Pochettino Enters Sack Race!

So it’s happened. Older fans will recognise the title of this blog as a nod to a brilliant Ugly Inside front page after Alan Ball left for Man City, and much like that situation it is difficult as a Saints fan to understand why this has happened.

As plenty have pointed out, why should we be surprised that a man who entered St. Mary’s in an underhand fashion should leave it in exactly the same way.

My problem is never with people showing ambition, but presumably Pochettino’s performances at Saints have given his own self confidence a boost. Can he meet the unrealistic expectations of Spurs fans and chairman? 5th place won’t be good enough and right now they don’t have the squad to get any higher. Who will he bring in? When given big money at Saints he signed Dani Osvaldo.

All will be revealed soon enough, but he might want to take a look at the immediate futures of the likes of Ball and Glenn Hoddle after they left Saints. The grass isn’t always greener.

They've given us a 5 year contract, which will be a lovely payout just in time for Christmas...

They’ve given us a 5 year contract, which will be a lovely payout just in time for Christmas…

Chris

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Premier League Preview: Part 1

With the big kick off just three and a bit days away, I caught up with fans our our new Premier League opponents to get their thoughts on what lies ahead…

Arsenal:-

Name:- Andrew Mangan

Team:- Arsenal

Website:- http://arseblog.com

Twitter:- @arseblog

What can we expect from your club this season?

Nice, attacking football, short passing, a reluctance to shoot from distance, generous defending, late calamities, the tease of a trophy and balanced, considered expressions of opinion from online fans.

Who is your most important player?

At the moment, with some of the summer still to go and the future of Van Persie still to be decided, I’d say Mikel Arteta. He’s a calm, experienced professional who really makes the team tick. I think if Van Persie goes we might see him step up.

Where do you predict you will finish this season?

Top four, but I can’t really be any more exact than that.

Who might win the Premier League?

I never rule us out, despite it being so long since we’ve won it we have challenged some seasons so you never know. So, Arsenal, United, Chelsea, Man City.

Who definitely won’t?

Everyone else. I don’t think Liverpool have the squad, I’m not sure Sp*rs do either although they’re definitely top six material, and apart from that the financial side of things pretty much precludes anyone else from challenging.

What is your most anticipated fixture?

Obviously the North London derbies but the rivalry with United for so long means I always look forward to those games.

What is your most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club?

Man United v Man City. When United were winning everything I think there was a certain sympathy for City when they were being relegated and being cast under such a successful shadow. It shows how far things have come that this is a game I can’t wait to see and I want United to murder them.

How do you think Southampton will fare?

To be honest I haven’t seen much of Southampton since they were relegated but obviously there’s been a huge turnaround. When you consider how far you fell to have come back to the Premier League is a fantastic achievement. And the club seem to have the infrastructure and know-how to get up and stay up, which is the most important thing. It’s not at all unusual for a newly promoted team to have a fine first season, but it’s achieving the consistency over the next few years that will provide the real challenge.

You find yourself stuck in White Hart Lane. How do you escape unnoticed?

Hold my nose like that bloke out of Rent-a-ghost.

Aston Villa:-

Name:- Matt Turvey

Team:- Aston Villa

Website:- http://www.astonvillalife.com

Twitter:- @MatthewSTurvey for me, @AstonVillaLife for the site.

What can we expect from your club this season?

Some good, solid football.  Now that Paul Lambert is in charge, the club seem to be going in the right direction and most of our fans are appreciative of that.  Progress will take time, but I feel people will see more of our club’s potential this year.  I also expect our new signings to draw the attention of some of the big clubs – Karim El-Ahmadi and Brett Holman will do well this year I feel.

Who is your most important player?

Stephen Ireland – he may well have had a mixed start to his career in his first season, but last year he was rightly fan’s player of the year, and showed a fantastic determination to play for the team.  If he is on form, and signs seem to show he will be this season, he’s unplayable and, in my opinion, the most technically gifted player we have.

Where do you predict you will finish this season?

A solid mid-table finish.  This might sound low in the eyes of some Aston Villa fans, but after the past two seasons and the need to change things, it is a good enough expectation.  That doesn’t mean that we can’t do better, just that I am not expecting us to do more.  You never know – we may end up surprising everyone like Newcastle did last year!

Who might win the Premier League?

It depends how you want me to answer.  The obvious candidates, such as the two Manchester clubs, and Chelsea are, well, obvious.  If you mean who could be a dark horse, then I think that it’s probably a stretch too far to pick one.  The most likely candidate would be Tottenham Hotspur I imagine, although a lot will hinge on both how Andre Villas-Boas does at the club, and whether they can keep hold of key players like Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart.

Who definitely won’t?

Sad as it is to say, probably about 16 teams in the league.  I know last season’s campaign was very competitive for the majority of the league members, but the title contenders were way ahead of even the Europa League places.

What is your most anticipated fixture?

