Blogs

Graziano Pellè: Football’s greatest celebrity

It’s now become a sad reality for many football fans that if you’re not a supporter of a select few at the top of the food chain, then your club’s greatest assets can simply be prised away from your grip at any time. Money has become the most integral factor to many footballers career decisions, and in truth, the sooner we accept that, the sooner we can remove the annoyance that we so often have to face as Southampton fans. But just earlier today, one move that was entirely financially motivated has left Southampton fans in good spirit.

We’ve seen it happen to Southampton before, and I’m certain that it will happen once again in the near future too. A player will put on the red and white stripes, proceed to captivate the fans hearts with a number of sensational performances, build up hopes of what could be, and then leave upon the prospect of adding another figure to their weekly payslip – crushing the hope and optimism of fans in the process.

During a transfer it goes without saying that ambition is important, a plan is necessary, and that history is a consideration. But however you want to dress it up, money is the greatest factor for acquiring a player in this new age of modern football. For many fans, this is a concept that they still struggle to grasp; but when Graziano Pelle’s departure to Shandong Luneng was announced, there was a distinct lack of Southampton fans questioning the Italian’s ambition and priorities. This was a change from how these same fans reacted to previous departures.

The reason being? Southampton fans have grown to love Graziano Pelle, and now know exactly what he is – a celebrity within the game.

When Pelle’ first arrived, I remember him strutting out onto the pitch with his hair styled in miraculous shape and an ego so large the spare seats in the Chapel stand had been filled.

Within just minutes of his debut, Pelle was clattering the defence, arguing with the referee and gesturing with his hands as if he were Don Corleone’s undercover agent in the Premier League. Right from that moment, I knew what Southampton were in for. Action.

From here on, Southampton fans have been treated to wonder goals, screams of passion to the stands, and a head of hair so perfect that not even for one moment has a strand been forced out of place. But this too includes handling his tantrums, moments of storming off the pitch in anger, and playing with a body language so frustrating that it will force 30,000 fans in St Mary’s to claim “Just f*cking track back Pelle!”.

There is no denying that Pelle is talented, but my god can he be frustrating, and that’s just the way he is. Every decision over his two years at Southampton was contested with full emotion, and every goal was celebrated with sheer ecstasy.

But in truth, whilst us fans will all remember Pelle for his ways on the pitch, his happiness is based off the pitch. So much so that it seems to me that Pelle simply uses his natural talent in football, to build himself the most luxurious life possible. Pelle wants the beautiful girl, the weekend getaways, the fast cars, the big cars, the mansions, the watches and the finest Italian fitted suits – Pelle’s move to China with his girlfriend will give him just that.

Sure, football has gifted Pelle some memorable moments. But he does it for his lifestyle, and to that I say, keep doing you Grazi. You carried out your time at Southampton as if it was a movie and you were the star man, so be sure to enjoy the sequel.

 

No Pellegrini? No problem

It’s been nine days since Ronald Koeman left the Saints for the Toffee’s, and to tell the truth, I’m growing quite sick of all the talk.

Each and every time that I want to check up on all the latest Southampton Football Club news – be that via social media or newsnow – I’m met by a hoard of worrying fans, demanding that we know exactly who is in the running for the job, and how long they will have to wait for it. Sadly, If no information is available, fans quite simply go into meltdown – and that is exactly what we are all currently having to endure on social media.

Just a few days ago an “ITK” source posted information about Southampton’s pursuit of Manuel Pellegrini, and unsurprisingly, fans jumped onto it like a greedy Dutchman to a bag of money. From here it appears that they were attached to the idea of Pellegrini taking over the reigns of the club, and with that came the endless tweets and articles detailing exactly why “Pellegrini is the perfect man for the job”. These articles and opinions have been passionately shared from the same people who just last week, were stating exactly why we can’t miss out on Andre Villas-Boas, Vitor Pereira or whoever they fancied at the time. But just earlier this evening, both Simon Peach and Adam Blackmore stated that the club are no longer in pursuit of Manuel Pellegrini. The result from many fans? Outrage.

My problem with this is not that fans are speculating on the positives and potential promise of a new manager for the upcoming season, but that some fans are growing far too emotionally attached. So much so, that they are undermining our so successful board and removing the excitement for themselves in a time that should rightfully be filled with promise.

A quick search on social media regarding Pellegrini will present you with Tweets saying “I can’t believe that the club turned Pellegrini away”, “We have no big names on our watchlist” and a general feeling of unjustified worry in the space of 140 characters. With this, I can’t help but ask, are these fans forgetting that the board would have spent hours discussing our five-year plan, aims of youth promotion and seasons targets to the candidates?

Are they forgetting that the club always hold’s a shortlist of bookmarked managers who could continue our exceptional progress?

Are they forgetting that Southampton’s board wish to always hold the cards during negotiations? It’s with this strategy that the board has firmly placed Southampton Football Club as one of England’s most efficient sides, and for this reason, these fans must relax.

But in a day and age where information is just a swipe, click and search away, I can hardly blame so many fans for jumping on each exciting story that runs through the saintsFC hashtag. It’s clear to me that the modern day football fan has been given all too much information, meaning that when the club conduct’s their business in their usual secretive manner, fans panic.

