Why Mauricio Pochettino must stay at Southampton

Here at georgeweahscouisn.com we like to tackle all the hard hitting issues that surround Southampton Football Club and during this recent speculation it is no different.

There is much talk of Mauricio Pochettino leaving Saints and perhaps heading to the career ending home of football, White Hart Lane. Obviously from a football perspective this would not be good news for us as fans. Pochettino has brought us good results, while at the same time achieved it with ‘pretty’ football, and it can’t go unnoticed that he backs that prettiness up with his own appearance.

We have suffered a long history of ugly managers (which crescendoed with Redknapp) and Pochettino would appear to have been the end of that. If he leaves who do we replace him with? This club has become attractive in more ways than one, and that starts with the manager.

Should Pochettino leave the list of favourites to replace him is a veritable ‘rogue’s gallery’ in comparison. Here is a helpful chart.

Managerchart

Gus Poyet? The (alleged) phantom changing room crapper himself? Certainly more Pob than Pitt and his behaviour is as ugly as he is. Football wise might not be the worst move in the world.

Tim Sherwood? Captain Gillet? Looks like Martin Freeman’s older alcoholic brother that he’s ashamed to mention. Would he be a disaster from a footballing perspective? There would be weekly cringe moments, that is a given.

Malky Mackay? I’ve no evidence of this but I reckon in his spare time Mackay wears stonewash jeans that are two short for his legs with white socks and black tasselled loafers (Ok. This playing on a Scottish stereotype and I wholeheartedly apologise in advance for any offence). Also lacking the required footballing credentials.

Alan Pardew? A former friend of course, and not bad looking per se, has the look of an out of place businessman in a nightclub straight from work. Too much aftershave and ‘trendy’ glasses. Trying too hard. We’ve seen the football, ugly at times.

Neil Lennon? I’m not sure I need to justify this one. Look at the picture. From a football point of view he is the biggest gamble on the market that someone will undoubtedly take. Impossible to judge given his only experience is at the easiest management job in world football.

The evidence is clear. Pochettino has to stay with Saints from both a footballing perspective and to uphold our young, exciting image.

Don’t go Mauricio.

Chris

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5 Year Plan. Done.

I’m not sure I ever expected it to go this quick, but we really have reached the end of the ‘Five Year Plan’. It hardly seems fathomable that the club that lined up on the 8th August 2009 to play out a 1-1 draw with  Millwall in League One, would mark the end of the ‘plan’ with a 1-1 draw with Champions of England Manchester United in the same stadium.

What a five years it’s been. Considering the original plan was to get Southampton into the Premier League, the fact that that has clearly been achieved (a year early), a trophy has been won along the way and the final season saw us break into the top eight, I would say we can consider it a complete success.

Three managers, Two promotions, One trophy and Seventy Seven Players! Can the next five years really live up to it?

5 Year Plan Players

Chris

Nicola Cortese: About to lose our rudder?

‘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.

nc

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.

Be careful what you wish for.

Chris

Morgan Schneiderlin: Le temps est un grand maître

Saints fans can be forgiven for saying that they don’t owe much to former chairman Rupert Lowe, but on the 27th June 2008, Lowe made one of his wisest decisions.

Lowe agreed to pay a small fee (with possible rises to £1.2 million) to RC Strasbourg for 18 year old French midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin. Although the name may have been alien to fans in English football, Schneiderlin was a young man turning the heads of several clubs.

From the Alsace region of northern France, one of the smallest, and more famed for it’s skiers than it’s footballers, Schneiderlin was already making a presence on the international scene having represented France at every level up to U18 when Saints came calling.

This was after countryman Georges Prost’s time at Saints, but you can’t help but think that the legendary French youth development coach may have had a hand it. With Chelsea and Arsenal both interested in Schneiderlin it eventually came down to a straight choice. Premier League Portsmouth or Championship Southampton, thankfully for us, Morgan chose club size, potential and facilities over temporary league superiority and joined Saints when perhaps they were at their lowest ebb.

