Matches

Talking Pierre-Emile Højbjerg with Bayern Central

Just yesterday it was announced that after much speculation, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg will be joining Southampton Football Club on a five year deal. But despite holding a promising reputation in Germany and with football experts, many Southampton fans still know little about the midfielder that Pep Guardiola once compared to Sergio Busquets. So, here at FreshSaints, we decided to speak to Bayern Central to find out more about Southampton’s newest recruit.

For fans who don’t know about Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, what type of midfielder is he?

Højbjerg is fairly versatile, but what he handles best is the traditional box to box role in central midfield. He is the kind of man who does well on the ball and provides lots of support to his teammates on both ends.

What are Højbjerg’s greatest qualities on the pitch?

The young Dane’s best asset is the passing game. His short passes on the ground are extremely accurate, even under pressure. He masters “tic tac toe” or give-and-go situations to create space and, eventually, scoring chances.

Højbjerg’s long diagonal passes to the flanks also are very accurate, something a team with good wingers can benefit from. He has a good shot from a distance, making him a free kick threat.

Are there any areas of Højbjerg’s game that can be considered a weakness or a worry?

Although 1.85 meter tall, he lacks physicality. He shields the ball well, but I wonder how he will handle the Premier League’s rougher brand of football. What about his reaction to rough challenges? Keep an eye on that.

What is the general conception of Højbjerg with Bayern Munich fans?

From my understanding, most Bayern fans hyped Højbjerg and saw him as a future midfield star. We saw glimpses of his ability for a few months during Pep Guardiola’s tenure, but he spent a lot of time on loan. Many people wanted him to come back.

What are your feelings toward seeing the young midfielder leave?

I guess his departure was inevitable. Bayern has an extremely competitive squad. Thiago Alcântara, Arturo Vidal, Javi Martínez, Xabi Alonso and Renato Sanches can all play in central midfield. The Sanches signing probably tipped the balance against Højbjerg. He is three years younger, with a similar style and more upside.

Pep Guardiola once dubbed Højbjerg as the new Sergio Busquets; what happened?

Guardiola heavily favoured Thiago, Vidal and Alonso in the middle. The three have a strong track record in all competitions. This left little room for Højbjerg, even with Martínez playing in defence, prior to Sanches’ signing. At the end of the day, Høbjerg needs to play for his career to take off.

Do you believe that the reported £12M is a good price for Southampton?

I find it surprisingly high because Bayern are known for offloading players for lower prices than most clubs, but the player has enough talent to justify it. He just needs to play and develop.

And finally, how successful do you believe that this signing could be for Southampton?

With regular playing time and a good supporting cast on the pitch, I don’t doubt he will become a fan favourite. Højbjerg is one of those skilled players whose talent should not be wasted. He’s also likeable!

That concludes our interview with Bayern Central, but we want to know your view on Southampton’s signing of Højbjerg – be sure to let us know @freshsaints on Twitter.

Also, don’t forget to check out Bayern Central for all the latest news about the German giants Bayern Munich.

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.

 

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 torrid love affair between football and delusion

Football can do dangerous things to a man. But perhaps the most common trait is the outright stupidity that this beautiful game can make a man see, spout and shout. Whether your vision is tainted by a prestigious history that is failing to repeat itself, through a lack of knowledge in football, or just your love for your boyhood club, delusion is at the heart of every football fan. And regardless of whether you visit lowly Hereford FC at the weekend or have the joy of watching the Catalan giants, Barcelona, there are aspects of delusion, that as fans, we simply can’t hide.

Looking back, I’m sure we can all remember the first time we fell in love with a footballer. As a Southampton fan from birth, I had the joy of experiencing near and actual relegations and financial conundrums from the age of eight – about the age that you truly begin to fall for your club. So, naturally, just like any other child would at that age, to a backdrop of other fans screaming from the terrace with faces apparently broadcasting the dreadful time they were having, I took an unorthodox approach in selecting my favourite player… whoever looked the coolest. Tragic, I know.

That player just so happened to be Rudi Skacel, and for that bizarre reason (combined with his fashionable arm tape and suave and alluring foreign name) he became my favourite player.

In my eyes, he couldn’t put a foot wrong. So much so, that when he would strike a ball 30 yards high of the goal, I would fervently seek any reason that could steer the blame from my beloved Rudi.

“The sun was in his eyes, I’m sure of it”

“He got crunched five minutes ago, that was the injury there!”

Dear god, I would even go as far to suggest that he must be wearing some new hair product, causing the gel to drop into his eye and place him off balance.

But perhaps the most enduring memory I hold of my unequivocal love for Skacel, was one that broke my heart and revealed the delusion right before my eyes.

My Father had always been opinionated in football, and in truth, as much as I hate to admit it – and he will love reading this – he’s rather intelligent when it comes to football. Even at such a young age, I worshiped his opinions. So, like a little Gary Neville, I saw my classroom as the Monday Night Football studio and repeated every last rant about the weekend’s fixtures, that my Dad had passed comment on.

But there was one topic that as a genuine Dad, he dared never touch upon. Rudi Skacel.

I would always ask him for his view on the man, but for the life of me, I couldn’t work out why he would quickly shift the conversation. I would excitedly point out any little trick that Skacel would pull off, only to be met by silence by my Dad.

Was I the only one watching and appreciating this clear talent before me? Well, as it turned out, yes. Yes, I was.

