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.

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.


Preview: We talk Southampton vs Newcastle with NUFC360

Coming into this weekend’s clash, Southampton have won five of their last seven Premier League home games and they will be facing a Newcastle side, that have lost their last eight away games in the Premier League. With Southampton in eighth place and Newcastle now seven points adrift of safety, all statistics point in the direction of a routine home win. However, this is the Premier League and no game is a given.

We spoke with NUFC360 to find out more about our opposition, the perception of Southampton and Georginio Wijnaldum – a favourite of Ronald Koeman.

In three words, how would you describe your season so far?

No lessons learnt

Who is your player of the year?

It’s a toss-up between Rob Elliot & Chancel Mbemba, but I think Elliot just about edges it. He hadn’t covered himself in glory prior to Tim Krul’s season ending injury & plenty of fans had reservations about his capabilities, but he’s been absolutely superb. At times, he has single handedly won us games & stopped the opposition from hitting double figures. Without him, I fear we’d be in a similar position to Villa.

Despite results going against you, has Rafa Benitez added a new look to Newcastle?

The side certainly looks more organised, but the players at his disposal just aren’t good enough. We look more of a threat in the final third & in the last two games, we’ve finally started providing Mitrovic with the service he’s needed all season. He’s capable of changing a game with substitutions too, something our previous managers have struggled with. I do fear it’s too little too late, though, he should have been brought in after the 5-1 defeat at Chelsea.

If you could change one thing about your club, what would it be?

One thing!? Now that’s a tough one. There’s too much wrong with Newcastle at the moment & the club is rotten from the top to the bottom. Rafa’s arrival & the head coach model being scrapped was a real positive for fans, but if/when we go down & he leaves, it’s going to be one step forward and five steps back. Lee Charnley, the man responsible for appointing John Carver & Steve McClaren, really needs to go. He’s completely out of his depth & his ineptitude looks like it’s going to cost us our Premier League status.

Southampton boss Ronald Koeman is an admirer of Georginio Wijnaldum, if the unthinkable happened and Newcastle were to be relegated, do you think he would suit Southampton and could it happen?

Wijnaldum is a good footballer, there’s no doubt about that, & I think in a good football playing side like Southampton, he could be a hit. Unfortunately however, his form has nose-dived dramatically over the second half of the season & he goes missing away from home. He will certainly leave if we’re relegated, he’s far too good for the Championship. Spurs are rumoured to be monitoring his situation so Koeman might have to move quickly in the summer.

What is your perception of Southampton Football Club?

I like Southampton. They’re a good club, with good fans, who play good football. A proper club. I think Koeman’s done a stellar job again this season & I’m a big fan of the way he gives young players a chance. I think he’s amongst the best managers in the league.

Who from this Southampton side scares you most?

I’d probably say, Pelle, as he seems to reek havoc every time we play Southampton. He’s commanding in the air & we don’t seem capable of dealing with that. Charlie Austin, a player we courted for a long time, worries me too. It seems destined that he will put a nail in our coffin on Saturday to rub salt into the wounds.

If you were reporting back to Ronald Koeman on how to beat Newcastle, what would you say?

Target our full backs. Daryl Janmaat has been pitiful defensively this season & any one of Steven Taylor or Fabricio Coloccini, will struggle to deal with pace or a physical presence. We’ve conceded 58 goals this season, only four less than Villa, which is a pretty shocking statistic.

What is your prediction for Saturday’s game?

2-0 Southampton. We’ve been thrashed on our last few trips to St. Marys and I can see a repeat on Saturday. There’s been a lot of talk about the side tightening up & winning ugly in the week, so we may look to stay compact & organised as we did against Leicester, but ultimately I think your firepower will overwhelm our frail defence.

And finally, the harsh reality of Premier League survival. Will you? won’t you? And why?

We’re six points behind Norwich now & with seven games remaining, that’s a huge gap to breach. I fear the worst & have for a long time. We just aren’t good enough at either end of the pitch & with only 6 wins all season I can’t see how we’re going to turn it round now.


Has Ramirez finally found his level, or is there yet more to come?

Back on the 26th on January, Aitor Karanka’s Middlesbrough snapped up Gaston Ramirez for the remainder of the 2015/16 season on a loan deal. But just three months later, it seems that Boro fans have found themselves a new poster boy. After just 10 appearances, Ramirez has found the back of the net six times, carved 21 opportunities for his teammates and is once again, enjoying his football. We spoke with EverythingMFC to find out more about Ramirez’s sensational run of form. 

When Middlesbrough announced the signing of Gaston Ramirez, what were you initially expecting?

I was expecting a player with an abundance of attacking quality, a player that would make the no.10 position his own

Having now been given a number of games to assess his ability, how have Boro fans taken to Ramirez?

He’s gained a lot of admirers in the stands, people love him. He went off in his last game to a standing ovation, and richly deserved too!

What has been his standout quality in England’s second division?

His technical ability, it really does make him a joy to watch. I think his off the ball work has been admirable too; his first goal against Huddersfield epitomised that, straight from kick off he was pressing, intercepted a pass and went on to score.

Is he a cut above the rest in the Championship?

Definitely, he’s different class. I felt sorry for the Huddersfield players in our last game, they didn’t know what to do with themselves!

During his time in the Premier League, Gaston struggled with the physicality of the division and appeared to lack confidence, is that still the case?

The Championship is known for being a very physical league and he has thrived in it, so I wouldn’t say it’s been a problem for him. He definitely doesn’t lack confidence either, he looks like he’s thoroughly enjoying his football here and it’s definitely reflecting on his performances

If any, what are your worries or concerns with the Uruguayan playmaker?

That inconsistency could creep in. It has been a familiar story with our previous no.10s where they hit a purple patch and then go missing for the next handful of games, but hopefully Gaston is an exception.

Do you think that Southampton could live to regret allowing Ramirez to head out on loan?

Possibly, he has been a revelation for us in attack, but he is playing under a manager who believes in him and appears to be getting the best out of him, whereas at Southampton it seems like he wasn’t in the plans of Ronald Koeman to start with

And last of all – If Boro were to be promoted – has Ramirez shown enough quality to suggest that he can finally establish himself as a Premier League player?

Yes, as long as he’s under a manager like Aitor Karanka who allows him the freedom to express himself on the football pitch