It’s a strange pick from me in the eyes of some, but I’ll be interested to see the reaction our manager gets when we play Norwich away.  I imagine it will be mostly positive, but I’m sure there are some Norwich fans who didn’t appreciate him leaving the club.  Beyond that game, I just like teams who play football the right way, so I always like to see those kinds of games.

What is your most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club?

The Manchester derbies –  It’s highly likely that the winner of the Premier League will come from those two teams this year.  Beyond those, any game that involves Manchester City.  I know they may well just be buying success, but they play good football, and their last game of the season against QPR had me out of my seat – I’ve never known a more exciting conclusion to the title race than that.

How do you think Southampton will fare?

I think they will do well.  I’ve got a lot of time for Nigel Adkins and few can doubt the way he has taken the club to two successive promotions.  In that regard, he is much like our current manager.  My only concern for Southampton is that if they do well, I imagine bigger clubs will be looking at Adkins as a potential candidate for their clubs.  That’s no disrespect to Southampton as a club, rather the fact that you can be very proud of what your manager has achieved.

You find yourself stuck in St. Andrews. How do you escape unnoticed?

Ah, the lovely St Andrews, home ground of Birmingham City.  Assuming I was there for a match (there’s no real other reason why I’d be there), then I’d probably just try to fit in with their usual fan base by adopting a heavy Birmingham accent and looking constantly miserable.  If I kept that up, I’d fit in nicely and be able to escape.  I guess the only thing against me is that I write for one of the regional papers, so a fair number of them may well know my face!

Stephen Ireland could be a key man for Villa.

Chelsea:-

Name:- Denise Hope

Team:- Chelsea

Website:- http://thechelseablog.org/

Twitter:- @TheChelseaBlog

What can we expect from your club this season?

As ever with Chelsea, you can expect the unexpected. We haven’t had a particularly exciting pre-season although it’s worth bearing in mind the last time we had such an unspectacular pre-season we won the double. I’m not suggesting we’ll repeat that but I do think we’ll have a much more attack-minded side this season rather than the constant defensive displays that saw us defy some remarkable odds last season. I should mention we’re Champions of Europe here really (just because I can).

Who is your most important player?

Historically in this squad that probably has to be John Terry, just for his sheer contribution as a leader and motivator. However, if we’re talking about who will be a key player for us in the coming season, I can see Hazard, Mata and Marin all causing a few nerves in opposition defences but for me our success or failure could fall at the feet of Fernando Torres. If he has the sort of season we bought him for, we’ll be flying – if he doesn’t, we’ll be f***ed.

Where do you predict you will finish this season?

Top two for sure this season. Our final position in the Premier League last season was down to the damage done under AVB’s management (that’s not laying the blame squarely on his shoulders either). There was no real way back for Di Matteo from that and he was right to go for the Champions League instead. This season though, he’s already made his intention clear to address our Premier League standing, and I’ve every faith he’ll do that.

Who might win the Premier League?

We might! If not us, then United – they won’t take last season laying down, that has to have hurt everyone at Old Trafford and they’ll make sure they finish above City this time. Hopefully that’ll still leave them behind us though.

Who definitely won’t?

Spurs! Not that they’d have a hope in hell anyway but from some of the bitter stuff he’s already had to say in the press, it’s clear AVB’s more focused on Chelsea than anything else in the Premier League – never a good thing.

What is your most anticipated fixture?

Of course our game against QPR will have even more added spice than previous meetings but to be honest, JT will undoubtedly have a camera rammed up his left nostril (with an obligatory microphone courtesy of some new FA ruling) and  it’ll be too much of a circus to get too excited about it. So, I’ll go with Spurs – these derbies are always much anticipated and it’ll be an interesting one against them having put them out of the Champions League, not to mention meeting our former manager as the opposition.

What is your most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club?

After events on the final day last season, the Manchester derby should be well worth a watch shouldn’t it?

How do you think Southampton will fare?

If I’m honest, will you edit it out? Just kidding! I think you’ll have a honeymoon season, so you’ll do ok. Maybe a finish around 14th?

You find yourself stuck in The Emirates Stadium. How do you escape unnoticed?

To be honest, if I was stuck in Arsenal’s ground, escape wouldn’t be too difficult. I’d sneak out ten minutes before the end along with the rest of them – no-one would think that was unusual.

Everton:-

Name:- Phill Nuttall

Team:- Everton

Website:- www.evertonfc.com

Twitter:- @phillipnuttall

What can we expect from your club this season?

This season will see a more dynamic Everton in the premier league. We have let go of players who were not making the desired impact, eg Rodwell, Cahill & fringe players, and brought in more industrious players such as Gibson, Naismith & Jelavic, fans can expect to see Everton better in possession, defensively solid, and more free flowing in the goals department.

Who is your most important player?Jac

It’s a coin toss between Steven Pienaar and Maruane Fellaini.

Where do you predict you will finish this season?

If we start the season how we finish it then top 6 for Everton this season.

Who might win the Premier League?

City/Chelsea

Who definitely won’t?