Pellegrini wasn’t the first front-runner for the job, and It’s now been confirmed that he won’t be the final either. Until the time that our new manager is announced, fans should know that If their preferred candidate wasn’t selected, then there was a reason, and that as always, the final choice will be the man that our board believes can take our club forward once again.

 

Going against the grain

For the past two weeks, Southampton fans have experienced every possible emotion over the saga of Ronald Koeman’s potential whereabouts next season; but for the first time in a long time, this departure from the club has seen no backlash or comments from the fans toward the board. Instead, we have all willingly accepted and trusted the board that their decision is the right one, and that giving in to these individuals is a sure fire way to lose the direction and power that our club has fought so hard to forge. And on Monday evening, another decision from the club proved that we were right to place our trust in the board.

That night, news broke out regarding the transfer of Nathan Redmond to Southampton subject to a medical. Whilst I’m excited by the prospect of the England U21 International potentially representing our club, I’ve been left impressed for a completely different reason. This act from the board has further proved to me that Southampton Football Club are consistently following their ideologies in each and every department of the club. A feat that has become a rarity in the modern game.

After a record-breaking season like the last for the boys in red and white, many clubs and their owners would have felt rightfully honoured to employ a manager such as Ronald Koeman. So much so that when the Dutchman reportedly came to the club with his demands for the forthcoming season and his contract, many clubs would have allowed their policies and ambitions to be altered out of fear of losing this “irreplaceable” figure. But not Southampton, if what we are led to believe is true.

Rather than allowing their arms to be twisted into reckless financial management (a situation that Southampton fans will never want to experience  again), the club simply ignored these short term demands and remained confident that through their in-depth planning, the club can continue to push forward – be that with Koeman, or without.

Similar to the clubs negotiations with Koeman, the pending deal of Nathan Redmond to a managerless Southampton proves just how much control the higher forces of the club hold. The club have their targets that they believe will fit into the ethos of the club, and holding such policies ensures that everyone involved within Southampton is singing from the same hymn sheet. The moment that anyone decides they want to do otherwise on their own terms, they can leave. Nathan Redmond is a player that fits into the clubs ideologies of football, and for this reason, he has been personally selected by the club.

But perhaps what has proved most valuable about Southampton strictly following their transfer shortlists – as opposed to the manager being given the vast majority of power in picking and choosing who they want – is that no matter who takes charge of the club, Southampton always possess the assets to play the attractive style of football that they believe in.

Of course, it’s only right and healthy for the club to allow the manager to source their own players and have an important say in transfers – e.g. Koeman personally recruiting Graziano Pelle’ and Jordy Clasie – but in the event of the manager being given full access to transfer funds and soon after making an abrupt exit, you may well find that too many players no longer fit into the club. It is for this reason that Southampton adopted this approach to transfers. Ryan Bertrand was certainly sourced in this way, and now he’s an integral part of the side who represents everything that Southampton Football Club is about.

Another man who came to Southampton in a similar fashion was Charlie Austin, and whilst his career under Koeman in the famous stripes didn’t kick on, fans are still eager to see what he can provide in the coming season. Imagine if Southampton missed out on the chance of acquiring someone of Austin’s calibre for only four million, simply because the manager wants total control over transfers.

Even worse, imagine if the manager was to demand such control, spend the club’s finances on his own personally selected players, and then leave just months later. If Southampton had the same transfer approach as many other modern day sides and allowed their own policies/ethos to be undermined for the sake of meeting a manager’s demands, Adkins, Pochettino and Koeman’s departures would have sent Southampton down the same path that Aston Villa and Newcastle United have so regrettably followed.  

It goes without saying that both the club and the manager still have to agree on the player in order for the transfer to go ahead – doing anything else would be a disaster for all parties –  but the Southampton board will always ensure that they are the ones who hold the power at all times and that if the current manager is to leave, the players at the club’s disposal will always match the club’s philosophy.

The acts of aiming to recruit a young English talent whilst managerless and standing strong at a time when they could have caved into Koeman, proves to me that Southampton’s board care about the safety, philosophy and the future of the club in each and every aspect. During a time when money and egos are calling the shots at so many football clubs in hunt of a shortcut to success, I’m proud to see that Southampton are going against the grain.

We march on

 

Part one: Here we go again

As Saints fans, we are used to a rollercoaster ride of a summer. But this year, we thought it would be different – after key players Fraser Forster and Virgil Van Dijk signed new five-year deals, many Southampton fans were hopeful of a peaceful summer where they can relax by the pool and not frantically refresh their Twitter feed every ten seconds. But our very own lying Dutchman clearly had other views…

We were almost guaranteed a less anxious summer when Director of Football Les Reed said at the player awards “this summer will be much quieter than the previous two.” However, with Everton sacking Roberto Martinez, they stated their intent to pinch our great Ronald Koeman almost immediately. He wouldn’t, would he? Surely Everton is nothing more than a sideways move, if not backwards, especially as Koeman has shown enough to us all to suggest that one day he could manage a club like Arsenal or even Barcelona. Given that Koeman has a year remaining on his contract and the fact that he’s repeatedly stated that he will honour the final year, fans were simply rejecting the Everton rumours in confidence that Koeman is a man of his word. Well, that’s what we all thought anyway. It appears that through a mixture of employing a new agent and the possibility of great financial gain, Koeman’s head has been turned. Through doing so, Koeman has lied to the players and fans who have sung his name so loudly over the past two seasons – I must add that these are the same fans who were behind Koeman every step of the way during last seasons barren winter run. It’s an undeniable fact that Koeman has given us our two best seasons in the Premier League to date, but his departure and the way in which he’s conducted himself has left us with a very bitter taste to remember him by.

