 was another season that will never be forgotten, but for very different reasons. Under messrs Wigley and Redknapp, Svensson was used more frequently but as Saints bimbled to a sorry end to the season and relegation it was clear that the Swede’s future lie elsewhere.

Svensson battles the dutch to secure Euro 2012 qualification.

It was strongly rumoured that Svensson was offered a new contract by Saints, but he was a better player than the Championship, so it was no surprise to me that he decided to move on.  What did shock me was his destination, returning to his former club Elfsborg on a free transfer.

That move hasn’t hindered him at all from an international point of view, though I can’t help thinking there is a certain amount of wasted potential in Svensson. His move to Saints started promisingly but perhaps we, or at least the managers and coaches of the club are as guilty for that as anybody. I think that perhaps we had a very talented footballer at our disposal but weren’t prepared to change our formation or style to maximise his impact.

Now aged 35, he is still with Elfsborg and still playing a key role for his country. He is the Swedish vice-captain to Zlatan Ibrahimovic and second only to the great Thomas Ravelli in caps, ahead of such notable players as Olof Mellberg and Henrik Larsson.

He was part of the Sweden side that secured qualification for Euro 2012 with a 3-2 victory over the Netherlands last month and can hopefully look forward to appearing at a fifth major championship.

So look out for Anders at Wembley on Tueday night and wonder what might have been. Perhaps his time to arrive in the English game was a little too soon, and with the wrong managers…

Chris

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