Schneiderl-in

Schneiderl-in

To say it was a risky move for both the club and Schneiderlin would be an understatement. With the club in a difficult period financially and having just survived a Championship relegation battle on the final day of the season, this might not have been the best place for a young foreigner to take the next step in his career.

2008/09 was an even more difficult season. Off the field Saints were unravelling and on the pitch the amount of playing time Schneiderlin was getting in the first team would be a telling tale as to the quality on offer. In what was a very poor side, Schneiderlin, being young, in a foreign country and far from the finished article looked seriously exposed. Saints finished second from bottom and the fans weren’t sold on their new French midfielder. The strength of feeling can be seen in a thread from the most populated Saints internet forum ‘Saintsweb’ – ‘Schneiderlin – The biggest waste of cash ever?’ narrowly beating English lower league plodder Paul Wotton as the best option for central midfield.

I won’t lie, I also thought Schneiderlin was poor and not cut out to take part in a League One campaign. The phrase ‘lightweight French ponce’ was said to me by a friend and I can’t say I disagreed.

If we are being fair though that was a hideously poor Saints team, and Schneiderlin would have done well to shine in it. Rupert Lowe’s disastrous Dutch experiment with Jan Poortvliet at the helm, coupled with bad financial decisions meant that this was a difficult time to be a Southampton player. For many Schneiderlin was a write off, a waste of money and not good enough. Saints had had a brief upturn under Mark Wotte, and the former Saints coach had this to say about Schneiderlin ‘Intelligent player great basic skills,cool composed passer,perfect sitting and passing midfielder,could be a bit more dominant’.

‘Quand on a le droit de se tromper impunément, on est toujours sûr de réussir.’

The 2009/10 season was the start of Saints new dawn, and the same could be said for Schneiderlin. As Saints lived through an uncertain summer in administration it might have been a good time for Morgan Schneiderlin to make his escape, but whether it was down to a lack of interest (everyone was for sale) or a lack of enthusiasm on Morgan’s part the Frenchman was still a Saints player when the club was rescued by Markus Liebherr. Under new boss Alan Pardew Saints looked a much better prospect and Schneiderlin started to show his worth.

In a season that ended with a trophy (sadly Schneiderlin missed the Johnstones Paint Trophy final with a hamstring injury) and Saints just missing out on the playoffs despite a -10 point penalty, it was clear the club was embarking on a bright new period, and Schneiderlin was very much a part of it. The fans had started to see a different side of the player as his confidence started to blossom, both the good and the bad. As well as showing a calmness on the ball, so associated with the continental players, he also showed his combative side, losing his temper and picking up bookings and being sent off twice.

If fans weren’t sold on him at this point. The subsequent two seasons would complete his turnaround. Flourishing under Nigel Adkins, while the club continuously changed personell around him to plan for the Championship, Schneiderlin was a mainstay. As Saints pushed for promotion Schneiderlin was coming into his own in central midfield and was becoming one of the most vocal and passionate Saints players, often leading the chat in the pre-match huddle.

Saints made an impressive return to the Championship with Schneiderlin now one of the first names on the teamsheet playing in a defensive midfield role alongside Jack Cork. He had earned himself a new contract in the summer and now Saints fans were celebrating his stay rather than bemoaning it. Saints made it back to back promotions and the Premier League beckoned.

Schneider-win. Morgan celebrates as Saints secure promotion against Coventry.

Schneider-win. Morgan celebrates with team mates as Saints secure promotion against Coventry.

The Premier League has been the great leveller for many a player that has been ‘rated’ in the lower leagues. Saints were now three years into a five year plan to build a side to compete in the Premier League and Schneiderlin was still very much a part of that. Like his other top division shy teammates from the lesser tier era Jack Cork, Jose Fonte, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert he hasn’t failed to impress. The Frenchman, now an old stager and part of the furniture at St. Mary’s has been fantastic, mixing it up with some of the best in the world. Having perhaps been Saints best kept secret while his team mates are linked with moves elsewhere, people have started to sit up and take notice.