So, with Koeman all but gone, who do Southampton fans look toward now to take the club forward once again?

Eddie Howe

Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe is my preferred choice to take control at St Mary’s. Howe’s philosophy of an attractive passing game will suit our style which we’ve become so accustomed to. His track record at Bournemouth is there for all to see after guiding them from League Two to the Premier League.

When Howe took over at Bournemouth in 2008, he guided the club out of the relegation zone despite a 17 point deduction at the start of the year. The following season, Howe won promotion to League One even with a transfer embargo looming over the club. However, Howe did move to Burnley in 2011 leaving Bournemouth with a 50% win ratio, but the move proved unsuccessful for him as Burnley finished 8th and then 13th the following year. He left in 2012 touting “personal reasons” for his departure.

No need to panic though Saints fans, every manager has a bad spell at a club where it doesn’t quite seem to click. And with Howe only needing to making a short journey across the South Coast, there’s no reason for him to be feeling homesick. Since his departure from Burnley, Howe moved back to Bournemouth and during his returning season he won promotion again for the Cherries finishing second behind Doncaster Rovers. Bournemouth had a largely successful first season in the Championship, with his side having a late charge for the playoffs. However, they didn’t quite make it, finishing 10th – six points off a play-off place. Howe used this experience to his advantage and Bournemouth won promotion to the Premier League for the first time in their history the following year. With a victory over Charlton on the last day of the season coinciding with Watford’s draw to Sheffield Wednesday, the Cherries won the Championship title. Howe has picked up individual accolades for the tremendous work he’s done with Bournemouth, including ‘Manager of the Decade’ at the Football League awards. To many, Bournemouth looked certain to be relegated back into the Championship over their first year in England’s top division, but oh how wrong they were to be. Bournemouth had an unbelievable first season in the Premier League. The Cherries finished 16th and the club was all but safe weeks before the final game of the season –  five points clear of the relegation zone to be exact. In terms of five-year plans, Howe is the perfect candidate for me as his young age compared to other managers allows him to give us longevity. He’ll also be able to grow alongside the club due to the shared ideologies in how football should be played.

Andre Villas-Boas

Another candidate to replace Koeman could be the former Chelsea and Tottenham boss, Andre Villas-Boas. AVB gained his coaching badges and licenses through a discussion with Sir Bobby Robson after a 16-year-old Villa Boas lived in the same apartment block as the former England manager, when Robson was working at Porto. From gaining his UEFA Pro License he then became assistant manager to Jose Mourinho at Porto, Chelsea, and Inter Milan. AVB then gained his first managerial role at Academica in the Primeira Liga after leaving Mourinho’s backroom staff. He displayed great results at Academica with an attractive style of play. As a result, he moved to Porto, and his impact was immediate, winning the Portuguese Super Cup against bitter rivals, Benfica. Villas-Boas then went a season unbeaten in the league and winning the title by more than 20 points. During that season, his side only conceded 13 goals. His Porto side then went on to win the Portuguese Cup and the Europa League, the tournament that we will be competing in later this year.

Due to his incredible success at Porto, Villas-Boas was appointed Chelsea manager in 2011, leaving Porto with an 87.23 % win ratio. However, his time at Chelsea was cut short after falling out with senior players Frank Lampard, Michael Essien, and Ashley Cole. This called Abramovic to question his tactics and team selection for the match. As results didn’t improve and with Chelsea slipping out of the top four, Villas-Boas was relieved of his managerial duties.

AVB then replaced Harry Redknapp at Tottenham for the 2012/13 season. During this season, he picked up two “manager of the month” awards and guided Spurs into the last 16 of the Europa League. Spurs narrowly missed out on a Champions League spot to rivals Arsenal on the last day of the season. AVB reportedly turned down offers from PSG and Real Madrid to stay at Spurs. With Gareth Bale being sold to Madrid for £85 million, Spurs brought in a whole host of new additions. Not every player seemed to make the step up and a lack of squad harmony ensued. After a 6-0 defeat to Man City and a 5-0 defeat to Liverpool, Andre Vilas Boas left the club by mutual consent. He left Tottenham with the highest win percentage of any Spurs manager in the Premier League with 55%.

Since leaving Spurs, AVB has managed Russian League side, Zenit St Petersburg. He was the first manager in Russian Premier League history to win his first six matches in charge. He then led Zenit to their fifth league title in his second year in charge. In his final season in charge, Villas-Boas won the Russian cup and finished top of the Champions League group.

I personally believe that it would be a coup for the club to appoint AVB. After failure in the Europa League last season, all of our players are desperate to right our wrongs and prove that we are worthy of being on the European stage – and it is here that AVB can prove to be valuable due to his experience of winning the competition. He certainly hasn’t fallen short domestically either, making the Portuguese boss all the more suitable for Southampton Football Club.

