Author Archives: Ollie Price

Management and mannerisms

In the last few years, the Premier League has seen an influx of world-class managers, and in the modern game, we now know more about them than ever.  Their tactics are scrutinised and analysed until which point that every fan seems to know the intricate differences between Conte’s brilliant wing-back formation with Italy during the 2016 EUROs, and Brendan Rodgers’ three-at-the-back formation which took the Premier League by storm in 2013/14.

However, there is obviously a lot more going on than the “Average Joe” might believe, with regards to formations, player roles and managers pinpointing areas of weakness in their opposition’s team. What most interests me, however, is the way in which a manager can carry himself, both in the public eye of press conferences and in the privacy of the training ground. The way in which a manager asserts himself as the focal point of a football club after a move is of utmost importance.

The past three managers at Southampton FC – including the latest man at the helm Claude Puel – seem to have very different ways of carrying themselves. In pre and post-match press conferences they have all acted in very different ways and on the training ground they seem to have very different ways of getting involved.  Not to mention that if rumours are to be believed, they also have very different ways of dealing with player disputes. But how have their respective mannerisms altered results on the pitch? this is something that intrigues me greatly.

Firstly, we have Mauricio Pochettino – a man who came to England with little knowledge of the English language. But simply based on how many players followed him out of St. Mary’s to different clubs in the summer of 2014, we can infer that there was a true bond and sense of camaraderie among the players in his squad. He joined in with training sessions, taking a hands on approach and tried to teach the players everything he knew; both technically with their feet and tactically with their brains. He seemed to love the youth players, using many of them in all competitions; Luke Shaw was a regular starter for Pochettino and owes a lot of his development to the Argentine. Sam McQueen made his debut away to Sunderland in the FA cup, and Harrison Reed and Sam Gallagher made their competitive debuts under Pochettino too. He built an aura of trust and friendship with all of his players, which is why so many refused to stay when he left in 2014.

Pochettino has been described as working his players very hard; he will not tolerate anything less than 100% effort from his team.  Victor Wanyama claims that Pochettino himself was the main reason behind his recent move to Spurs – another indicator that players bought into him as both a football manager and on a human level. Wanyama also stated that Pochettino’s pre-season was a gruelling regime, which meant all players would be at peak fitness come the start of the season, but was an embodiment of the man himself and his philosophies and mannerisms; 100% effort or no playing time. I personally believe that Erik Lamela’s rebirth as a star in the Premier League can be attributed to Pochettino’s traits yet again.

With regards to Pochettino in the media, we as Saints fans are led to believe that he continued to use a translator to make sure that he was not misquoted in the media. He would always answer questions directly; giving pure truth and making sure that the general public knew exactly what he wanted to say. As a man, many respected him; he never seemed to shy away or lie, he instils bonds among his squads and he knows how to win, which led to his brilliant 8th place finish with Saints in 2013/14. In this regard, I personally believe that Pochettino will go on to have a brilliant managerial career, as he gets the best out of his players in every way.

Secondly, we have a vastly different character to Mauricio Pochettino; the former Saint Ronald Koeman. He came to England with an almost native-fluency of the spoken language, he played at the highest level under some of the best managers of all time and he was very tactically proficient. However, Koeman was a hard-headed individual and a stubborn manager who would not allow his players to undermine him in any regard. Every photo and video released by Saints’ media team of the training sessions held by Koeman show him, with arms folded, on the touchline, barking orders at his players. He never seemed to get involved with the training sessions and teach his players, despite being considered as one of the greatest defenders of his generation.

Quite simply, if we are to believe many rumours circulating Southampton F.C, it seemed that Koeman did not care for many of his players during his two-year tenure at St Mary’s. In the last few months for example, Sadio Mané was used as a scapegoat for Southampton’s poor form; during the 2015/16 season, Mane arrived 15 minutes late for a pre-match team meeting in an away fixture against Norwich City, and as a result, Koeman dropped him. This seemed like a fair punishment at the time, but soon after, confirmed reports stated that Mané believed he was perfectly on time. The mix-up was in fact on Koeman’s behalf, after  changing the time of the meeting without Mane being notified. This was the supposed beginning of the breakdown in the relationship between Koeman and Mane – one that led to Mané’s exit this summer. There are also murmurs that Tadić and Cédric would have left St Mary’s if Koeman stayed as they were tired of his dictator-like attitude. They were also reportedly made to feel like scapegoats during the team’s drop in form.