The other 18 teams.

What is your most anticipated fixture?

Chelsea, always a great game between us.

What is your most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club?

I’m looking forward to watching Chelsea v Arsenal given their signings.

How do you think Southampton will fare?

I hope they stay up, robbed of many young talents in recent years but back where they belong, can’t see them.finishing top 10 – a season of consolidation for the saints.

You find yourself stuck in Anfield. How do you escape unnoticed?

Anfield – Go dressed as donkey from Shrek – people will just say “Hi Suarez”.

Everton will look to their midfield pair to chase the leading pack.

Fulham:-

Name:- Kyle Bonn

Team:- Fulham

Website:- FulhamsFinest.com

Twitter:- @FulhamsFinest

What can we expect from your club this season?

This question depends a lot on what happens in the final few weeks of the transfer window.  Martin Jol recently said that Fulham is far from done, and they haven’t spent a pound in the transfer market yet despite having brought in Hugo Rodallega, Mladen Petric, and Sascha Riether.  If Jol can find two more strikers and a midfielder like he said he’s looking for, this club has a ton of potential.

Fulham are a club that have flown entirely under the radar in the last few seasons, and without attracting the attention of much of the media and fans have grown up in the Premier League, making themselves a mainstay in the middle of the pack.  Not only that, but a few top-10 finishes in the last couple of years have the fan base buzzing with thoughts of Europa League qualifying dancing in their heads.  With the overhaul Martin Jol has brought to the squad this offseason and the mystery surrounding Clint Dempsey’s future, there may a settling-in period, but to expect another 9th place finish isn’t overestimating this squad by any means.

Who is your most important player?

The American Clint Dempsey, with the shroud covering his future, can almost be thought of as too much a distraction. However, he’s still no question the most well-rounded talent on the club who can strike at any time from the midfield.  The question is, where will he be when the window comes to a close? And if he’s still on the Fulham roster, what role will he play? He’s been locked out of all preseason action so far, with rumors of misgivings with management abound (although the club insists his fitness is the issue). Liverpool are the no-doubt frontrunners for his services at the moment, but with Fulham requiring £10 million to complete the deal, and Dempsey about to top 30 years of age, the Reds are reluctant to pull the trigger.

My prediction has always been for Dempsey leaving in the winter, and it’s looking more and more like that will be the case.  However, if Fulham do indeed find themselves in the race for a Europa League spot, they may find more value in his playing services than in the cold, hard cash they would receive from a team.  Letting him walk for free would hurt, but at the same time if he successfully helped the team to previously unreached heights, most would be content to overlook that.

Where do you predict you will finish this season?

Like I said earlier, 9th place is a realistic expectation this season, but the future is bright.

Who might win the Premier League?

I can’t bet against Manchester United, who with their successful acquisitions this offseason, and the lack of moves made by their derby rivals, they once again the upper hand.

Who definitely won’t?

I know this isn’t going out on much of a limb these days, but Arsenal’s struggles to secure hardware will continue this season.  As much as Wenger has figured out how to sign cheques and complete transactions once again, and has used that to his advantage to secure a number of excellent buys, they won’t have a major impact until the second half of the season, by which time it will be too late.  Next season, however, I would beware the Gunners.

What is your most anticipated fixture?

No doubt Fulham fans this season will be looking forward to both ends of the fixtures with Queens Park Rangers.  Fans have developed a fearsome hatred for each side, being fueled with QPR’s hiring of Mark Hughes, completing his traitorous departure from Craven Cottage. Fulham fans sat back last season with a wry smile while they watched their London rivals squirm their way out of relegation. The Cottagers thumped QPR 6-0 in the home fixture, and took another 3 points 1-0 across London, giving firm bragging rights to the banks of the Thames.  The first matchup will be much-anticipated, and fans will have to wait until December 15 for the rivalry to continue at Loftus Road.

What is your most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club?

The Manchester derby has to be the most exciting fixture.  While I’m sure that doesn’t surprise anyone, these two clubs have to be considered once again the top two in the country.  They very well could decide the championship, and it doesn’t get much better than that.

How do you think Southampton will fare?

Unfortunately I think Southampton will struggle to stay in the Premiership.  This isn’t to underestimate Southampton, but rather a number of teams that finished in the bottom quarter of the league last season have spent a great deal of money this offseason and unfortunately for Southampton this puts them at a disadvantage. Look at what clubs such as Queens Park Rangers, Aston Villa, and even newly promoted sides West Ham and Reading have added this offseason, they may be distancing themselves from other more dormant clubs like Southampton.

Thanks to all the contributors for their input! Look out for the next three parts soon!

Chris

Permanent Fixtures?

Daunting. ‘Baptism of Fire’. Tough….

This was the hyperbole and conjecture that greeted Saints fans on reveal of this season’s coming Premier League fixtures. I looked at it a slighty different way.

Exciting. ‘Back where we belong’. Challenging….