That’s my view, but who would you like to see in the dugout next season for Southampton? Be sure to let us know @freshsaints

 

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?

Ronald Koeman: A rarity in modern day management

Since the 2015/16 season came to a close, I’ve found that each and every football media outlet has been talking about the newly appointed big bosses of the League and which shiny new players will be drafted into their squad this summer. Talksport, Sky Sports and even the so called football experts have continued to mindlessly pin the solution of many clubs season’s troubles, on a need for fresh faces. And this leads me to question, has anyone learnt anything from this Premier League season?

It seems to be a newfound craze in football – and more specifically the Premier League – that a solution to any hard times facing a club can always be found in the market. That if you need a goalscorer, he’s firing them away in La Liga. And if you need a tough and resilient centre half, he’s plying his trade in the Bundesliga. But this seems to be happening to many teams all too often – year on year in fact. And I don’t know about you, but when teams are persistently recruiting high performing players for a ludicrous fee that are failing to match those previous levels set, I believe it’s only logical to look at the internal factors. In short, the coaching and eye for potential from the manager.

If Leicester City and Claudio Ranieri had delved into the market for a goalscorer and needlessly replaced those who helped the club to narrowly avoid relegation, the fairytale wouldn’t have been possible. Instead, Ranieri looked at his side, analysed the qualities that the team held and created a system in which each individual player’s assets would flourish. And admittedly, Ranieri did dip into the market, but only to find the perfect player that would meet the demands of his system – there was no buying players for the lone sake of trying to better last season’s goal tally or because it was a good price, he simply recruited round pegs for round holes that needed filling.

Then, take a look at this years Champions League runners up Atletico Madrid – they serve as further proof for the resulting success of following these coaching/transfer ideologies on the big stage with years of consistency. Similarly to Leicester, Atletico are challenging for the title in their respected League despite holding a squad that is worth a fraction of the big boys. This too has been achieved through extensive coaching and development on each individual player, allowing every player regardless of their ability to be able to carry out their necessary role in the side. Diego Simeone knows the qualities needed from a player in order for his side to remain successful, and he wouldn’t dare deviate from it – this has often resulted in the Argentinian boss neglecting a technical able talent, for an intelligent and tactically disciplined mind. Through making each and every last player sing from the same hymn sheet, it allows every last drop of talent to rise to the surface and leaves no room for “superstars” who deem such work below them. Simeone’s focus remains on making every player at his disposal the most effective they can possibly be before looking to the market.

Just last Saturday on the night of the Champions League final, Simeone made the decision to drop Andres Antonio Ferreira Carrasco – one of Atletico’s most creative sparks – for the tactical shape of the team. But after the first half being a failure for Atleti, Simeone called upon Carrasco at half time. Yet there on the touchline when so many others players would have been restless about being dropped or simply shown no interest in what the manager was saying, Carrasco was looking into the eyes of Simeone and soaking in every word that came from his mouth. This respect stems from the managers ideologies in player development and removal of hierarchies within the squad.

For these same reasons of intelligent coaching, development, shrewd business and respect from players, I believe that Ronald Koeman’s achievements at Southampton have been criminally overlooked.

Rather like Ranieri and Simeone, Koeman has a clear and identifiable system that he aims on making all players within his squad accomplished to play in. To some players, this awareness of the system and ability needed to carry it out comes in an instant. But to others, it can take a while, and that’s perfectly okay for Koeman.  When Shane Long first arrived at Southampton in a £12M deal, it looked as if the club had truly overpaid for a hardworking forward with little technical ability and an average goalscoring record. And to tell the truth, that view from fans remained consistent over both 2014 and 2015. But throughout this time, Koeman saw the potential in Long and continued to believe in him. Instead of looking elsewhere in the market, Koeman continued to place his focus on developing Long’s ability and boosting his understanding of his demands.

The results from doing so? The Irish talisman is now the most important figure in Southampton’s attack and was the catalyst in making Southampton the second best Premier League team over 2016 (only behind Leicester City).

Prior to this rise in form, Shane Long’s value would have been in the region of £10M. But due to Koeman’s coaching and eye for what Long could amount to, his value would now be no lower than £25M in the current market.

The Southampton boss even said “When he came, he had problems with maybe the way we play and how we do the training sessions. If I see Shane Long now compared to when he came, it’s a big big compliment to him and all the people in Southampton”

No one saw such a rise coming, so it makes you wonder just how many careers in the Premier League have been held back due to impatience and the wrong coaching approach from managers. Where is the logic in trying to solve such a key element of football like goalscoring by repeating the same short term mistakes of shipping in players again, and again, and again, without applying the correct coaching. That 15 goals a season striker that that many clubs are so desperately hunting for, may well have been sat before their managers eyes all along – this is perfectly illustrated by Koeman’s situation with Shane Long.