Finally, again if we can believe rumours, Koeman did not care for any of the youth team. He never bothered to watch their games, he refused to promote many of them to the first team and even went on a “foul-mouthed tirade” at a 20-year old Matt Targett during a training session, abusing him in front of many of his friends and colleagues. This again is a sudden misstep from what Pochettino had installed previously, and what Southampton F.C. want to promote in a football club.

However, in press conferences, Koeman embodied the word confidence; he nonchalantly ignored any journalist that he felt was asking unimportant questions, he blatantly lied about the Everton link and often made jokes at the journalists themselves. One thing we cannot doubt; Ronald Koeman is a winner, a disciplinarian who will most likely rise to the top and succeed in his managerial career, given his two record-breaking season in the dugout of St Mary’s. But Southampton fans should not be worried to lose him; he may have broken records and taken us to Europe, but he did not put emphasis on the club’s structure or philosophies, and his mannerisms suggest to me that he thought he was bigger than the club.

The 30th June 2016, enter the latest man to become Southampton manager; Claude Puel. With a wealth of experience in France and a history of promoting young players; including giving debuts to Yohan Cabaye and Eden Hazard, and being attributed with turning Thierry Henry into a striker from a winger, Puel seems to be an ideal fit for Southampton’s philosophies.

With regards to his personality and mannerisms, it is very hard to judge him based on his two months at St Mary’s, but I have personally seen encouraging signs. He seems to want camaraderie among his camp, constantly complimenting his players in the press and engaging with training sessions (if we can believe the Saints media team!). Nathan Redmond is a name that springs to mind; Puel has likened him to Henry already, saying that he could be a fantastic signing for years to come. Redmond then returned him with an equalising debut goal vs Watford.

Puel seems to engage the media very well, his knowledge of the English language has impressed me greatly already and he speaks in a very calm and collected manner, rather than giving a brash response. Puel himself claimed that it is very important to carry oneself well in the public eye; if he wants to scream at his players after a poor performance, then so be it, but once the cameras are on him, or as soon as the newspaper journalists start to take note, it is of utmost importance to stay professional and calm, so as to keep the aura and reputation of the club focused and pristine even in hard times. This is something I have admired greatly; I think it will enhance the attitudes of players too as they will most likely buy into his way of thinking if he continues to compliment them and keep their bond of trust private inside the club.

Finally, many former players under Puel have constantly praised his attitude towards his players; he buys into them and invests time into improving not only the club, but the players themselves, and they in turn reward him with performances and results. Thierry Henry has been full of praise for him and his way of acting on the training ground, claiming that he is the “perfect fit” for Southampton F.C.

I think it speaks great volumes that new club record-signing Sofiane Boufal rejected multiple offers to come to St Mary’s. Boufal’s agent himself even stated that had Laurent Blanc remained in charge at PSG, Paris would have been the destination for Boufal this summer. In his first interview as a Saint, he constantly attributed Puel as the reason for his move, which gives me a new sense of confidence about the new manager. His reputation in France precedes him; a brilliantly technical coach, with the level-headedness of a future world-class manager. Puel himself has attributed all of his characteristics to Arséne Wenger, and if Saints fans get even the slight taste of one of the Premier League’s and world’s best ever managers, they will be delighted with Puel’s appointment.

Personally, I am expecting a similar tenure to that of Mauricio Pochettino; Puel will start slow and steadily get the players onside, creating a bond and friendship between his backroom staff and players that will lead to stable and successful seasons in the future. Yet unlike Pochettino, I trust in Puel that if all goes to plan, he will stay loyal to Southampton F.C. and remain at the head of the club for many years, as he has done at his previous clubs.

More than just a game

After yet another record-breaking year, Southampton are currently preparing to reap the rewards of their sixth place Premier League finish last season –  the opportunity to impress in the Europa League group stages.

The achievement was celebrated wildly on the South coast, and understandably so given that the club have yet another opportunity to go toe to toe with some of Europe’s biggest and greatest names. To the players of last season, it’s also seen as a chance to right the wrongs of their premature exit last time out.

After the disappointment of getting knocked out by an inferior FC Midtjylland team, many thought that this was the end of our European hopes, and that our chance to really make ourselves known amongst Europe’s elite football clubs had gone. Matters were made worse by the fact that had we defeated FC Midtjylland, Southampton would’ve been drawn alongside Italian giants Napoli in the group stage – this left fans wondering what could have been had we qualified and faced players like Gonzalo Higuaín.