After all, there is no easy games in the Premier League, you have to play every team twice, and our fate will be sealed based on our performances in those games the same as it is for everybody else. Admittedly, having to play last season’s top three in our first four games isn’t ideal, but this lends itself to a plethora of speculation. It may be the best time to play them. They are likely to have new players, and be tinkering with new systems for example. But, actually what it has meant is that, should, God (or whichever fictional deity you choose to worship) forbid, we are in a scrap at the business end of the season, our last seven fixtures (on paper at least) couldn’t be kinder.

But there is that saying again. On paper, and that is all these fixtures are at the moment, a list. Nothing more, nothing less. There are only two teams we can really base our predictions on, those that joined us from the Championship, Reading and West Ham, the rest we haven’t played for at least two seasons.

But what if we took our head to head record (based on the last two competitive fixtures) against the rest of the clubs in the Premier League as a start point. How would we fare in the coming season?

First up we travel to the City of Manchester Stadium to take on the reigning champions. It was January 2007, the last time we made this trip, Kenwyne Jones found the net for Saints, but Man City ran away 3-1 winners with goals from Darius Vassell, Joey Barton and Damarcus Beasley. The last time City visited St. Mary’s it would end goaless in the Premier League fixture of October 2004. Points – 1.

Saints will open their Premier League home campaign with the visit of Wigan Athletic. It was January 1986 when the clubs last met on the South Coast, and in fact is the only competitive fixture between the two in their history! Glenn Cockerill and a brace by David Armstrong saw Saints through to the fifth round of the FA Cup. Points – 4 (A draw  was allocated for the away game).

Manchester United will then make the trip to Southampton, despite a famous run of victories against the Red Devils, it will be 9 years and a day since we last beat them when we kick off on the 1st September. Our last meeting with Sir Alex and his men saw goals from Michael Owen and Javier Hernandez cancel out Richard Chaplow’s opener in the FA Cup 4th Round. Our last trip to Old Trafford ended in a 3-0 reverse at the hands of Scholes, Rooney and Ronaldo in December 2004. Points – 0.

An unlikely hero emerged on our last visit to Arsenal. Rory Delap got both goals in a two all draw, Henry and Van Persie on target for the Gunners! Peter Crouch scored at St. Mary’s in the same season to gain Saints a double of draws over the North London side. Points – 2.

Fans will want to forget the last time St. Mary’s hosted Aston Villa. Peter Crouch and Kevin Phillips gave Saints an early lead, only to lose 3-2. Carlton Cole, Nobby Solano and Steven Davis sealing the victory for Villa in April 2005. It was a 2-0 defeat at Villa Park, Carlton Cole and Darius Vassell getting the goals in an earlier game that season. Points – 0.

Everton were famed as a Saints “bogey team” for years, and in that same fateful final Premier League season, they were just as tight. A Leon Osman goal at the death decided matters at Goodison Park, while Saints managed a point at St. Mary’s with goals from Peter Crouch and Henri Camara cancelling out James “I definitely won’t celebrate” Beattie and Marcus Bent. Points – 1.

It was a goalfest the last time Saints hosted Fulham, a brace from Kevin Phillips and an own goal for the hosts, Radzinski, Malbranque and Bouba Diop for the visitors. The reverse fixture that season saw a victory for the cottagers through a solitary Tomas Radzinski strike. Points – 1.

Chaplow and co celebrate the opener v Man Utd.

West Ham are of course more recent opponents, Jos Hooiveld the scourge of East London, scoring the winner at St. Mary’s and then the equaliser at Upton Park last season. Points – 4.

After the trip to West Ham, Saints play host to their North London neighbours, the now Redknapp-less (shame) Spurs lost on their last visit, Nigel Quashie with the only goal of the game. It was a different story at White Hart Lane though, Saints put to the sword, losing 5-1. Jermain Defoe kept the match ball, Kanoute and Keane getting the other two, Peter Crouch got the consolation. Points – 3.

A trip to the Midlands follows, as Saints go to the Hawthorns. Saints last played WBA in the 2007/08 Championship season. Despite Albion going up as Champions that season and Saints needing last day heroics to stay up, it was the South Coast side that got the better of their two fixtures. Adam Lallana scored in the away leg in a 1-1 draw, while a double from Stern John and a Marek Saganowski strike secured all three points at home. Points – 4.

Swansea City will come to St. Mary’s in November, Saganowski earned Saints a point the last time this fixture happened in the 2008/09 Championship relegation season. The reverse game saw an easy run out for the Swans, Pratley, Gomez and Butler getting the goals in a 3-0 defeat for Saints. Points – 1.

In that same season, Saints suffered a heavy defeat at next opponents QPR. Ex-Saint Dexter Blackstock got a couple, Stewart and Ageymang also netted, Adam Lallana got Saints only reply. Later in the campaign, the two clubs played out a 0-0 draw at St. Mary’s. Points – 1.