His progress since 2008 has been almost immeasurable, and it is hard to imagine Saints lining up without Schneiderlin in that anchor role between defence and attack, they would certainly be the weaker for it. The French often have a philosophical way with words, and when Eric Cantona described French captain Didier Deschamps as ‘nothing more than a water carrier’, Deschamps rightly retorted that ‘every team needs water carriers’ and that is undoubtedly true. To compare Schneiderlin to Deschamps would be frivolous at this stage of his career, but he certainly adds that sense of calm and consistency to Saints midfield. Breaking up play, taking control of the ball and moving it on productively. If I can be so bold, I would say that Schneiderlin is 50% Deschamps in style, and 50% that of another successful countryman Claude Makélélé. Again perhaps I am being a little over zealous but to date this season Schneiderlin has made 162 tackles and interceptions, more than any other player in Europe’s top 5 leagues. Couple that with an 85% pass success rate you can see that this is a man in control of midfield, despite facing the best there is.

Having become a key player for Saints, and a man that the media and pundits are starting to talk about, it seems crazy that he is just 23 years old, and has already amassed 172 first team appearances for the club.

Schneiderlin celebrates his goal against Manchester United

Schneiderlin celebrates his goal against Manchester United

It has been an up and down relationship between Morgan and Saints, who has suffered the recent lows and enjoyed the recent highs. He is now very much a part of Saints folklore. He has blossomed at the club and grown as the club has grown, and alongside Kelvin Davis is all that is left of the dark days of 2008. The sky really is the limit now for Morgan, and I for one would not be surprised to see Didier Deschamps give him a chance in his revamped French squad, he would certainly have deserved it.

As Saints are now in another exciting new era, Schneiderlin epitomises everything that ‘The Southampton Way’ is about, young, talented and growing from an 18 year old rough around the edges to leading the first team out as captain against the European champions. With Mauricio Pochettino coming in as head coach and renowned in Spain for working with and improving young players it will be interesting to see how good Schneiderlin can become. He himself was quoted this week saying about the new setup “I believe he will make us better players. He has a lot of new ideas.”.

Schneiderlin wearing the captain's armband as he beats Ramires.

Schneiderlin wearing the captain’s armband as he beats Ramires.

The shared journey of Southampton and Schneiderlin is hopefully far from over. Saints are insistent that they are no longer a club who develops talent then moves them on for a profit. Statistically he is currently one of the best defensive midfield players in the Premier League. That £1.2 million isn’t looking too bad now is it….

Chris

As featured on NewsNow: Southampton FC news

Guly, or Not Guly. That Is The Question….

….but one that I have never understood.

It is fouteen months since Guilherme Do Prado joined Saints on loan from Cesena and the Brazilian still seems to split opinion amongst the St. Mary’s faithful.

After a slow start to life in English football (not uncommon amongst new imports) many were questioning the reasoning behind signing him. He was even cited as part of the reason that Alan Pardew and Nicola Cortese had fallen out, many suggesting that Guly had been brought in by the chairman against the wishes of the manager and that he had to play whether Pardew liked it or not. Pardew’s decision to put Guly on the bench, in what proved to be his last game in charge at Bristol Rovers many suggested had been the final straw.

This of course turned out to be nonsense, Guly was again on the bench for the five games following Pardew’s departure as Saints went on a disastrous run of form, and it was Guly as much as anyone that became a scapegoat amongst supporters.

As Saints form turned around under new boss Nigel Adkins, so did Guly’s. He netted his first goal for the club in a scrappy affair away at Yeovil Town before really showing what he could do in a man of the match performance at home to Tranmere Rovers as the Saints fans started to see glimpses of why he had been brought to the club.

Guly ended the season with eleven goals and six assists in twenty seven starts and twelve sub appearances (most of them fleeting). A pretty good return for a player settling in to the English game and being employed mainly on the wing, occasionally partnering Rickie Lambert up front. But the supporters were still split, some suggesting Guly to be lazy, or sometimes drifting in and out of games away from home.

I was always surprised by this, Guly’s creativity and ability to change a game were plain to see, he may not be the kind of player to chase the ball all day long and track back (I actually think he does do this), but every team needs a good mix of water carriers and show ponies.