But, despite all this, the 2015/16 season saw Southampton better their league position for the 7th year in a row. A remarkable achievement given the fact that we were continually written off and tipped for relegation by many “experts.” This trend of selling players, being written off and over-achieving has been repeated and repeated until we found ourselves in 6th place, and now, we have our reward. Just last week, the club was drawn into group K alongside Israeli Premier League champions Hapoel Be’er Sheva, the Czech First League runners-up Sparta Prague, and Italian super club Inter Milan: the 9th most successful football club in the world.

For many (myself included) to watch Southampton play at the San Siro against Inter Milan in a competitive football match is unimaginable. It’s something that I thought until recently,  we as Saints fans could only dream about. Whilst growing up, Inter Milan was always one of the superpowers of world football, and is it any surprise when they held such great players like Ibrahimovic, Figo, Eto’o, Ronaldo, Baggio and Matthaus amongst others.

Yet despite the history and power behind Inter Milan, we – Southampton Football Club – have found ourselves in this unbelievable position. This draw has acted as a reward to the fans, staff, players and owners. It’s rewarded those who shunned interest from other clubs to stay with us, and it has rewarded the fans whose support never wavered.  

This draw is for the fans who saw us hit the bottom of League 1 with minus 10 points, for those who made the Tuesday travels to Rochdale, for those who stood proudly at Old Trafford just last season, and for those who watched our relegation fixture against Manchester United in 2005.

On top of this, it signifies the influence of the Liebherr family who saved us from liquidation. When they took over, Southampton were on -10 points in the 3rd tier of English football. That year, we finished the season with a 3-1 win at home to Southend and gained a respectable 7th place finish. 12 days later, Inter Milan would beat Bayern Munich 2-0 to win the Champions League final with the likes of Diego Milito, Javier Zanetti and Wesley Sneijder all at their disposal. Yet 7 years down the line these two teams find themselves playing against each other in a competitive match. Imagine telling someone that after Southampton’s 1-1 draw against Millwall on the opening day of the 09/10 League 1 season.

For me, such an achievement epitomises everything great about our beloved club. This achievement was made possible by the unrivalled training facilities that we possess, the trust in our youth, the mysterious black box, those who know what it means to be a Saint, and every last player that has had the pleasure of putting on that red and white shirt.

But regardless of these achievements and the significance of it all, we have a game to play and a trophy to win. We aren’t in this tournament to make up the numbers, nor will we treat it any less than any other game. We aren’t going to the San Siro for a holiday, we’re going there to get 3 points, and along the way, we will have 5000 loyal Saints fans singing  around all four corners of the 80,000 seater stadium

Win, lose or draw, this will be one of the greatest nights in our clubs history. Many haven’t seen us come up against a team of this calibre before in a competitive match, and whether we will again remains to be seen. But to see our very own youth academy graduates walk through the infamous San Siro tunnel to play on that turf, standing where the greats of both Milan clubs have stood, you can only be proud of our achievements. And who’s to say this is the end of Southampton’s rise? we are fine being the underdogs and we embrace going against the odds. We’ve done the unthinkable before, why not do it again?

Southampton fans and the summer transfer window – a hate-love relationship

 

Hate – the summer Transfer Window opens.

Rumours fly around Twitter and the tabloids, even before it starts. We lose some big names straight off the bat. Fans fuss.

We get in a couple of lesser known players. Fans fuss.

Weeks go by and there’s no news of replacing all those goals we let go. Fans fuss.

Big rumours of big signings come and go, or, don’t come at all. Fans fuss.

The season starts and we don’t win both games. Fans fuss.

 

But then comes the love.

Saints will now go back to promoting from the academy. Fans Rejoice.

‘Confirmed’ leaks of big names coming in. Fans Rejoice.

‘Confirmed’ reports that Fonte will stay soon arise. Fans Rejoice.

Next up, the points are placed on the board. Fans Rejoice.

This is the ‘Hate-Love’ (chronological order) relationship that Saints fans have experienced each and every summer with the transfer window.

We are now in the final week of this annual rollercoaster, but the Hate-Love will continue. It’s inevitable that Southampton will continue to be linked to numerous players that won’t result in a transfer, and perhaps even more likely, we will sign someone straight out of left field that no one expected.