Saints haven’t faced Newcastle United in a league game since 2004, going down 1-2 at home to goals from Alan Shearer and Titus Bramble, Peter Crouch almost inevitably being the Saints goalscorer in that season. The last time Saints visited St. James’ Park though is more recent. Keiron Dyer got the only goal in February 2006 in the FA Cup 5th round. Points – 0.

Jos Hooiveld heads Saints to three points.

Saints and Norwich City both left the Premier League in the same season, so barring the past two seasons have been regular opponents. It was in the Johnstones Paint Trophy that the Canaries last came to St. Mary’s, A last minute Papa Waigo equaliser took the game to a penalty shootout which Saints won, subsequently lifting the trophy. A Lee Barnard brace saw Saints take all three points at Carrow Road that same season. Points – 6 (I know, I know, technically the JPT game was a draw after 90 minutes, but it’s my game and my rules).

A trip to Anfield beckons in December, just as it did in our last Premier League season. Florent Sinama-Pongolle scored the only goal of the game that time. Saints got their revenge over Liverpool at St. Mary’s just a month later, David Prutton and Peter Crouch ensuring a 2-0 victory. Points – 3.

In a reverse of last season, Saints will host Reading first. In the game that effectively conceded the title to their Berkshire rivals in April, Saints went down 3-1, Rickie Lambert on the scoresheet, but outdone by Jason Roberts and Adam Le Fondre. It was  a 1-1 draw at the Madjeski, Steve de Ridder cancelling out Mikele Leigertwood’s opener. Points – 1.

The last time Saints went to Stamford Bridge, James Beattie scored at both ends, Frank Lampard sealing the points for Chelsea. Lampard scored again at St. Mary’s which coupled with an Eidur Gudjohnsen double meant Kevin Phillips’ goal was just a consolation. Points – 0.

Saints last faced Sunderland in the 2006/07 Championship season, going down 2-1 at home, after Gareth Bale had grabbed a last minute equaliser at the Stadium of Light earlier in the season. Points – 1.

The last club Saints will renew acquaintances with will be Stoke City. Tony Pulis and his merry band of ex-Southampton players will welcome Saints in the last game of 2012, and it was a 3-2 victory for the Potters in their last potteries encounter. It was an exact reverse of the scoreline in the same season at St. Mary’s, Drew Surman, Gregorz Rasiak and Jhon Viafara got the goals for Saints, Parkin and Fuller for Stoke. Points – 3.

Saints on the up.

So, if we can match those results, we will end on 36 points. Sounds bad doesn’t it? But, take into account that the majority of the games come from a terrible Premier League relegation campaign and consecutive horrific Championship seasons, it is surprisingly good.

Also, it is worth noting that 36 points would mean safety in six of the last ten Premier League seasons, though not the last two.

Of course, none of these teams look anything like the last time we played them, and neither do we. So this is all just speculation and conjecture. Of course it is, back where we started then….

You can see the full fixture list at the Saints Official Website here.

Chris

p.s. If you have enjoyed reading the blog over the past year, why not vote for us in the “Club Specific” category at the Football Blogging Awards? Either via Facebook here. Or, tweet the following:- @TheFBAs @crstig #Club

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

p.s. Saints fans, don’t forget to check out our competition!

The Class of 2005: Who were the real winners?

22nd April 2005, approximately 21:58. Fifteen year old Edward Upson hits the ball first time from twenty five yards. Andrew McNeill is helpless in the Southampton net. Goal Ipswich Town.

A heartbreaking end to a memorable season for the Saints youngsters, losing the FA Youth Cup final with just two minutes of extra time left to be played.

The first leg had been played at St. Mary’s four days earlier, Saints leading through David McGoldrick before being pegged back by a double from Irishman Cathal Lordan, Leon Best netting the equaliser that kept the tie on a knife edge. The second leg had remained goalless despite Saints dominance, Ipswich thankful to keeper Shane Supple that it got to extra time. Seemingly heading for penalties, substitute Upson was the youngest player on the pitch when he stole the headlines, and the silverware for the Suffolk side.

For young lads with the world at their feet, it must have been difficult to take.  For some it was to be their career highlight, for others, just the beginning. Football is a cruel world, and as is commonplace, despite being the cream of the crop as young players not all would be destined for the top.

Actually in this instance it was the losers who have fared better, the Saints squad boast four current Premier League players, the Ipswich squad none. While the Saints players have commanded massive transfer fees between them and gained many international caps, the Ipswich team have not. Having said that, not all of the Saints squad has achieved all of their footballing aims.

I decided to find out where they are now, and how different the careers of these players now hitting their peak age of 24/25 have fared.

Saints

Andrew McNeil – The Scottish keeper left Saints in January 2006, returning to his native Edinburgh with SPL side Hibernian, he forced his way into the first team at Easter Road, including playing in the 2007 League Cup final win. He was later replaced in the side and released in 2009. He spent a season in the third division with Montrose before signing for First Division Raith Rovers in 2010. He was released by Raith this summer and signed for Livingston where he is currently first choice.