Guly. Not a traditional number 10.

Guly has started this season as well as he ended the last, still playing some games on the wing and some up top, he has weighed in with six goals and is joint top assist maker for the club creating six goals for his teammates, all of this has come in seventeen starts and one substitute appearance, and this is perhaps the most important statistic as it highlights how important he is in Adkins eyes as the Brazilian is Saints most used player so far this term.

So why do some fans question his place in the team? Well perhaps the trip to Reading highlights that better than most. Guly has been known to be quiet on away games, but with some footballers you need to focus on what he does do rather than highlighting what you perceive that he should be doing. The Brazilian, having been selected in midfield seemingly didn’t have a massive impact on a game that Saints trailed 1-0 with eighty minutes gone. Cue a deft volleyed flick over the top to set Steve de Ridder free on the right, and a point rescued. Still some were more intent on discussing what he didn’t do. Creating something from nothing is a skill that most footballers don’t have, and often eighty nine minutes of anonymity can be forgiven for one of genius and a certain number seven sporting Guernseyman could be often guilty of that.

It is worth remembering that foreign footballers aren’t coached the same way as they are here and sometimes we might be guilty of expecting English tenacity from players that simply weren’t taught that way.

In fact I think Saints have uncovered a gem in do Prado. A maverick and with a touch that is perhaps stereotypically expected of his countrymen, we miss his creativity when he isn’t there. Much is made, in fact a certain amount of panic ensues when Lallana is out injured, but Guly’s attacking contribution has been as prominent this season and at times so evidently lacking once he is off the pitch.

For me, he is far more effective when he plays off of Lambert up front, and although he isn’t a bad winger, he is somewhat restricted there, but he is a must for the starting lineup in my opinion.

Weighing in with another goal.

We may have signed Guly at just the right time, somewhat of a journeyman in the Italian game, we are already the club where he has played his most football and as he enters his thirties he is likely to be hungry to make his mark before it is too late. His last big chance came in 2005 with Seria A giants Fiorentina, but a serious injury meant he spent along time on the sidelines and the moment passed. He could have stayed with Cesena in 2010 and made it to the Italian top flight having helped them to promotion but for whatever reason, he chose St. Mary’s to ply his trade, and I for one am very glad he did.

One thing I am certain of, is that if he helps Saints to the Premier League, he is one of our squad that will definitely  be ready. So I leave you with this, especially those that have questioned his place in the side. If we want Saints to carry on winning and doing so in some style, we could do a lot worse than a bit of Samba magic in the Red & White stripes….

Ole, Ole Ole, Ole. Guly! Guly!

Chris

Money Well Spent? The Rickie Lambert Factor.

“If we make sure we can get Rickie in the right areas and give the right supply to him then he will put the ball in the back of the net, his career shows you that.” – Nigel Adkins, September 2011.

“He stands just over six foot three Rickie, Rickie…”

When Rickie Lambert signed for Saints in August 2009 for a price of around £1 million, it raised a few eyebrows amongst the other League One clubs as a big amount of money to be spending on a player, so soon after the club had been in severe financial trouble.

It certainly signalled the intent of Markus Liebherr and the new regime, that they would outlay that amount on a player that had never played higher than the third tier. Was it a risk? Perhaps it was at the time, although Lambert’s record speaks for itself at that level. Hindsight of course shows us that it certainly wasn’t, and actually a million pounds would represent a significant bargain. Who could put a price on Lambert’s worth to Saints now?

Lambert completed his one hundredth league game for Saints last Saturday, where his brace of penalties against Watford took him to fifty nine league goals and a record of over a goal every other league game. There were some question marks over whether Lambert could make the step up in his first season at this level, and eight goals in the first ten games would suggest that he can.

Lambert is every bit a goalscorer, proving so everywhere he has been, certainly the Bristol Rovers fans thought they let him go too cheaply in 2009, and still haven’t got a bad word to say about him.

Actually Lambert is one of those players who has improved drastically with age, and bettered his goalscoring record with every transfer and move up. Proving that sometimes, playing in and around players of a higher quality and working with better facilities can bring out the best in those that are willing to work.