As it stands it seems highly likely that Sofiane Boufal will sign from Lille for a club record fee. He is an attacking midfielder or winger, depending on which YouTube expert you talk to. But what cannot be debated is that he’s highly rated, with rumours of Barcelona and Chelsea being interested earlier in the summer.

That still leaves us probably needing another out-and-out striker and maybe another centre back, depending on movements on the last day.

All in all however, it has once again been another one of those summers: lots to hate, lots to love and everything in between. But as all good Saints fans will attest, once that window finally slams shut, it is the boys who ARE running around in the Southampton stripes that we care about and that we must get behind.

A fans view: Koeman to Everton

Just as we thought this summer would be ‘different’, Southampton’s beloved Ronald Koeman is on the verge of reportedly joining Everton Football Club. As you read this, the clubs are currently in discussion as they look to agree a compensation fee for the transfer of the Dutchman.

I don’t know about you Saints fans, but what’s hit me the most about this latest Southampton saga, is the fact it’s all come out of nowhere. Just last week, It looked set in stone that Koeman would stay on the south coast. Only a couple of months ago, Koeman was asked at the Solent Fans’ forum what it would take for him to stay at Southampton beyond his current deal (2017), to, which he replied: ‘Be happy as I am now’. A lot of people were under the impression that our manager would return from his recent family holiday in St Bart’s, and then proceed to put pen to paper on an extension at St Mary’s. And why wouldn’t he? He’s guided the club to their highest ever Premier League finish, secured European football and even played a part in Van Dijk, Forster and Ward-Prowse committing their long-term futures! If that’s not an attractive club to manage, then I don’t know what is.

So what changed? If we rewind a couple of weeks, Ronald gave an interview to Adam Blackmore about the Ambition of Southampton Football Club. “It’s one thing speaking about ambition and the second is to show it,” Koeman told BBC Radio Solent. In fact, throughout the course of the season, Koeman indirectly passed comments about the club’s ambition and warned the board of the dangers associated with selling your best players.

With this in mind, the time scale of the turnaround between Koeman returning from holiday, being offered a contract and rumours emerging of him talking with Everton, would indicate to me that Southampton have failed to showcase enough ambition to persuade Ronald to stay.

It is my understanding that a formal offer was made to Wasserman (Koeman’s agent) from Saints on Friday afternoon. That means it had only been three days before Dutch reporter Tim De Wit reported that Everton had made an approach to Koeman’s representatives. If you break that down, that’s an incredibly quick turnaround for Koeman and his representatives to look at the contract, disagree with it, and turn to Everton. There must have been a drastic split of opinion on the club’s vision, philosophies or finance to even start the ball rolling on the Everton job. A slight disagreement would have most likely seen a counter offer by Koeman’s agent to Saints. However, this complete U-turn towards a Merseyside move would suggest there has been a major disagreement between Koeman and the board.

However, does this rebuff of a new contract and move away from Southampton all boil down to ambition? I don’t think so. Considering Koeman has been involved in several meetings at board level throughout the latter part of the season about club’s future and 5-year plan, it would indicate that this scenario isn’t entirely about ambition. If there were such a contrast in opinions between Ronald and the board about levels of ambition, Reed wouldn’t have sanctioned an interview to the club’s internal media stating that lawyers and agents were now involved in negotiations as talks were being finalised.
If the latest reports are accurate that Everton’s new owner Farhad Moshir is set to offer Koeman a lucrative £6m contract as well as a £100m+ transfer kitty, it would seem the issue lies with finance. While as a Saints fan, you would hope that Koeman would see out his contract and be a man of his word, you can understand how his head may have been turned by that sensational sum of money. How many of you would turn down a potential employer prepared to triple your wages for you to do the same job? Not many of you!

As a Saints fan, we all like to point the finger and voice our opinions on whose fault this is. Do we feel disappointed in Koeman who has arguably snubbed Saints for a club struggling with the demands of Premier League football? Or do we feel anger towards the board that for the third season in a row, we have yet again lost players and coaching staff to league rivals? In my opinion, I feel a bit of both. But before we take a look at the board, let’s put this ‘bigger club argument’ to bed. Historically, Everton is a bigger club than us. However, we are a better club than them. Last season’s campaign and league table shows just that.

