Author Archives: Ollie Price

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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