Having begun his career at Blackpool, things didn’t take off for the young scouser at Bloomfield Road, and his stuttering professional career could have almost ended before it started, when he struggled to get a new club after being released by the Tangerines. Thankfully, Macclesfield Town took a chance on him, and it was a signing that paid off for the Silkmen. Having scored ten goals for the club in the 2001/02 season Lambert had caught the eye of near neighbours Stockport County and ex -Saint Carlton Palmer, prompting them to pay three hundred thousand pounds for the striker, tripling the Cheshire side’s record transfer income.

Success on the pitch were in short supply at the County Ground, the club faltering under Palmer and then Sammy McIlroy, but Rickie showed his resolve, still netting twelve times as the club battled relegation in 2003/04. Despite this personal success, Lambert was faced with dropping a division in 2005, heading to Spotland.

Rochdale Rickie. The beginning.

Rochdale proved to be a good move for Lambert, as he hit his first twenty goal season in 2005/06 even though the club proved to be inconsistent, finishing mid-table in League Two, and he was soon on the move again. This time Rickie would venture outside of the North West for the first time, joining Bristol Rovers for two hundred thousand pound in the summer of 2006.

Rochdale fan Sarah from the highly popular blog Girl on a Terrace remembers Lambert fondly:-

‘In all his time at Rochdale we always knew that we were lucky to have Rickie Lambert and that one day he’d go onto bigger and better things; we were just happy to have him for as long as we could. The fact that he played alongside Grant Holt too made it even more special – we were the envy of the majority of clubs in our league with probably the best attacking duo. We signed him from Stockport where surprisingly he’d failed to make that much of an impression as far as I can remember. 

In the 05/06 season (his second at Rochdale) I believe he played every game and ended the season as the league’s top scorer. Anyone who knows Lambert’s style of play will know about his free-kicks and they became pretty much expected every game; it almost a dead cert that if we got a free-kick outside the area then Lambert would calmly and cooly pop it into the back of the net. 

We sold Rickie Lambert to Bristol Rovers in his third season with us for £200,000; it was a huge loss to the club, team and fans alike. We went on to make a further £25,000 from sell on clauses after he helped take Bristol Rovers to the play offs and eventually promotion.

I always look back at his time at Rochdale (especially playing alongside Grant Holt) and think “what if we’d never sold him”.’

It was at the Memorial Ground that Lambert really came to prominence. Despite a slow goalscoring start, he was to become a cult hero of the Gas fans, and it was soon a seemingly weekly occurrence in the 2008/09 season on Soccer Saturday that Jeff Stelling would be lauding him as having scored again. Lambert hit twenty nine league goals that season, an impressive feat in any team, even more so in one stuck in mid table.

Rovers fan Henry Burridge gives his lowdown on Lambert’s time by the Avon:-

“Having forked out £200,000 for Rickie Lambert, a fair wedge for any League 2 club, Bristol Rovers held high expectations of the Scouse forward. It took the big man a while to settle but upon his departure to Southampton there was more than a twinge of sadness amongst the average Gashead.

The fierce strike past Bristol City’s Adriano Basso that gave Rovers victory over ‘the dark side’ was enough to make him a part of Rovers folklore alone, but the goals didn’t stop there. A superlative 40 yard half volley against Swindon and a late header against Hartlepool lead Rovers to the play-offs, eventually winning promotion to League 1 after years in the doldrums.

While those who had shined in winning promotion for the Pirates failed to make the step up Lambert took to the third tier like a duck to water. 15 goals were scored in the league with another four in the FA Cup to boot, helping Rovers to the quarter finals of the prestigious competition, including a free kick against Southampton.

If what was seen in that season was potential then next season would be the blossoming. It seems odd to use such a dainty word when referring to a hefty man of 6’1” but the technique Lambert possessed was that of a class higher than League 1. Great in the air and on the floor, a cerebral footballing brain and two feet like sledgehammers, the only thing lacking from Lambert’s game was a yard or two of pace, though if he had that in his locker then there is no doubt in my mind that he would have been a Premier League player.