In one of the final games that Skacel was to ever play for Southampton, I remember a free-kick being awarded just 25 yards out from goal.

“Perfect Skacel territory,” I told myself.

But as he wrapped his left boot around the ball, the strike was met by a shout that would see me tear down my poster of the Czech playmaker later that night.

“Go back to Scotland to that tin shed that they call a football ground, you f*cking waste of space”

After two years of frustration, my Dad let it out. It was in that moment that my first love in football came crashing down.

2016: One damn good year for Southampton Football Club

As far as the 2015/16 season was concerned, Southampton fans had labelled the campaign a write off by late December. The club had seen their French sweetheart depart for Manchester United, had crushed their own dreams of success in the Europa League in the most unattractive fashion possible, and were sitting in 12th place as they entered the new year. But, just five months later, those troubles seem a world away, and maybe as Southampton fans, we should have known better. 2016 is proving to be quite the year for Southampton Football Club.

And it all began with the luck of the Irish(man) – Shane Long. As 2015 was coming to a close, Southampton fans were growing tired of the turgid football, low intensity and predictable play that had oddly, become a recurring issue under Koeman in the winter months. But with just one change, those issues were no more. With Shane Long’s introduction to the side on December 26th – Southampton’s 4-0 win over Arsenal – Southampton put into practice the hardest thing to do in the simple game that we all love; play simple football. Since then, Long has surpassed 10 goals in a Premier League season for the first time in his career, Southampton have a newfound fluidity up top, and they have returned to defending with the first line of defence; the attack. In just six months, Shane Long has transformed his title from super-sub, into one of the first names on Koeman’s team-sheet.

But whilst fans enjoyed the free-flowing football on offer, there stood one more problem, and that problem was standing between the sticks. To me, the goalkeeper is the most important player on the pitch, and Southampton’s early-season shot-stopping predicaments illustrated that perfectly. A strong goalkeeper is the root of the defences confidence, so when a weak link is placed under such pressure, don’t be surprised if it all comes crashing down. In contrast, when you place a strong keeper behind the back-line – such as Fraser Forster – the defence flourishes. Prior to the big man returning, Stekelenburg averaged 1.42 saves per goal and claimed just 35 catches in 17 appearances. In Forster’s 17 appearances over 2016, he has recorded an average rate of 2.75 saves per goal and claimed 61 catches. Fraser Forster’s statistics are vastly superior to Stekelenburg’s, and consequently, results have been prominent too. Without Forster’s return to the starting XI, I firmly believe that we wouldn’t be in such a promising position.

Soon after Forster’s return, Southampton’s attack was about to receive yet another injection of firepower in the January transfer window. With the £4 Million signing of Charlie Austin, fans of all clubs were labelling the deal the bargain of the window. And whilst the forward has only scored one goal since joining the club (what a goal it was at that) Austin has the perfect opportunity to prepare both physically and mentally over pre-season. Simply look to Shane Long as hope for what Austin could achieve with Southampton after a strong pre-season, continual hard work and remaining patient for his chance to arise. There is no doubting Austin’s ability, and at such a price, he is yet another positive for Southampton’s prosperous year so far.

Squad depth is a facet needed in any succesful side, providing the opportunity for players to rest, suspensions to be covered and competition for positions. Four years since Southampton’s return to the Premier League, this has been acheieved. After Jay Rodriguez’s hard fought battle with injury, I remember looking down at our team sheet in complete awe of the progress made as a squad. There sat on our bench on April 9th, 2016, was Jay Rodriguez, Cedric Soares, Oriol Romeu, Charlie Austin, Maya Yoshida and Maarten Stekelenburg. In previous years, Southampton have tailed off at the end of the season due to jaded physical conditions in the squad. But in 2016, Southampton have been able to take up the unprecedented act of injecting first-team quality players into the game from the bench – it’s no coincidence that with this wide array of options to change the game and keep players fresh, Southampton have beaten both Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur’s in their final run-in. It’s hard to see Ronald Koeman accepting anything other than making this squad bigger, better and stronger this summer.

Finally, we come to an act that shows all Premier League Clubs that Southampton Football Club means business. On the 7th of March, Southampton tied down players player and fans player of the season, Virgil Van Dijk, on a new six-year contract. Not only was this an astute piece of business due to the Dutchman’s clear talent, but it’s also a statement. A statement of intent and ambition. A statement that tells Mane and Wanyama, that Southampton is the place to be if you want to further your career. In seasons gone by, the clubs ripest and rawest talents have been prized away by the League’s “Big boys”, causing stalled development of the club. Yet still, we manage to progress each year through the incredible planning and management of the club; by no means can this be labelled fortuitous. But as a fan who wants to see his team be the best they can possibly be, I have to wonder, what would have been if we held onto our finest talents? After this statement from the club, we may well find out this summer.

But just how good of a year has this been for Southampton? Well, second only to the Premier League Champions Leicester City to be exact. Over 2016, only Leicester City (41) have recorded more Premier League points than Southampton (36). Given our results in the latter stages of 2015 this season, Southampton being on the cusp of achieving back-to-back Europa League qualification isn’t half bad. In fact, it’s an incredible story that without Leicester City’s dream season occurring, would most likely be filling the back pages. However, whilst this would be a fully deserved achievement for the club, we want to keep growing, and therefore, this should only be seen as the beginning of something special. As Claudio Ranieri would say “Let’s dream”.

 

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.