Cease Trading: Are the days of selling a thing of the past?

WHEN Wayne Bridge traded red and white for the blue of Roman Abramovich’s Russian revolution at Stamford Bridge it cut me real deep.

His shiny sticker from the official Premier League book for 2002-03 had taken an exclusive space on the back of my school planner; some aggressive graffiti soon followed.

bridgeWe even had a ‘Bridgey 4 England’ shirt at home but players leave clubs eventually, that much is inevitable.

Retirement and injury are two outcomes which can be accepted and not contested but jumping ship to rivals or to bigger clubs always leaves a sour taste for even the most understanding of fans.

It’s not dissimilar to an Inbetweeners sketch, propping up a nightclub bar buying drinks for girls only for them to move along when better looking and richer blokes swan in.   

My youth fuelled naivety led to my frustrations as Wayne crossed the bridge to Chelsea, but in hindsight a move to the London club for most players at the time would have been too exciting and enticing to turn down.

Now back in the big time and taking unfathomable amounts of praise from the footballing world, fresh rumours linking Saints’ latest group of stars with moves away have began to circulate.

The departures of Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale had an unfortunate necessity about them and fetching such a fee for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was largely received as tremendous business.

Despite this the club was slapped across the forehead with the label of being a selling club.  

engsaintsHowever it is not ridiculous to surmise that had Walcott and Bale danced into the spotlight during the club’s current situation, their sales could have been avoided.

Performing as Saints are in the league and with such flair and style they will no doubt have the vultures circling, but this time round the club have a much stronger hand than ever before.

Other than the Manchester clubs, Chelsea and possibly Arsenal, what do other Premier League clubs have to offer that Saints can’t or won’t be able to in the very near future should its ambitions be realised?

With the latest crop having been through a lot with the club, guiding them from the depths of League One and others joining the club at the age of 8, there must be strong emotional ties.

Loyalty is often dismissed as a false commodity in football but you can sense genuine affection for the club.

Hopefully this connection coupled with the belief that career ambitions can be realised on the South Coast will allow Saints to hold onto their top performers.


Coping With Success

SITTING third in the Premier League, England call ups left, right and centre and enough praise from press and pundits to inflate even the most modest heads.

It is an incredible time to be a fan of Southampton Football Club.

fans2The story of Saint’s recent history and the Liebherr renaissance have been well told, never more so than now with the Club making serious inroads in English football’s top flight.

Fans have traded cold midweek trips to Walsall and Rochdale for journeys to Wembley to see Saints’ players represent their country in a rapid turnaround.

Suddenly the talk of Champions League football at St Mary’s mocked at the season’s beginning doesn’t seem so ludicrous after all.

It will be interesting to see how the squad copes with recent success and growing expectation, but with a core starting to grow based around academy products there is reason to be optimistic about how they manage this.

They develop and teach them well at Marchwood, how many times have you seen Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Adam Lallana, James Ward-Prowse, Luke Shaw or the most expensive footballer in the world, Gareth Bale, laid out on a casino floor with jagerbomb dribbled down their fronts?

There should be greater concern over how a naturally pessimistic fan base will manage the transfer to new ambitions not realistically harboured before.

Despite mauling Hull City in a first half of the highest order, a laboured showing immediately after the break followed by Yannick Sagbo’s goal worked the home faithful into a fit of panic.

baleAs the ball hit the back of the net a group behind me were already mentioning the 4-3 loss to Leeds in 2006 (Saints had led 3-0 at half time.)

I couldn’t shake my inherent worry in spite of what had been up until then a faultless display, although my release was to frantically bite my nails and fidget instead of shout and moan.

Suddenly it felt like we were hanging on in the dying moments of a game we needed to win to keep our place in the division again.

Where fans hold onto and fret over past goals conceded in the final minutes and a general sods law attitude, the current crop of players as a unit have few such experiences to dwell on.

William Blake once wrote of mind forged manacles, these still remain for many Saints fans but should the Club’s rise continue maybe, just maybe, these will become unhinged. 