With this in mind, you have to take a long hard look at the board. How can the club propose a five-year plan, when we can’t keep hold of our managers or best players? I have no doubt that we support an incredible club who boasts an outstanding youth set up, scouting network and innovative forward way of thinking. However, as a club trying to break the ‘glass ceiling’ on the top four, there’s no way we can grow with this continual upheaval year after year on and off the field. There is only so many times that you can lose your best players and managers before it catches up with you.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. If talks between Southampton and Everton advance and the club agree for Koeman to terminate his contract, there will be a whole host of managers wanting to take charge at the club. With European football sealed, many talented first team players and state of the art facilities, there is no questioning whether we have the ability to attract a manager of top pedigree to the South Coast. With that, you can consider the fact that Southampton Football Club is in a handsome financial state and our billionaire owner has a proven record of supporting previous managers with funds – Southampton sure is an attractive proposition to any manager seeking European Football and the chance to upset the Premier League’s apple cart.

Having seen the likes of Mauricio Pochettino, Adam Lallana and Morgan Schneiderlin (just to name a few) leave the club in the last few years, you would think it would make all of this easier? Well, you would be wrong. It’s still incredibly hard to watch our budding team with so much potential be ripped apart each and every summer. And If Koeman is to depart, I suggest you strap yourself in and prepare for yet another summer of papers and online sources saying ‘mass exodus’ and ‘meltdown’ in the same breath as our club. Let’s be honest, it wouldn’t be a normal summer as a Southampton fan if it was quiet, would it?

Shane Long: Breaking down that ten goal barrier

Shane Long is in hot form right now, and after netting the winning goal against Swansea City last weekend, the Irishman is on course to reach double figures for the first time in his Premier League career. It’s safe to say he’s cemented his name into Ronald Koeman’s starting XI. But, can Shane Long break past that ten goal barrier? And why is this season different to his previous years with Reading, West Brom and Hull City?

Long started his career in England when he joined Reading FC from Cork City for an undisclosed fee in 2005. However, he struggled for game time in his first few years at Reading, with Kevin Doyle and Leroy Lita placed ahead of him in the pecking order. He scored three goals in eleven appearances in his first season, which resulted in Reading being promoted to the Premier League.

Coming into his first Premier League season, Long disappointed in the top flight, scoring just two goals – thankfully, however, Reading had done just enough to steer clear of the drop. But it was to be yet another frustrating season for Long, who knew he had to better last season’s goal tally. Having mustered up just three goals throughout his second season in the Premier League, Reading were relegated back to the Championship.

Whilst relegation was hard to take for the Royals, it was to be seen as a fresh challenge for Shane Long. Long became Readings first choice striker when Doyle left the club, going on to score 21 league goals for Reading in the 2010/11 Championship season. Reading made the play-off final that season, but, unfortunately, lost 4-2 to Swansea City. Reading remained in the Championship for yet another season.

As a result of his immense goal scoring form, Long was sold to Premier League side West Bromwich Albion – the transfer fee was believed to be around £4.5 million. In his first season for the Baggies, he came close to reaching double figures as he scored eight goals, including strikes against Manchester Utd, Chelsea and Arsenal. In the following season, Long once again fell short – matching the eight goals he scored during his previous campaign.

In the 2014/15 season, Long started the season at West Brom – scoring three goals in 15 appearances – but later moved to Hull City in January. Whilst all looked promising for Long when he scored on his home debut against Tottenham, his goal-scoring tally remained similar to that of previous years – scoring four goals in 15 appearances for the Tigers.

After only half a season at Hull, Long jumped ship to join Southampton in a £12.5 million deal. With strong opposition from Graziano Pelle, Dusan Tadic and Sadio Mane, Long struggled to maintain a first-team spot in his first year with Saints. Despite that, he managed to score 5 goals in 32 Premier League appearances – 21 of which were from the bench.

His first two goals came in a match against Leicester City at St Mary’s, where he bagged a brace after being introduced as a second-half substitute with only 20 minutes to go.    

But now, after a year of hard work, training with the best squad of his career to date and working under Ronald Koeman, Long has been able to take his game to a level that he hasn’t reached before. He said it himself upon joining Southampton: “Southampton play a brand of football that’s enjoyable to watch, and I’m sure it’ll be enjoyable to play in as well”

Long has already scored six Premier League goals in 18 appearances this season, with his usual his nonstop work rate and pace being influential for the way Southampton play.  However, he has been far more than the player of years before.

Long has been learning to play in an expressive and established top-flight side that persistently play on the front line for the first time in his career.