But whilst Shane Long’s rise in form has undoubtedly been the back page filler and the most obvious to fans, there is an improvement in one particular player that epitomises exactly why I’m writing this article. When Cuco Martina joined the club, fans were wary of the signing due to the non-existent reputation of the player outside of Holland, the low price and the hardly impressive comments from followers of the Eredivisie. And over the first few showings of Martina in a Southampton shirt, It looked as if the fans initial worries were justified. In fact, he looked horrendous. Martina was turned inside out at every defensive situation and appeared to offer next to no support at either end of the pitch. Having only cost Southampton just over £1.2M, this is where many clubs and managers would simply crawl over the line to January so that they can cut their losses and ship in a new face. But not Ronald Koeman.

Instead, the Dutch boss continued to give his time to Martina to help him further understand his role in the side, reinstall his confidence and implement a system whereby Martina’s strengths can be put into practice. By the end of the season, Martina proved to be a real attacking threat and Koeman had identified his greatest strength – the ability to find attackers from deep. Through high quality coaching and avoiding the rash approach that so many other managers would have taken, Martina has now become a real asset in red and white.

It’s a rather typical comment to pass, but I believe that many managers in the Premier League hold more money than sense. And that teams who are placing their hopes of rising up the League’s pecking order on new signings and a cash injection, need to take a page out of Mauricio Pochettino, Claudio Ranieri and Ronald Koeman’s book. Managers should be ensuring that they are providing everything possible to get the most out of each player for the sake of success, finances and the player himself, before mindlessly writing out a cheque for the same mistake to take place all over again. It sounds bizarre to suggest that managers aren’t doing so, but when you compare them to bosses with values such as those mentioned before, the difference is evident.  Southampton need to do everything in their power to keep hold of this very special manager that has become a rarity in modern day management.

Transfer insight: Talking Jordon Ibe with LFC fan Sam McGuire

The 2015/16 season has only just come to a close, and already, Southampton are being linked with a number of promising names. But one position that continues to fill fans with excitement during the transfer window is the possibility of Southampton acquiring a new winger. Ex-saint Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and transfer rumour regular Nathan Redmond have been linked with a move to the South Coast, but the latest name is young Jordon Ibe of Liverpool Football Club.

Keen to find out more about the explosive 20-year-old winger, we spoke with @SamMcGuire90 of @AnfieldIndex

First of all, let’s allow us Southampton fans to be filled with hope – If the signing were to go through, what aspects of Jordon Ibe’s play should we be most excited about?

His direct style of play. He’s the sort of player who has the potential to obliterate a full-back.

He’s quick and to the point when in possession and it’s this positive style of play that just seems to cause havoc in the Premier League. He’s not in the same league as Riyad Mahrez, but look at the chaos he caused with his direct nature.

He also seems to have the ability to link with the creative players in the team. He struck up a partnership with Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana with relative ease, so perhaps he could do the same with Saido Mane and Dusan Tadic.

Why hasn’t Ibe been a favourite under Jurgen Klopp?

Confidence is key with Ibe and for large parts of last season he was lacking the self-belief needed for him to flourish. He was feeling the pressure of having to ‘replace’ £50 million man Raheem Sterling and I think it got a bit too much.

It didn’t help that Liverpool adopted a disciplined 4-4-1-1 system and the defensive responsibility seemed to weigh Ibe down and have a negative impact on his performances.

What are the frustrations and negatives in Ibe’s play?

His final ball is woeful at times. Whether it’s picking the right pass or taking on a shot there are times he just seems completely overawed. He seems to overcomplicate things when he has time on his hands.

The defensive side of his game isn’t the greatest either and he is known to switch off when tracking back. These shouldn’t be red flags though, they’re areas of his game that will improve with more games under his belt.

In recent months, Southampton have adopted a direct counter attacking style of football – would this match Ibe’s ability?

This would be perfect for Ibe. If you get the chance to watch his goals against Rubin in the Europa League and West Brom in the Premier League, you’ll see they both come from direct attacks where he is able to drive into space – it’s almost instinctive to him.

He’s a bit of a tank when he gets going. It’s rare to find a player with such power and pace at his age so it’s important that he’s utilised effectively.

Southampton fans have been treated to a free-scoring frontline over 2016, but perhaps the only missing quality is a player who can strike the ball from distance – could Ibe be the answer to this problem?

Ibe definitely has that in his locker. You’ve seen the lad – if he strikes a ball it’s staying hit. His goal against your lot in the League Cup was a finely struck effort.

His first team debut for Liverpool saw his smash the post against Everton from 25 yards. He even scored a left footed worldie in pre-season just to let everybody know that his left foot isn’t just for show.

It’s worth noting the academy staff thought he could potentially play the Steven Gerrard role as the number 10.

What would be your feelings toward watching the youngster go?

He’s a talented lad and he deserves to fulfil his potential, whatever that level is. I’d be disappointed to see him go because I think there’s a player in there, but, at the same time, if he’s not going to get many first team minutes under Klopp, it’s probably best for all parties if he moved on.

I wouldn’t be too disheartened because there a few talented attackers in the academy.

And finally, in your opinion, would Jordon Ibe be a good signing for Southampton?

I’ve got a lot of respect for how Southampton develop youngsters so on paper it’s the perfect club for Ibe. He would add something to your attack from the off but there’s also a high ceiling there for him to grow. He’s the sort of player you could turn a big profit on on 2/3 years – talented young English attacker.

