Having taken my Southampton hat off in a previous article to analyse the various facets of the the individual transfers, I will now put it firmly back on. Whilst the sale of Lallana is understandable on an individual level there is a great deal which is open to interpretation and a great deal of frustration on the South Coast. The question all Southampton fans are asking now is; what next for my club? What do these sales mean for our future? This article is the first in a series of ‘Visions of the Future’ for various Clubs, Nations and Leagues.
The position of the fans at the South Coast clubs is a mixed one but there is one constant among the fans; frustration and concern. The fans see Southampton as being one of the footballing ‘good guys’. They’re the guys doing it right; attractive football, produce from there own academy and play predominantly English players. They are also the up and comers, who along with Everton, Newcastle and Spurs stand the only real chance of breaking the top four, outside the usual suspects. It was all going so well on the South Coast and with a record finish last season everything seemed on the up…
But a storm had been brewing since January, when enigmatic and controversial chairman Nicola Cortese left the club after seeing them back to the Premiership after their tragic fall. Some rejoiced, others feared the worst. As it turns out those who feared the worst were closer to the truth then they would of liked. The manager, who had said he’d leave if the chairman did, ultimately left the club. Though some held hope that he’d stay as he did in the immediate aftermath, when the dust had settled after his move it appeared the writing had been on the wall for months. Soon after players, who had been linked with moves by a speculative media for months, had begun to show clear signs of being unsettled. An exodus was rumoured. Once again the pessimists seem to have been right, as within two months of him leaving the squad begun to fall apart; club legend Rickie Lambert went to Liverpool, joined by the longest serving member and captain of the Saints Adam Lallana. Luke Shaw, their most promising young player, joined Manchester United. Dejan Lovren and Morgan Schneiderlin are also strongly linked with moves, with the other rumoured to have put in a transfer request and having had a £20 million bid from Liverpool rejected. Now that events have taken place we see a lot of anger emanating from the Saints fans. And it is not directed in any one place.
Whilst Southampton fans, by and large, do not begrudge Lambert and Shaw their mov
es as they understand it was Lambert’s boyhood dream and the money for Shaw was just too good, they feel very differently about Lallana and the board in general. Lallana, who had enjoyed such a close relationship with the fans, is now reviled by them. They see him as a traitor, a badge thumper turned mercenary. Only one year had past since Lallana had signed a new 5 year deal and uttered the following words;
“I’ve been at the Club since I was 12 and – being honest – I can only see my future lying with Southampton Football Club. If someone was to say that I’d end my career playing for Southampton in the Premier League then I’d snap your hand off for it. I am privileged and honoured to be given the opportunity to be here for the next five years.”
How a player can go from ‘I’m going to retire here’ to gone and saying “Deep down, I was thinking to myself: hopefully one day I’ll be able to play in that team [Liverpool].”. The Southampton fans feel tricked, as though a player feigned loyalty but turned at the first sign of real interest. It has also come out since the transfer that Lallana refused to ever play again for the Saints, A club source said: “Adam threw his toys out of the pram and said he would never play for the club again if they did not accept Liverpool’s offer.” . But he also did not issue a transfer request, unlike Lambert, who waived every fee to move to Liverpool, Lallana did not, but still held himself with little to no grace. This was epitomised in the clubs final statement on his transfer which read;
“Southampton Football Club can confirm that Adam Lallana has completed his transfer to Liverpool. The fee received from Liverpool, although undisclosed, will allow the club to further develop the first-team squad for the 2014/2015 season. “
This was it. 3 lines. For a player who had been at the club since he was 12. This was a clear demonstration that all was not well behind the scenes with Lallana. And when you consider that, after costs incurred, Southampton will have made at most £18.75 million from the transfer (probably less), for their best player and captain, it is not a surprise that most fans now despise him. I will now relay some quotes from the Southampton online forum, which comes from a thread which was intended to give sympathy to Lallana;
Alpine_saint: “have you any idea how much money his little foot-stamping paddy seems to have cost the club?”
Nolan: “Why spend energy and comment on a player who was signing Liverpool shirts a month ago?”
Colinjb: “He showed a distinct lack of grace with his attitude towards the club that stood by him for years, kept faith in him through his health issues and committed the time and effort into developing him from a raw youngster into the Premiership standard attacker he is today whilst setting him up comfortably for life in the process. His attitude also shows the disdain he must feel for the 29,000 people who regularly awarded him standing ovations in appreciation of his perceived commitment, ‘Saint for life’ he said at one point…. A pure charade to manipulate the fans. Just as his kind words towards the Scousers are today. The fans that saw him grow, supported him through inclement form… that always believed in him. A fake, a charlatan, a devious classless ****. Your character is now clear and bridges well and truly burnt.”