In his final season at Rovers Lambert flirted with the 30 goal mark, eventually falling one short, but the summer months would be torture for a set of fans that were just waiting for the inevitable bid to come in. You could not argue with the departure of Lambert to Southampton, going to a club with excellent facilities and getting a much increased wage. At the time the deal looked good, having seen the man go from strength to strength since his move the £1,000,000 fee seems a pittance.

There is still far more to come from Lambert, now making the same impact in the Championship, I live in hope that there is a weighty sell on clause upon his next transfer.”  Read more from Henry at his site:- HJB Sports.

“He’ll take us to the Premier League, Rickie, Rickie…”

Rovers Rickie. The Spotlight.

When Alan Pardew made him his first signing at Saints the following summer, some suggested he might have been overpriced, but Saints plan to sign players that could perform both at League One level and in the Championship showed faith in Lambert to make the grade. Saints started poorly in their first League One season but finished 7th despite a points deduction and Lambert hit thirty league goals, as well as three on route to winning the Johnstones Paint Trophy.

Renamed “Southampton’s Goal Machine” by the St. Mary’s faithful, Lambert represented all that was good about the new Saints positive outlook. His second season saw some doubt creep in though, as Lambert found himself a victim of his own success. A slow start to the season for both Lambert and the team saw frustration set in amongst the fans, and as Alan Pardew moved on, Lambert found his role in the side change under new gaffer Nigel Adkins. Having been very much the target man under the more direct Pardew, Lambert proved himself as a goalscorer, under the more possession based Adkins, Lambert proved himself as a footballer. Adapting his game to suit that of the new manager, Lambert’s ability as a provider and an all round player came to the fore, amazingly his perceived lack of goals led some to suggest he was having a poor season, he still scored twenty one league goals as Saints gained promotion to the Championship.

Saint Rickie. The Success.

It has been well documented that Lambert has worked considerably on his fitness under Adkins, and has never looked so svelte. Finally Saints have a number seven befitting that figure, stunning goals (like the screamer against MK Dons), and an ability from a dead ball situation befitting the great man himself.

But could Rickie make the step up to a level he has never played at before? Eight goals in ten Championship games so far would suggest he could. What’s more there have been murmurs of interest from Premier League clubs, most notably Newcastle United, now managed by Pardew.

So has he been worth the £1 million spent in 2009? I think anyone would find it difficult to suggest he hasn’t. If he and the team carry on as they are, he could well get the chance to prove himself at the highest level, but having just missed out on the nPower Championship Player of the Month for September, Rickie Lambert has nothing left to prove. I would love to know what price Saints fans would put on him now, for me he is priceless, his role in our team and the way we play would be exceptionally difficult to replace. Perhaps even impossible.

Great in the air, a physical presence who will give any centre half a hard time, a finisher and a footballer. What we might have is the epitome of a great forward. What is for certain is that the resurgence of this football club has come on the back of a lot of Rickie Lambert goals, and you can’t put a price on that.

“He gets the ball he takes the piss, He wears the shirt of Matt Le Tiss, Rickie Lambert Southampton’s Goal Machine.”

Chris

Swiss Roll or Mountain to Climb for Saints….

The Saints players are once again in Switzerland for their pre-season preparations, and will be hoping for things to go slightly better this time…

Much was made of last years pre-season efforts, that were followed by a poor start to the season, injuries and accusations of bad practice. The likes of Rickie Lambert took a while to fire, and new boy Frazer Richardson was one of the high profile to suffer injury setbacks, as Saints “favourites” tag looked to be way off as they stuttered to 22nd place after the first five games. So how important are these pre-season trips?

Nigel Adkins says “Vital”. And I agree.

It isn’t just about fitness of course, the need to for any successful team to have a good spirit and camaraderie is as, if not more important. Nigel Adkins looks like he thinks the same, and black sheep Jason Puncheon hasn’t travelled with the squad, for fear of disruption.