The Southampton “Never beens” XI

The Barclays Premier League champions have been decided, one team has already sealed their fate in the Championship next season, and a number of other sides have secured their place in England’s top division for another year. So, what else can the back pages and Twitter pages possibly use to fill their space and time? The Summer transfer window. In the spirit of those ludicrous stories and unbelievable rumours that are beginning to surface, I’ve collated my personal favourites that have been linked with a move to Southampton Football Club over the years. Welcome, to the Southampton “Never beens” XI.

Line up XI

Jack Butland

It’s 2012 and Southampton have just booked their place in the Barclays Premier League. All the promoted squad have done themselves proud, but Nigel Adkins and Southampton were always looking to the future. That summer, it was reported that Southampton bid £6M in an attempt to lure Jack Butland from Birmingham, but it proved unsuccessful. Looking back, it’s hard to know we’ve missed out on such a star, but we should take pride in knowing that as always, Southampton saw the talent within and went on to secure the signature of the six-foot-seven-inch giant that is Fraser Forster.

Davide Astori

Every. Single. Year. During the transfer windows of the previous three seasons, the name of this Italian defender has been a broken record for Southampton fans. Regardless of our defensive situations, online sources have always managed to find a way to link Astori to the Saints – be that as defensive backup, or as a sure starter alongside Jose Fonte, his name will always pop up. One thing is certain, however, and that’s that there never was, and never will be any truth in this now famous transfer rumour.

Terence Kongolo

It’s 2014 and Dutchman Ronald Koeman is the new boss of Southampton Football club. Having moved from Feyenoord and being instantly presented the task of finding a new centre-back at Southampton, transfer pages were jumping with joy at the believable rumours that they could conjure up. Being Dutch, a player of Feyenoord and vacating the Eredivisie sides centre-back spot, Kongolo was the obvious target for transfer rumour stirrers.

Ron Vlaar

To complete the back-line is yet another man who was linked to Southampton via the most logical reasons possible. Vlaar is Dutch, he had previously worked under Ronald Koeman and was running down his contract at Aston Villa in 2015, in search of bigger and better things. However, despite Koeman admitting he is an admirer of Vlaar, he never once tried to sign the Dutch defender, even as a free agent last summer.

Saphir Taider

The Algerian midfielder was linked with Southampton many times over the 2014/15 window, but he eventually… oh. Moving on…

Leon Goretzka

Despite being only 21-years-old, one of the Bundesliga’s hottest young talents, a regular for Germany’s U21 side and playing at the Bundesliga’s finest developers of young talent – Schalke – we managed to get our hopes up of signing this German prodigy. It was reported that Southampton placed a bid for the midfielder last summer, but after much discussion over his future, it all simmered down. Before we knew it, we were all onto the next rumour.

Wesley Sneijder

Simply put, this man who would have ended Southampton’s long-running desperate need for a goalscoring number 10. And what makes this even harder to swallow, is that the club were genuinely monitoring the Dutchman’s situation at Galatasaray in January 2015. Despite the transfer looking like the usual (insert comment about the manager and player both being from the same country and therefore making the transfer ten times more likely) rumour, the interest only came to a close due to wage demands. What could’ve been, eh?

Jesus Navas

When a newly promoted team reaches January in the Premier League, it’s seen as a window of opportunity to right your team’s wrongs of the season so far. So, when Southampton had been struggling to get in behind defences and fans went online to see that we were being linked with Jesus Navas, it was looking to be a beautiful deadline day. However, it looked like the Southampton fans had jumped the gun. So much so, that there was never even a gunshot.

Philippe Coutinho

The one that got away. All fans know and admire the talent that this midfield maestro holds, but perhaps few more so than Southampton. Not only has he built up quite the knack of scoring wonder goals against the boys in red and white, but there was a time when the Brazilian looked to be on his way to St Mary’s. After having a £10.2M bid accepted by Inter Milan, fans were ecstatic at the prospect of watching the magician. However, Coutinho held other ambitions and opted for Liverpool instead. On the bright side, maybe it saved us the heartbreak.

Danny Ings

Having continually been linked to Southampton from the second he started firing goals in for the Clarets – back in 2011 – it would have been no surprise if Danny Ings was recruited to either one of Adkins, Pochettino or Koeman’s army. Up until the ex-Southampton academy boy put pen to paper on a deal with Liverpool FC, It was a go-to transfer rumour for all sources looking to hit some numbers online.The fans certainly bought it every time it popped up, but perhaps what was best about this on-going rumour was the nightmares that Ings’ Southampton born family caused. Whenever Ings was spotted in Southampton to visit family, excited Southampton fans would be quick to post images and fuel the fire on Ings’ next move. I wonder how much the bookies have made from these sightings?

Leandro Damiao

If anyone in this XI could challenge Astori for the title of the greatest Southampton “never been”, then it’s Leandro Damiao. Since early 2012, the Brazilian forward has been linked with almost every club under the sun, but Southampton were mentioned each and every time until 2014. The reason for the reports stopping? Damiao claimed that Southampton weren’t ambitious enough as a club. Since those comments, Damiao has enjoyed (or not) two poor spells at Santos and Cruzeiro (loan), followed by two appearances at Real Betis. I believe that the chant is “Who the f*ck is laughing now” Leandro.