Previously, he would play for sides that drop deep and look to greatly play off his defensive contributions, rather than focusing on his build up play and dangerous movement. This has been a big step up for Long.

During his first season for Southampton, Long would mis-hit crosses, shank his shots and rush decisions. But having now settled into an attack-minded team, were being treated to skillful lay-offs, calm finishes and composed thinking too.

With goals against Arsenal and Manchester City already this season, Long is playing with a calmness and confidence in front of goal.

There are now 12 games remaining in the 2015/16 season, including matches against rock bottom Aston Villa and a struggling Sunderland side in freefall. With it almost being a guarantee for Long to start those games at the minute, there’s a great chance he can break that ten-goal barrier. Who’s to say what could come next?

 

Southampton: Where To Strengthen Next?

With the incredible achievement of gaining Europa League football and a 7th place finish last year, Ronald Koeman has a season defining summer on the horizon. Now fighting on four fronts the Saints will be looking to continue their sterling form and once again, do battle with the likes of Tottenham and Liverpool for a top four spot. All whilst flying the red and white flag in Europe.

Simply put, Southampton’s already strong squad needs more numbers if they are to cope with four competitions this coming season. Anticipating the departures of Morgan Schneiderlin and Nathaniel Clyne, it’s time to look at potential signings which could take Koeman’s squad to the next level.

A name which has been strongly linked is that of Charlie Austin. The former Poole Town striker would be a great acquisition if Southampton were to beat teams such as West Ham and Newcastle to his signature. He’d add Premier League experience and an extra goal threat to the already potent looking front line options. However, the possibility of signing a player such as Austin is made rather unrealistic since the introduction of the black box scouting system. This system has pushed Les Reed and co to steer away from the mainstream transfer players, instead in hunt of a gem. A player who could fit Southampton’s transfer philosophy and prove a smart investment is Jan Kliment from Jihlava. The 21 year old Czech striker has impressed at this year’s Under-21 Euros and is thought to be on the radar of Juventus, however, this would be a risky purchase.

Though we cannot forget about the club’s policy of pushing through youngsters into the first team. Incoming signings will take up opportunities, potentially blocking the talented Ryan Seager and Sam Gallagher. Who’s to say that either Seager or Gallagher can’t be as good as Austin, provided they get the opportunities to become squad regulars in the next year or so. Nobody this time last year would’ve thought Harry Kane would develop the way he has done.

Toby Alderweireld is a must for every Saints fan and we really should work quickly to bring him in permanently. The reported club record-breaking £18 million fee is a steal if David Luiz was worth £50 million. Arguably one of the club’s best players last season has also been linked with Spurs and Chelsea. An alternative CB option could be Dynamo Kyiv’s Aleksandar Dragović. The young Austrian would be available for around £10 million and has a bright future, however he does lack top league experience.

Other players who’ve been mentioned are Giannelli Imbula, Yohan Cabaye and Grzegorz Krychowiak. Fans should also expect rumours of our annual raid on Celtic to surface after showing an apparent interest in Virgil van Dijk.

One final name to consider is Leroy Fer from QPR. The midfielder knows Koeman and is Europa League quality, not to mention a consistent performer who loves a pop from distance. Something the fans in the terrace have screamed out for over the years.

No matter who is recruited over the summer, the fans will have to trust Ronald and the team that they can build on last year’s brilliant business and put us in good stead come September 1st.

Blog: Will The Real Maarten Stekelenburg Please Stand Up?

11th July 2010, the World Cup final. Maarten Stekelenburg starts in goal for Holland against Spain in world class form that showed no sign of slowing down. The Dutchman was then considered one of the world’s best shot stoppers; but, seemingly that was the peak of his career and since then it’s been all downhill for the Dutchman. So where did it all go wrong and can he reach that form once again for the Saints?

The following season Stekelenburg went on to win the Eredivisie with Ajax, picking up his second player of the season award in succession. This sparked a move to Italian giants AS Roma for around Six million euros. It seemed that his career was still on the up playing for one of the best club’s in Europe, then came the ill-fainted move to premier league side Fulham.