So what did Alan Pardew do so wrong? And what will Adkins do differently? Well for a start do we actually know that Pardew did wrong? Let’s face it, had we gone unbeaten in the first five games last season, there would have been no questioning of Pardew’s methods. There were several comments in some of the early season defeats of lethargic looking players. Frazer Richardson was injured on the pre-season tour of 2010, as was Rickie Lambert, who uncharacteristically scored just two goals in the first twelve games, remarkable then that he would go on to be the clubs top scorer with twenty one by the end of the season. Fitness was clearly an issue, something Lambert has talked about himself since.

When Nigel Adkins took over, he was quick to mention fitness and the lack thereof after overseeing a drab 0-2 defeat at MK Dons, and by this point in the season, Saints were gaining a reputation for starting games well and taking control before succumbing to defeat. As Adkins influence became more apparent, the side became more resilient and control became victories.

Nigel Adkins - Controlling the controllables....

Adkins, comes from the opposite side of the coaching spectrum to Pardew, the “new breed” if you will, his previous employment as a Physiotherapist is well documented, and he is obsessed with sports psychology, so it is natural to assume that this time round the Swiss trip should produce fitter players, less injuries and even a squad that is better prepared mentally.

Saints will officially start their pre-season tomorrow evening in the Gurzelen Stadion to take on Swiss Challenge League (Championship equivalent) side FC Biel-Bienne, before heading to the AFG Arena to face recently relegated Super League side St. Gallen on Saturday. Returning new boy Jack Cork, somewhat of a coup signing will get his first run out back in a Saints shirt during these games, while it will also be a chance for returning loanees Ryan Doble and Joseph Mills to stake a claim.

The purpose of the Swiss tour and games, may be more about physical shape, team building and even some commercial links than it is about results, but the squad will be truly tested on their return to the South coast. A week of training will be followed by the inaugral “Markus Liebherr Memorial Tournament” and two forty five minute games against European heavy weights Atletico Bilbao from La Liga and Werder Bremen from the Bundesliga. The squad will get to mix it up with World Cup winners and Champions League regulars in the round robin format and against that level of ability any fitness issues will be sorely punished. The technical ability of the likes of Javi Martinez will be difficult enough to deal with, without chasing their shadows.

West Brom and Yeovil Town will make up the rest of pre-season opposition for the first team before the season opens live on Sky (again) against Leeds United at St. Mary’s on the 6th August.

All we can hope is that the lessons of last season’s start have been learnt. We came from the back of the pack to secure promotion last season, despite the less than perfect preparations and the woeful opening run of results. The Championship will not be so forgiving. Every season this is a league that looks more difficult to get out of, and with the likes of Birmingham City and West Ham amongst the Premier League relegated, it is almost impossible to predict an outcome. A lack of preperation and a slow start could be disasterous, and missing out on promotion could be the least of of our worries…..

Chris

We had joy, We had fun, We had two seasons in League One…

Goodbye to you my trusted friend. We’ve known each other since 2009/10…

When Saints were relegated to the third tier of English football in May 2009, the club was at it’s lowest ebb. Administration, wages not being paid and liquidation a very real possibility.

The rescue of the club by Markus Liebherr was both spectacular in it’s suddenness and an early sign of things to come, especially in terms of how the new owners and chairman conduct their business. In private.

The new regime moved quickly to remove the disastrous Dutch coaching team and install the experienced and somewhat “punching below his weight” Alan Pardew. Suddenly, just as quickly as the club had spiralled downwards, it was growing again, and smiles were seen again around the city. The first season in League One was always going to be interesting. A new division, a new manager and a new team can be uneasy ground at the best of times, but add the points deduction that Saints had suffered as punishment for their financial troubles the previous season and you have a dangerous mix.

As it happened, it was a difficult start for the Saints, and there was an air of “here we go again” in the St. Mary’s stands. It was eight games before they registered a League One win, and ten before they hit “positive” points.

For the first time in a long time, Saints were a scalp. After years of being a weekly underdog, now they were facing life on the opposite side of the fence and it was tough. Smaller clubs desperate to take us down. The opposition League One fans were also hard to please, if a Saints fan suggested promotion they were “arrogant”, but if they suggested otherwise it would be ridiculous for us not to win the league with “our resources”.