Craig Richards – Local lad Richards was released by Saints in the summer of 2006. He was picked up by Conference side Salisbury City in 2007. Spells at Eastleigh, Bognor Regis Town and Winchester City followed. He now plays for Whitehawk FC in the Ryman League Division One South.

Sebastian Wallis-Tayler – The frenchman left Saints the summer after the Cup Final and signed for Havant & Waterlooville before playing for Bognor Regis Town and Lewes. He is now back in his native France playing for non-league outfit CA Lisieux.

Sean Rudd – After being released by Saints, Rudd had an unsuccessful trial with former club Oxford United before sadly retiring through injury. Now works for a Sports Shoe company.

Martin Cranie – Had already played first team football on loan at Bournemouth and Premier League football for Saints at the time of the Youth Cup final. He played in the Premier League under Harry Redknapp, before finding chances limited under George Burley in the Championship. Cranie had two spells on loan at Yeovil Town before reuniting with Redknapp at Portsmouth for the 2007 season. Spent time at QPR and Charlton on loan before joining Coventry City in 2009 where he is still a regular for the Championship outfit. Has gained caps for England at U21 level.

Lloyd James – The Welsh utility man earned a professional contract with Saints in 2006, and made over seventy first team appearances in the Championship and League One before his somewhat surprise release (having been a regular in the team) in 2010. He soon signed for Colchester United and is now an established member of the U’s first team. A Welsh U21 international.

Tim Sparv – Finnish midfielder Sparv left Saints in 2007 to sign for Swedish club Halmstads BK, he is now playing in the Dutch first division with FC Groningen via a loan spell in his home country. He has been capped fifteen times by Finland.

Tim Sparv. Now in the Dutch Eredivisie.

Nathan Dyer – The tiny winger made his first team debut for Saints at the start of the season following the final. He was loaned to Burnley before coming back and getting more regular gametime at St. Mary’s. He went on loan again to Sheffield United in 2008, before really flourishing at Swansea City, firstly on loan before joining permanently in 2009 and he is now a regular in their Premier League side.

Theo Walcott – Made his first team debut at sixteen and was soon turning heads at a higher level. Chelsea had already shown an interest in him, but it was Arsenal who paid £5 million with a potential outcome of £12 million (although that is seemingly no longer the case) for him in 2006. He has now played over one hundred times for the Gunners. He became the youngest ever full England international in 2006 and was the surprise inclusion in Sven Goran Erikssons’s World Cup Squad of 2006. He has now played eighteen times for his country.

Leon Best – The Irish striker had already played in the Premier League for Saints by the time of the final, and also spent a period on loan with QPR. Further loans with Sheffield Wednesday, Bournemouth and Yeovil Town followed before he rejected a new contract with Saints in 2007 and joined Coventry City, the tribunal setting the fee at £650k. His performances for the Sky Blues were enough to persuade Newcastle United to move for him and is now a first team player with the Toon in the Premier League. He has represented Ireland at senior level.

Leon. Doing his Best for Newcastle in the Premier League.

David McGoldrick – McGoldrick was handed a first team debut in the September following the match at Portman Road, but it would take him another three years and loan spells at Notts County,  Bournemouth and Port Vale before he would be considered a regular. He was an ever present in the Saints team that dropped out of the Championship, scoring twelve goals and left for Nottingham Forest for £1 million the following summer.

Kyle Critchell – Defender Critchell was hampered by a serious injury in 2005 and was eventually loaned out to Torquay United in 2006. He was released the following summer and joined Chesterfield. He joined Weymouth in June 2007 before signing for Wrexham the following season, injuries again stunted his progression and he was loaned to York City before rejoining the Terras. He currently plays for hometown club Dorchester Town in the Blue Square South division who he signed for in 2009.

Ashlee Jones – Sub keeper Jones was released in the summer of 2005 and signed for Rushden & Diamonds, he has played for an array of clubs since and eventually made his football league debut for Darlington in 2009, he now plays for Braintree Town in the Blue Square Premier division.

Adam Lallana – The only member of the squad still at St. Mary’s, the creative midfielder is now a lynchpin in Nigel Adkins side and has made one hundred and thirty appearances for the club, now catching the eye of Premier League suitors he has been capped at U21 level by England.

Adam Lallana, still flying high with Saints.

Feliciano Condesso – Portuguese midfielder Condesso left Saints in 2007 without playing for the first team, somewhat surprisingly he joined La Liga side Villarreal but couldn’t break into the first team setup there either. He played for their ‘B’ side in the Spanish third tier before joining UD Logrones and now plays for Ontinyent CF.

Gareth Bale – The youngest member of the Saints squad, aged fifteen, Bale made his first team debut in 2006 and played forty times that season as Saints made it to the Championship play offs. Hot property, the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester United were said to be interested, but it was Spurs who signed the Welshman for an initial fee of £5 million that rose to £7 million and Tommy Forescast. Bale struggled to make an impact at White Hart Lane to start with, but is now considered one of the best players in the world. A notable hat trick in the Champions League against Inter at the San Siro propelling him to super stardom. He has played thirty times for Wales.