So, that was our Southampton “never been” XI, but we would love to hear what you think! Send us a tweet @freshsaints to let us know your views on this XI, and if there are any players you think should be in this team, be sure to tell us.

Life after Fonte

On the 9th of January 2010, twenty-six-year-old Jose Fonte of Crystal Palace dropped down a division into League One, after being impressed by the ambition that Southampton Football club showed. Fast forward six years, and I think we can all agree that this decision paid off. Southampton are now an established Premier League club, with Fonte holding the title of captain and fan favourite of the St Mary’s faithful. But, after an illustrious tenure on the South Coast and slight cracks beginning to show, is it time we look for his replacement?

Fonte joined the club for a fee believed to be around £1.2 million in 2010, and since then, he’s paid that back ten fold – his form during the 2013/14 and 2014/15 Premier League campaigns especially, play testament to this. He wears his heart on his sleeve and has been ever-present in the side since his debut against Millwall in 2010. During his six years with the club, Fonte has played alongside eight different centre back partners. This not only highlights his quality to fend off competition, but it also displays his immense leadership skills and consistency throughout the years and divisions.

When Saints were promoted back to the Premier League after their 2011/12 Championship season, many were sceptical whether Fonte would be able to cope with the pedigree of Premier League attackers. During our debut season, Fonte ,unfortunately, lost his place in the side to newly recruited Maya Yoshida. At this time, it appeared that Fonte was struggling to adapt to life in the Premier League. However, after a full Premier League season under his belt, Mauricio Pochettino knew that Fonte was more than capable to rub shoulders with the Premier League’s best. To help take Fonte and the defence to the next level, Pochettino recruited Dejan Lovren. Fonte and Lovren formed a formidable partnership at the back which stemmed after Saints’ 1-0 opening day victory at West Brom. There were a few raised eyebrows when Fonte was on the team sheet to partner Lovren, but he proved valuable in keeping a clean sheet to secure the three points that day. Forgetting his actions at the end of the season, it was undoubtable that Lovren brought the best out of Fonte. The Portuguese international finished the season in the top ten best defenders in the Premier League, with 75 interceptions and 312 clearances, above Lovren.

After a summer exodus at St Mary’s with key players leaving for seemingly better clubs – including Fonte’s defensive partner Lovren – Fonte remained loyal and is currently reaping the rewards. With Southampton appointing Barcelona’s legendary centre-back Ronald Koeman as manager, this allowed Fonte to continue his progress in becoming one of the best defenders in the league. He was appointed captain when Adam Lallana left, and alongside loanee Toby Alderweireld, Fonte remained a rock at the back, helping to guide the Saints into the Europa League. Fonte also received recognition from the Portuguese national team, making his debut in a European qualifier against France. This gifted Fonte the opportunity to line up with his idol, Cristiano Ronaldo.

This season, however, it appears Fonte’s age is beginning to catch up with him. During our worst run of the season, with one win in ten, Fonte appeared to be sluggish in decisions, off the pace physically and lacking his usual instinctive defensive style – It wouldn’t take a genius to see that our defence was the weak point during that barren run. Only when Fraser Forster returned from a lengthy injury, did Fonte and the defence look as solid as it did the previous year. The defensive line then went on to achieve six consecutive clean sheets, with Fonte and Van Dijk showing their best form of the season. However, the Portuguese international did receive a red card against Sunderland when bringing down Borini. A smart foul you may argue, but that cost Southampton, as they only managed to draw to the relegation-threatened Sunderland at home. To me, it proved what we all know, that Fonte is an excellent defender. However, what fans may find hard to accept is that when ageing in such a fast paced division like the Premier League, errors will begin to creep into his game more and more regularly. It’s only natural and it happens to us all. Simply look at John Terry’s past two contrasting seasons as proof of age suddenly catching up.

The main question, however,  is who would be able to replace such an adored and established Southampton legend?

One candidate could be Stefan de Vrij. The Dutch international formerly worked under Koeman at Feyenoord and was once linked with a move to St Mary’s. After an impressive World Cup, Lazio were quick to sign the central defender. De Vrij is currently eight years younger than Fonte and has a lot of years to improve his already impressive game. In this season’s Serie A, De Vrij averages 4 tackles and 6.5 clearances per game. In comparison, Fonte registers 1.4 tackles and 5.8 clearances per game. One major factor which sees de Vrij a suitable replacement is an already formed partnership with Van Dijk. Due to international commitments and the Danny Blind’s newly reformed Holland side, Van Dijk and de Vrij are first choice centre-half partners.

Staying in Italy, another potential replacement could be 23-year-old centre-back Antonio Rüdiger who plays for Roma, on loan from VFB Stuttgart. He made his professional debut for the first team against Borussia Mönchengladbach at the age of just 19 and since then, he’s been capped nine times by the German national team – making his debut in 2014 during a 0-0 draw against Poland. The overriding problem here, however, is that he’s only on loan at Roma this season, and they are likely to make the loan permanent with a €9 million transfer fee already in place at the end of the season.