But once Pardew’s men got the points deduction monkey off their proverbial backs, there was no stopping them. Showpiece signings like Rickie Lambert and Jose Fonte soon got the team fired up the table, and despite some disappointing results away from home, Saints got themselves to within just seven points of the playoffs, highlighting the true punishment of a deduction. They did make Wembley however and lifted the Johnstones Paint Trophy in front of over fifty thousand of their fans, in what was a truly fantastic day for all concerned.

Saints fans went into the summer, cautiously optimistic, the team looked like it was now equipped to deal with the division, and with no points deduction the possibility of promotion was high. But as Saints fans, we learnt a long time ago to never “expect” anything.

Dean Hammond lifts the JPT.

It seemed inconceivable as Saints entered the 2010/11 season that there could be anything but good spirits at the club. Sadly there were undercurrents of mistrust between the manager and the board that spawned rumour after rumour. Coupled with an opening day televised home defeat to Plymouth Argyle and all the optimism of the summer was draining away fast, could it get any worse for Saints fans?

It could. Just three days after the first game of the season, Saints owner and saviour Markus Liebherr passed away. A city in shock, suddenly with it’s future up in the air again, and mourning the man who had brought back their smiles.

It didn’t improve on the pitch. A draw at home to Leyton Orient and grumblings of unfit players and poor pre-season preparation spelled the end for Alan Pardew, dismissed ironically after a 4-0 away win at Bristol Rovers. The next three league games all ended in defeat. Saints were 23rd in League One, their season already looking in tatters.

Enter Nigel Adkins. The Scunthorpe manager brought mixed reaction from the Southampton faithful, many still smarting from the removal of Alan Pardew, but after a losing start, the Saints players under a new regime started to put a good run of form together. The emergence of another Southampton “teenage sensation” in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the fantastic form of Adam Lallana and a much steadier looking back four made the Saints a tougher prospect and they were soon battling it out at the business end of the table.

It still looked like automatic promotion was going to be a difficult prospect though, and that we would be victims of our own poor start. Runaway leaders Brighton were having a fantastic season, Huddersfield, Bournemouth and a resurgent Peterborough United under Darren Ferguson all looking to take the second spot. A 0-1 defeat away at Walsall and many Saints fans would have been eyeing potential play off matches, but the run the team put together after that was to fire us half way back to where we belong.

The last fifteen games of the season. Thirteen wins. One draw. One defeat. Amongst this remarkable form there were moments of real inspiration, that finally had me, a natural pessimist believing we could do it.

MK Dons at home. 2-0 down and looking like a serious promotion challenge dent. Cue Jonathon Forte, brought on in the 63rd minute, pulled one back in the 66th and equalised in the 67th. I had no doubt in my mind at that point that we would win the game and we did.

Bristol Rovers at home. Having just lost 0-2 at Rochdale, Saints needed to pick themselves up again. I was in Qingdao, China, where nearly all social media is banned. I was sat in my hotel room at 2300 local time watching the text updates on the official site. Saints carved out chance after chance, but couldn’t score. Until the 82nd minute. Guly do Prado, sending at least one of the 1.3 Billion people in China into a state of delirious satisfaction.

Brighton Away. The deserved champions had got a little big for their boots, the snarling and baiting of their fans towards Nigel Adkins leading up to it, gave the game an unhealthy edge. David Connolly got the equaliser and Jose Fonte and Saints deservedly snatched their unbeaten home record in the last minute. The best team in the league statistically, couldn’t keep up.

Saints went into the last three games knowing that two wins was enough. We won all three, and promotion was sealed.

I have often heard our stay in League One described as a nightmare, but it really wasn’t. Of course it is a blow to find yourselves at this level after years of Premier League extravagance, but it was nice to have a period of winning more games than we lost. Having said that, I am glad to be out of it, and hopefully we won’t be back, although there is something rather refreshing about the less commercial League One.

It is a really weird feeling to be elated about going to the Championship. Last time I was devastated…

We had joy, we had fun, we had two seasons in League One…

The Saints players celebrate effective promotion at Home Park.

Chris