Josh Dutton-Black – Winger Dutton-Black left Saints in 2007 and signed for AFC Totton. He has since had spells at Salisbury, Kidderminster, Eastleigh, Bognor Regis Town and Didcot Town. He now plays for North Leigh in the Southern League Division One South & West.

Ipswich Town

Shane Supple – Retired. Now a Gaelic Football player.

Michael Synott – Released by League of Ireland side Dundalk in the summer of 2010.

James Krause – Now playing for Cambridge City in the Southern League Premier division.

Chris Casement – Now playing for Linfield in the IFA Premiership. Capped by Northern Ireland.

Aidan Collins – Now playing for the University of London FC.

Sammy Moore – Now playing for AFC Wimbledon in League Two.

Cathal Lordan – Now playing for Cork City in the League of Ireland First division.

Liam Trotter – Now playing for Millwall in the Championship.

Owen Garvan – Now playing for Crystal Palace in the Championship. Eire U21 international.

Owen Garvan. Tipped for big things, now at Palace.

Liam Craig – Now playing for St. Johnstone in the Scottish Premier League.

Daryl Knights – Now playing for Newport County in the Blue Square Premier League.

Danny Haynes – Now playing for Barnsley in the Championship.

Blair Hammond – Now playing for Ipswich Wanderers in the Eastern Counties League division one.

Charlie Sheringham – Now playing for Dartford in the Blue Square South.

Ed Upson – Now playing for Yeovil Town in League One.

Andy Reynolds – Now playing for Lowestoft Town in the Ryman Premier divsion.

Stuart Ainsley – Now playing for Lowestoft Town in the Ryman Premier divsion.

It is clear to see that the losing Saints squad have, on the whole fared better than their Ipswich counterparts. Although it is staggering to see that of the thirty four players involved, fifteen of them are now playing at non-league level.

This isn’t a fate exclusive to these young finalists either, of the 2007 Liverpool winning side, only two players have since played for the first team, and only one (Jay Spearing) is still on the fringe. Their defeated opponents that day Manchester United fielded Danny Welbeck who has now become a first team player, the rest of the names are less familiar. In fact if you were to go through the lineups of all the previous finals, you would find only a handful of players plying their trade at the top of the footballing tree. Another case of foreigners ruining the English game? Hardly. These days half the youth teams are foreign players as clubs look to invest abroad as early as possible, all hoping to discover the next Lionel Messi. The fact is the standard required gets higher every season and more are likely to fall by the wayside with every intake. Also, I always wonder how much difference in ability there is between some players playing non-league and those in the lower echelons of the professional game. Not that much I would wager, and in reality we could probably fill another four divisions of professional clubs if it were possible.

Either way, the differing fortunes of some of these young players is a harsh reminder that the career of a footballer is a privilege to be treasured.

Chris

Thanks to Gordon Simpson (Daily Echo), Martin Brodetsky (Oxford United FC), David Seabourne (Bognor Regis Town FC Supporters Club), Graham Large (It’s Round & It’s White), Jon Dalton (Granley Rovers FC), Samuel Ridout.


The Worst Manager England (Almost) Never Had…

The other night, I decided to run a little competition to get myself to 500 followers on twitter, the reward for being my 500th follower (other than a daily intake of my wittiest and fascinating 140 character world insights) was that I would write a piece on here that would revolve around the supported club of the new follower.

Unfortunately, rather like Chris Iwelumo on an international debut, I took my eye off the ball. This meant I wasn’t sure if Brighton fan @Mareschappie or Southend fan @CallumReavelll was number 500, so I sensibly did, the only thing I could do, I bravely declared that I would write a piece that involved both clubs. Now, I wanted this piece to have a positive spin for both clubs, otherwise, what kind of prize is that?

This proved to not be easy. The two clubs, while both rich with individual history don’t seem to have any mutual heroes, neither do they share any years where both achieved something of note. Then I hit upon somebody who achieved something with both clubs, and what’s more, a man who is well known throughout English football and in my opinion, the worst manager England never had….

You often hear Brian Clough described as “The greatest manager England never had”, his achievements in club football are as well known as they are remarkable, and the decision not to employ him as the boss of the national team after interviewing him in 1977 is one that often makes people wonder what might have been. Clough’s assistant Peter Taylor was also revered for the job he did with Derby County and could have followed “Ol big head” to Lancaster Gate had the FA seen differently. Another Peter Taylor came even closer to the three lions dugout, in fact he was in it once, but what now seems implausible, he was also interviewed for the England job full time in 2006, and not just as assistant.

Peter John Taylor started his career at Southend United, near to his home town of Rochford, Essex. A winger by trade, Taylor was a pivotal part of the Shrimpers side that won promotion from the fourth division in 1971/2, and was soon catching the eye of bigger clubs. Taylor went on to play for Crystal Palace and Spurs at the peak of his career and gained four England caps, the first of which he gained while still playing in the third division at Selhurst Park, but it is as a manager that Taylor is mainly remembered.