The third centre-back who would be a suitable fit is Niklas Süle. Süle has been capped for the German U21 side 10 times and has played 70 games for 1899 Hoffenheim. He is widely regarded as a hot prospect in Germany and has a strong all-round game, especially in his ability to time a tackle and retrieve the ball back. After sustaining a horror ACL injury, Süle has returned to be an indispensable member of the Hoffenheim back four. Süle may be available this summer due to Hoffenheim being threatened with relegation, but Liverpool are keeping tabs on the youngster.

The final player is Aleksandar Dragovic, who could be considered a like-for-like replacement. At just twenty-three years old, he has proved himself to be an incredibly smart, strong and tactically aware centre-half. He has built a reputation as a tough-tackling defender with technical ability in abundance. Any who have watched Dynamo Kiev, will be aware that they play a fast-paced brand of football, with Dragovic playing a key role in that link up between defence and attack. Such a role can be physically demanding on a player, even more so in the Premier League. But Dragovic has the natural stamina and ability to dig deep in the dying moments; lazy last minute lunges and tired legs are not a feature in his game.

I’m not saying Fonte’s race is run, far from it, but I think we should act now if we are to sign a suitable replacement. Jose has been the perfect example of what’s been great about the club since Markus Liebherr took over in 2009, and I will be deeply saddened to see the day where he isn’t leading the team onto the St Mary’s turf. However, if we bring in a replacement now, they could learn and be moulded into the next Fonte and fill the void that he will leave when he’s gone.  

 

The saintly triumvirate of Southampton’s season

As we enter the closing stages of the 2015/16 season, its time for us all to look back over the course of the year to find our star man. Moments of class, consistency throughout the year and making fans rise from their seat with excitement are all on the checklist, so without further ado, here are my top three players of the season.

When Toby Alderweireld departed Southampton in the summer of 2015, there was not only a feeling of sadness from losing who we believed to be the best defender in the league, but there was also worry for the defensive nightmares that could soon follow into the next season. That was of course until Virgil Van Dijk stepped in.

Having made a name for himself as the Scottish Premier League’s best defender, there was not only pressure for Van Dijk to maintain his reputation, but to also live up to his £11.5M price tag and hit the high standards that Alderweireld reached before him. But quite simply, Van Dijk has exceeded all expectations.

Right from the off, Van Dijk has shown Southampton fans his monstrous ability in the air, his calming presence on the ball and ability to distribute from the back like few others in the Premier League. Consistency has been an incredible area of his game over the course of the season, but by no means does that mean Van Dijk has played it safe. With his charging runs, silky drag backs and trademark diagonal switches, he’s an entertainer too. In games where Southampton have lacked that alertness and concentration at the back, Van Dijk has been there to save us. And In moments where we hold the chance to hit a team on the break, you guessed it, Van Dijk is the man to start the attack.

The 6ft 4in giant has even chipped in with three goals along the way. And having signed a five-year deal in the summer, Southampton fans will be hopeful that there is much more to come. Virgil Van Dijk is my player of the season.

 

Second in line is a man who sorely missed out on the top spot at no fault of his own – Shane long. At the beginning of the 2015/16 season, if anyone told you that Ronald Koeman would pick the Irishman as one of the first names on the team sheet, you would assume that a mass of injuries had struck the squad. Yet here we are, with 12 goals and four assists to his name this season, Long is arguably Southampton’s most important player, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down either.

Back in December of 2015, Southampton were showing onlookers at St. Mary’s their most rigid and uninspiring performances since their return to the Premier League in 2013. To our disbelief, we were allowing teams to build from the back, showing no movement in attack and severely lacking the fighting passion that is needed to lift a squad from a slump in form. But It was in Shane Long that Southampton found their remedy. Suddenly, our first line of defence was once again with the talisman, our attacks were free-flowing and he was loving every last minute of it. It was clear for the fans in the stand to see that Long knew exactly what was missing, and he was going to give everything to get it back.

Since the 26th of December – when Long was given the chance to start in the centre-forward role – he has struck the back of the net seven times in 19 appearances. In football, certain players will time and time again turn their back on the club during hard times, but to others, it’s seen as a moment where the stage is set and it’s their time to bed themselves into the hearts of the fans – the Irishman has been the latter, and Long may it continue. Shane Long is my player of 2016.

The third player is a man who since joining the club, has been everything you could ever want from a professional in your sides colours. An incredible attitude, a mature head, away from the media’s spotlight and boasting talent in abundance – I’m of course talking about, Ryan Bertrand.

Frustratingly for all Southampton fans, the Saints began the 2015/16 season without Bertrand, and consequently, bailed out of the Europa League and recorded just one win in their first six Premier League fixtures. But upon his return, the boys in red and white continued to go the next six league games unbeaten.

Throughout the course of the season, Bertrand has not only further proved himself to be one of the League’s best left-backs, but also as a classy centre-half in a 3-5-2 formation, and as a makeshift winger.

Without Bertrand’s sharp technical ability and undeniable versatility this season, Ronald Koeman would have struggled to overturn such poor blips in form. Perhaps what is most admirable about this, however, is not his superb on pitch showings, but the way he spoke off the pitch. Many other players would have potentially spoke sourly of being shifted out of position ahead of International fixtures and the Euros, but not Bertrand. Instead, he kept his head down, played for the badge on the front of the shirt, and continued to deliver the classy and consistent performances that we have become so accustomed to, over the past two seasons.