These comments were in keeping with the vast majority of posters, across threads.
The fans also direct their anger in another place, only this is in far greater supply. The board. Having removed the eminently successful Cortese, Katharina Liebherr has appointed hockey coach Ralph Krueger as Chairman and Hans Hofstetter as Director; two men with no previous football experience, combined with Gareth Rodgers Chief Executive and Les Reed in an amalgamation of roles.The board has since been labelled as broadly inexperienced, incompetent or with malicious intentions. They have gone from a steady albeit tyrannical leadership of the iron-fisted Cortese to a group of individuals who have had gaffe after gaffe; from Hofstetter making public the clubs financial debts to Krueger’s constant interviews, full of American style corporate speak with absolutely no follow through whatsoever. Iron willed dictator to idiots and silver tongued jesters. The fans have seen the changes and place the blame on the clubs position squarely on their feet. The club announced no players needed to be sold and that no one would be sold until a manger was appointed. Lambert was sold before. On the 16th of January Koeman was appointed; 11 and 15 days later Shaw and Lallana move as well. Deals are not concluded so quickly and Koeman wasn’t even at Southampton – he was on holiday. Fans saw that grand statements from the club were false and nought but lip service, the reality was they made them knowing they were false. A deep division is brewing between the board and the fans and, unless Southampton have a strong showing in the remainder of the window, it looks unlikely to dissipate any time soon.
Their are broad consequences to Southampton’s actions these past months, consequences that the board will not have intended. The sale of Shaw, whilst financially sound made one clear illustration; we will sell our academy players. This solidifies their position as a ‘selling club’ still, an image they have spent a while under Cortese trying to shake off. Their sale of Lallana also shows the other image; we will sell our best players. Southampton is a stepping stone, not the one trying to make the step forward. The final consequence is in selling the players pure and simply; we are weak, naive and powerless. The board, in bowing to thebuying clubs offers, as well as folding under the first sign of pressure from players demanding an exit, have demonstrated their lack of knowledge of football; they could have held out, had they truly wanted, alike Liverpool and Suarez a year prior. Threats of player strikes and interest in players being temporary are largely empty; if a player does not leave in the transfer window what will he do; not play for months? Will a club, having spent months meticulously scouting and evaluating a player, move interest on within a few days? Liverpool’s second to last bid for Lallana was rumoured to be their last, and it was rejected, but the deal went through later. The board panicked and feeling they were in a dichotomy, relented under the pressure, not realising they had many more options. They have also set a precedent for other players and clubs; bid enough and we will accept, everyone is for sale if you do it right. Throw a hissy fit and refuse to play and we have no choice but to let you leave, of course. They have opened the door on an exodus that could so easily have been averted had they had a little more knowledge of how this game works. The law of unintended consequences has reared it’s ugly headat Southampton.
A long standing conspiracy theory around Southampton is directed towards Swiss owner Katharina Liebherr. Having removed Cortese and set herself as executive authority she has moved a bunch of yes men and bureaucrats into her board room. Her intention? To strip the club of all intangible assets and then sell the club at a profit. Players, adding no tangible value to the club, are intangible, their sale will fill Swiss coffers as an addition to the sale. Statements that all transfer revenues will be directly reinvested in transfers are false, as false as every other statement; at best a cheap replacement will be brought in to give the appearance of a team that needs minimal direct investment from any new potential owner. Liebherr, spitting on her fathers legacy, will take the club for all it’s worth, with no regard for what’s left.
Or so the conspiracy goes. Such is the fans lack of faith in the board. And this conspiracy is not exactly fringe either among fans. Their is plenty of evidence there; though whether or not the conspiracy came from the evidence or whether the evidence was found to fit remains to be seen.
Here we finish the section on the recent history of Southampton and their present state. Now we look ahead, to the many permutations of Southampton’s future.