Some players have it all, then make that one wrong move and poof, their career falls beneath them like a house of cards. It appears this is what happened to Stekelenburg, since his move in the summer of 2013 his stock has fallen faster than Ashley Young in the penalty box. Deciding to play for Martin Jol whom he’d worked with briefly during the 2009/10 campaign with Ajax, he signed a four year deal. In his first game he came off injured in the second half with a shoulder injury and did not return to the side until the 21st of October, where he went on to lose his next four starts in goal. He did not have the best of times in goal for Fulham as they struggled to survive relegation, changing manager twice in the process. This cost Stekelenburg his place in the starting 11 and then squad all together, with David Stockdale, Jesse Joronen and Marcus Bettinelli being favoured ahead of the Dutchman. Fulham were eventually relegated from the Premier league, but can you really blame the goalkeeper for such poor form? Consider two things, one being just how good he was prior to the move to London and the second being just how bad Fulham’s defence was that year. Conceding 85 goals and finishing with a goal difference of -45 is simply too poor to blame on one individual . Clearly Stekelenburg or any keeper Fulham used didn’t stand much of a chance.

Next he moved to Monaco on loan (Fulham being in the championship needed his wages off the books) looking to resurrect a career that just two year’s previous was on the up. That season he was deputy to Danijel Subasic, playing only four games for the club, one of those being in the league. Despite this he still impressed when played, winning a penalty shoot-out against Lyon by saving Jordan Ferri’s attempt and saving two spot kicks against SC Bastia in another penalty shoot-out. Unfortunately the saves were in vain as Monaco still crashed out. At the end of the 14/15 season, Monaco announced Stekelenburg would return to parent club Fulham.

So this brings us back to Southampton. Stekelenburg finds himself once again with Ronald Koeman, the manager who gave him his professional debut at Ajax and helped build him into one of the most rated shot stoppers in Europe. So, what can saints fans expect? Its hard to tell, but with the defensive record the club so proudly boasts upon the conclusion of the season (finishing with a goal difference of +21 letting in a measly 33 goals all season) you would like to think that Stekelenburg will have a solid foundation to build upon when between the sticks. It must also be considered that this is early business, thus giving Steckelenburg a full pre-season to settle and time with England goalkeeping coach Dave Watson. With the combination, support and experience of Dave Watson and Ronald Koeman, Southampton can help Stekelenburg put issues of recent years behind him, which is all the club needs; a solid custodian until big Fraser Forster is back

On this basis, it’s a smart move. A cheap, experienced goalkeeper who has European game time and has played at the very top, deputising until Forster returns. At the end of the day, the future is in his hands : let’s hope that they are safe hands.

Jay Rodriguez: A Season Preview

With Jay Rodriguez’s long awaited return to Southampton edging closer, a question on the mind of many Southampton fans is how the 25 year old will fit into Ronald Koeman’s side.

In a recent interview the forward told BBC Radio Solent “Physically I’ve improved my stats. That’s what I wanted to get out of this. I’ve improved my speed and strength.”

A positive sign for Southampton fans of what is to come, and an even better sign for Koeman who will be dealt a manager’s best dilema.

Rodriguez was deployed under Mauricio Pochettino as an Inside forward, starting from the left, making runs into the middle. His play was largely dependant on his perfectly timed runs from deep and fantastic service from ex Saint, Rickie Lambert.

Like Pochettino’s side, Koeman also starts with a big forward. That big forward comes in the form of Italian international, Graziano Pelle, who has been integral to Southampton’s success this season. These similar philosophies in wide forward play greatly involve fast one-two exchanges and the use of a centre forward as a focal point. This style will be all too familiar for Rodriguez who scored 15 goals in the Premier Leagues 2013/2014 season.

Senegal winger, Sadio Mane, has now firmly placed himself as the main competition for Rodriguez on the left side. After recording 10 goals in 30 games he has now more than settled into life on the South Coast, overturning a shaky start to his Southampton career. Unless of course Koeman wishes to play Mane as a number 10, a role that was becoming more familiar in the later stages of the season.

Dusan Tadic however is the polar opposite to Mane, the Serbian playmaker has taken a drastic dip in form since January after struggling with injury; the kind of form that Koeman need not tolerate with such depth in his side.

The second spot up for grabs is the centre forward role. Graziano Pelle hit the back of the net 12 times in the Premier League last season, featuring in every game of Southampton’s “against all odds” campaign. However, despite his great influence in play and dream start to the season, a number of poor performances and a 4 month goal drought brought great worry to the fans on the south coast.