Peter Taylor as an England Player

Taylor did his managerial apprenticeship in non-league football with Dartford, where he spent four years with much success. Southern cup winners twice (denied a third in the 1990 final) and two Southern league championships saw Taylor sought after by his former club Southend. Taylor took the reigns at Roots Hall in 1993 and would last just sixty six games. He suffered that unfortunate turn of fortunes, going from fans favourite for his exploits on the pitch to hate figure for his fortunes off it. For further examples see Souness, Graeme and Gunn, Bryan. Taylor’s Southend tenure was described in the clubs own history records as “disastrous” and he was soon on his way back to the non-league with Dover Athletic.

In what must have been a bizarre turn of events for the Southend fans, Taylor was only with the Kent club for two months, before being appointed as manager of the England U21’s as part of Glenn Hoddle’s new staff. It was the subsequent period with Englands “young lions” that for me, Taylor’s reputation and all future job offers were based on. He carved a persona as good man manager who the players liked and had a decent record, losing just twice in nineteen competitive games during his time at the helm. The likes of Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Owen and Emile Heskey were brought into the setup by Taylor, and became four of the eleven to make the step up to the full squad under his guidance. Actually his replacement by Howard Wilkinson in June 1999 was controversial at best, and for seemingly no reason other than moving Hoddle’s men out.

In what was now becoming a commonplace feature of Taylor’s managerial career he yo-yo’d all the way down to the second division with Gillingham, proving his England U21 succeses were no fluke, taking the Gills to playoff glory at the first attempt. Leicester City, hot from several years of success under Martin O’Neill, including a League Cup win and european football decided to appoint Taylor in 2000. For many people this is where he got found out. He started well, but soon the performances tailed off. Dressing room unrest amongst senior players Steve Walsh and Tony Cottee coupled with a poor start to the 2001/02 season and gaining a reputation with the Filbert Street faithful for poor transfer dealings (Taylor spent £23 million in his time at Leicester, including £5 million for Ade Akinbiyi, £3 million for James Scowcroft and £1.5 million for Trevor Benjamin) saw Taylor sacked and destined never to manage in the top flight again (to date).

During his spell at Leicester, Taylor did however have perhaps his finest hour. After the resignation of Kevin Keegan as England manager in October 2000, the FA needed someone to take the reigns for a friendly against Italy in Turin. Taylor didn’t mess around and decided to use his opportunity to put his own stamp on proceedings, turning to many of his U21 stalwarts, Rio Ferdinand, Gareth Barry, Jamie Carragher, Seth Johnson, Emile Heskey and Keiron Dyer. He also handed David Beckham the England captaincy for the first time. England lost the tie 1-0, but it would be the start of a long international career for many of those players and notably a renaissance for the newly crowned skipper.

For keeps....

Taylor, wounded from his experiences at Leicester, but also strangely bouyed by his chance with the national team, ended up on the South Coast with Brighton & Hove Albion. Here he proved again, that getting a club promoted from one of the lower divisions was not difficult for him, as he guided the Seagulls to top spot in the second division. This may have been the start of something special for Taylor, but he left at the end of the season, claiming “lack of financial resources” as his reason. He was soon back in football though, back in the basement division with Hull City. An attractive prospect for Taylor, soon to be moving into their new stadium and serious financial backing meant he could soon work his promotion magic, getting the Tigers from Division three to Division one in three seasons.

During his time at the KC stadium, the FA came calling again, and Taylor took on the U21’s as a part time role. It didn’t go quite as well in his second spell, though competitively results were good. James Milner was the young star, as England again came close in the European championships. Taylor’s achievements at Hull had been noted by his former club Crystal Palace and they took him on to lead them to promotion from the Championship and around the same time, Sven Goran Eriksson left his role as England manager. Taylor confirmed in an interview with the Independent that he had been interviewed for the vacant position and life must have seemed pretty rosy. Unfortunately for him, he did not get the job, and the shake up meant he was relieved of his duties with the young lions too. If that wasn’t a bad enough chain of events, form at Palace dipped dramatically and with the possibility of relegation a very real one, Taylor was sacked.

Unsuccessful spells at conference side Stevenage Borough and League Two Bradford City sandwiched another lower league promotion with Wycombe Wanderers.

So is Taylor the worst manager England never had? Despite being the one of the most qualified coaches in the country, his managerial record is up and down. Somewhat of an expert at getting sides promoted from the lower divisions, quite what the FA saw in him as a top level manager is beyond me. A man manager? His 96-99 U21 side would say yes, his 2000 Leicester side would beg to differ. A tactician? Supporters of his lower league promotion sides would say so, those of his higher level clubs would not.

Luckily for us, the FA chose not to employ the Englishman with no great success record behind him, and opted for Steve McClaren, and we all know how that turned out….

Swings & Roundabouts?

Chris