Life After Lallana
First we shall start with the optimists view, even though they are few and far between. This is not a club experiencing an exodus, it is merely removing the chaff; disloyal, ageing or young unproven players are being sold at a profit. All monies will be reinvested into transfers. Southampton will imminently sign Dusan Tadic from Twente, an improvement on Lallana. Graziano Pelle will also join; a younger and more clinical striker then Lambert. Ronald Koeman, a better and more proven manager then Pochettino, will see Southampton past the final hurdle in the Saints journey from League 1 to Champions League. The youth academy is producing its best ever players, in most quantity, Shaw himself said the best is yet to come out of the academy. James Ward-Prowse looks set to be the next Beckham, Harrison Reed the next Scholes and Matt Targett has always been thought of as more promising then Shaw. Sam Gallagher is the new Alan Shearer. Jake Hesketh, Ryan Seager, Jake Sinclair, Josh Sims and Sam Mcqueen are all on the verge ofbreaking into the first team, each of them with the potential to be world class. Southampton not only have the talent in the team and the potential talent; they finally have the money from the inflated sales of their players to fund such necessary improvements. This is a team that can financially compete with the big boys, and unlike them they still play their youth. The players they sold were over-rated anyway; none as good as others think. Lallana has only had one good season, Shaw is unproven and Lambert was on the way out anyway. They may have been their best players, but the best is still to come. The sales were practical and useful, the owner is finally directly involved; the club is quite clearly in the best position it has been in in years.
Now for the far more common pessimistic view. This is a club experiencing a mass exodus; and it is not like they are removing their weaker elements, all the best players are leaving. Shaw, the best young player in the academy since Bale is gone and he will one day be worth multiples of his current sale. Lallana was the captain, the best and most influential player in the team. Lambert was the legend and he was the first to abandon ship. Schneiderlin is making moves to go and Lovren has outright asked to leave and it’s only a matter of time. Jack Cork and Jose Fonte have little time left on their contracts and will be gone soon enough. Star young players such as Chambers and Ward-Prowse are being looked at, and it’s only a matter of time before they are gone too. Gaston Ramirez and Pablo Osvaldo have overstayed their welcome, they will both be off to Italy in all likelihood. The only thing stopping Rodriguez leaving is the injury, but he’ll doubtless be gone to one of many interested clubs before the window shuts. What’s left? Boruc; he’s a liability. Wanyama; he’s just terrible. Davis; 29 years old and mediocre at best. Gallagher; unseasoned and only scored 1 goal in a hatful of showings. The board will not buy better then what we got, the best players will not come to Southampton if the board actually signs anyone at all. The team is depleted and drained and relegation beckons once more. The academy has had its hay day; the best players have just been produced and we sold them for worthless pennies. The best manager we’ve ever had is gone, replaced with a manager who is unproven and has never shown he can make the final step up to winner. The best chairman in the game left us a while ago and we still haven’t recovered. Southampton is a club in total disarray; and the worst is still to come.
The realist view is all that remains. Southampton stand on a precipice. Neither here nor there. Whilst much goes against them a great deal is also in their favour. First and foremost the player sales are not inherently negative or positive in themselves, they have many aspects, but one thing is for certain, simply through the losses of these players the squad of Southampton has been weakened and further losses are still possible. Southampton are depending on an uncertainty; that promoted or bought players will restrengthen the squad to an equivalent or greater position. Because of the nature of transfers and youth players integrating into the first team their is no guarantee it will be a success. The losses attributed are a negative on this account. However Southampton has two silver linings to this loss; their academy is producing as a high a quality at as great a rate as it ever has. This provides Southampton a permanent potential revenue stream in that players sold from the academy will almost always be sold at a profit to their development costs. Also from this point we see that Southampton do have a guaranteed influx of high potential and ability players, meaning they not only have the capacity to make money but influence on the pitch results as well. The second silver lining is the clubs financial position; they have in one transfer window effectively given themselves the means to wipe out what remaining debt the club had, whilst having the clubs infrastructure improved dramatically, the likes of the academy and Staplewood. Here we see the position of Southampton more clearly; the first team has been weakened, but the club has been strengthened. Southampton are playing a long game, in the hope that temporary weakness will grant them the opportunity for a more permanent strength. Southampton have commented many times that they have no need to sell, and whilst this was a bit of lip service, if all goes according over the next year or so at Southampton then this will become the reality. It’s a dangerous game as ultimately in football a club lives and dies by its on the pitch results, which is directly linked to its first team strength. The clubs first teams position is surrounded by uncertainty and alike Icarus Southampton fly very close to the sun. In all probability Southampton will come out of this with a consolidated position after a year or two, with an almost guarantee of not only permanent status in the Premier League, bar obvious exceptions, but of top half finishes. This will enable them to, with greater effect and consistency, challenge for Europe. Whilst, if all goes accordingly, they will not be challenging the big clubs any time soon they will be laying the foundations for such a position many years down the line, enabling themselves to become a club like Everton or Spurs, always there abouts, only occasionally making the final step. This is the probable result. Southampton’s relegation or performing even greater then before is unlikely. As the old cliche goes, the night is darkest just before the dawn and if Southampton can weather the storm then the dawn is imminent. It’s a big if though and if Southampton fail, if their gamble costs them dearly, then this club could be left wondering in the darkness for longer then they ever imagined.