Many suggested that this poor run was down to fatigue. With the return of Rodriguez we now have a forward who can rest the Italian and pose great competition for his starting place.
Due to the style Koeman wishes to play, last season’s signing Shane Long, was not seen as direct competition for Pelle. Instead, the Irishman was often deployed as a right Winger or as a second man up top. With Rodriguez holding a stronger figure and standing taller than Long, it’s only logical to see Rodriguez as Pelle’s greatest threat.
The final player to rival Rodriguez is new recruit, Juanmi. Southampton payed Malaga £5m for the forward, in a deal that Spanish experts and fans are labelling as a bargain. The Spanish International is a small, fast and intelligent forward who often plays as a second striker. At just 22, he possesses skill in abundance and incredible technical ability, Juanmi is a striker unlike any other at Southampton. This will give Koeman a great option to switch play style, depending on the opponent and the demands of the game. Whilst both Rodriguez and Juanmi can play as forwards, their roles differ immensely.

With such depth in attack, Rodriguez will be spurred on to work for his place in the team and leave Koeman the choice of where to play the versatile forward. Perhaps Southampton fans will see in pre-season, what role lies ahead for Rodriguez and if he can hit the heights he once hit before.

One thing for sure however is that Southampton currently boast their greatest front line in recent years and no matter where Rodriguez plays, he will be loved by every fan in St Marys upon his return.

Can Ward-Prowse and Reed Be The Future Of England?

The future of England lays in its youth and with the recent disaster in the U21 Euros, many will be asking what is to come. Well, simply look to the endless conveyor belt of talent; better known as, Southampton Football Club.

Players such as Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Luke Shaw and Callum Chambers have stunned Southampton fans over recent years with sublime performances for both Club and Country. The Saints continue to produce talent year on year; leading to the question, who could have changed the Euro disaster and who can be the future of this sinking England side?

74 Premier League appearances to his name and the captain of the England U21 side; it is safe to say that James Ward-Prowse is as experienced as they come, for someone just 20 years old.
This last season Southampton fans have become accustomed to his range of passing and dead ball deliveries, reminiscent of a certain David Beckham. With both Gerrard and Lampard’s international retirement, there is no longer a set piece specialist in the squad; leaving a role to be filled. These central spots have since been filled by Milner and Henderson, but both lack the ability to dominate possession in a convincing manner.
Due to his awareness and desire to find space to dominate in the biggest of games, Ward-Prowse often operates as a central roaming playmaker. With a deft touch and a positive forward approach, he doesn’t retain possession solely for possessions sake. In addition, diagonal switching passes have become second nature to the youngster. Rather like a roaming spanish midfielder, he lacks the physical presence and any natural bursting pace. But with an assist return greater than David Silva, Juan Mata and World Cup winner Mesut Ozil, is that really such an issue?

The second player is the man dubbed by many as the next Paul Scholes. Harrison Reed operates as a central midfielder and has featured for Ronald Koeman’s first team, as well as the Southampton U21s this season. His success is reflected by playing a key role in winning the Premier League U21 cup and featuring for the England U20 side.
Whilst Reed possess an incredible passing ability to switch the play and exchange quick one-twos, he most likely draws the comparisons to Scholes through his size and ginger hair. Reed’s greatest strength lays in his work rate, determination and defensive duties.

Standing at 5ft 6 inches tall, its been an amusing paradox to see Reed barge Alex Song to the floor, then somehow stay on his feet after Kouyate tumbled through the back of him. England truly lack a hard working defensive midfielder with natural ability, and provided he continues to progress, England have an incredible talent on their hands. Reed’s play involves dropping deep into the gap between defence and midfield; he then looks to quickly offload to a midfield partner or switch the ball into space or wide areas, bypassing the midfield.
His defensive duties are carried out through crunching tackles and persistent hustling against midfielder runners. “Harry bite yer ankles Reed” is a far more suitable nickname for this disciplined youngster.
Where deep English midfielders such as Carrick, Barry etc. look to lower the intensity and play predominantly short balls, Reed looks to instigate counter attacks and maintain the intensity of play.

Now, it must be mentioned that by no means are these young talents greater than their current England competitors; they still have a lot to learn and many tough games ahead of them in their career. However, they both possess the raw talent that is so desired at just 20 years old and they continue to epitomise “The Southampton Way”.

After such a disastrous U21 Euro run, it’s baffling how Ward-Prowse was left out the starting XI in the final 2 games and how Reed has been entirely overlooked. Perhaps one day James Ward-Prowse and Harrison Reed will be the difference to take both Southampton, and England to the next level.

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