Gaston Ramirez: Is Time Running Out?

WHEN Saints smashed their transfer record fee to bring in one of the hottest young talents in world football the imaginations of the clubs fans were well and truly captured.

The £12 million pound arrival of Gaston Ramirez injected a buzz of excitement and belief into the club and fan base after beating off various high profile clubs for the signature.

gaston2A classy showing in a home win over Aston Villa hinted that the fuss had not been premature, however it was soon apparent that the performance had been thrilling but far from confirming.

Saints went through something of a renaissance to fight off relegation last season but the fairy tale of their Uruguayan wonder kid being the catalyst was not lived.

As Saints continue to improve and march on, Ramirez still appears to be scrambling for form during a testing time on the South Coast.

The change in management has seen Saints grow in terms of performance and results, however Ramirez has struggled to make an impression on boss Mauricio Pochettino.

The Uruguayan has been given 8 league starts during his tenure and has been substituted before the end in every single appearance.

In the league he has been used from the bench 8 times, unused three times and not been involved in the squad 7 times.

With the team geared to win the ball back quickly in dangerous areas high up the pitch it has been suggested that Ramirez doesn’t offer enough in terms of defensive capabilities which has seen him overlooked for Steven Davis.

Initially he was the main man, the expensive starlet ready to shine on the Premier League, but as he has faded others around him have taken up the gauntlet and the side has come in for high praise and acknowledgement for their steep progress.

gaston4Every week now Ramirez is linked with a move away from St Mary’s, the list of clubs as long as your arm including names including Inter Milan, Fiorentina and Juventus.

It is easy to forget that he is still on 22 and living in a country that is culturally very different to anything he has experienced before, but it is clear that Saints are not a club to stand still and accommodate in their quest to realise their ambitions.

There was early desperation for Ramirez to succeed at Southampton and nobody will want to see Ramirez leave as another name on the long list of players who have struggled to be a success in making the move from Italy to England.

His arrival signalled the club’s ambition and the hope of amelioration, both of these were realised and new heights are now being reached by the club.

The ability is there for a glittering career but you feel time may be running out for Gaston to make a success of himself in Hampshire.

Bet Victor: Wanyama proves a safe gamble

AFTER inspiring Celtic to a historic win over Barcelona at Celtic Park with a gladiatorial performance, Victor Wanyama’s stock in the world of Football quickly soared in November 2012.

Scouts from top clubs all over the world were soon joining the queue to watch the young Kenyan but come the summer of 2013 it was Southampton who had landed the midfield powerhouse, much to the dismay of many Hoops fans.

wanyama1The Southampton faithful on the whole were welcoming of ‘Big Vic’ and the arrival of some more steel and bite to their midfield.

The inevitable question mark over players swapping the SPL for the Premier League loomed large over Wanyama along with a £12 million price tag. The switch often proving too much for players making the move south of the border.

Age though is very much on Victor’s side and he has gone on to show that he is able to not only compete but dominate in the English top flight, answering the question with aplomb.

Despite this early performances weren’t entirely rousing leading many to bemoan the axing of Jack Cork, the catalyst of Saints’ revival in their previous campaign.

Losing the midfield battle at Carrow Road to his counterpart and Canary new boy Leroy Fer was a particular low point.

Slowly though the tide has been turning with improved shifts from Wanyama and of course the greatest currency in football; victories.

Wanyama has certainly added a physical presence to Saints’ midfield and has committed more fouls than any other play in the Premier League so far this season (27).

But to view him as a bullying brute serves a severe injustice. With his great ability to win the ball back and break up the play he fits the philosophy and style of play for midfielders favoured by boss Mauricio Pochettino.

wanyama2Sitting deeper allowing those further afield to close and press so high while using his tackling ability to intercept and halt any penetrations.

For his 27 fouls he has made 25 tackles, only Morgan Schneiderlin and Nathaniel Clyne have made more in the squad.

We are all aware of the impressive defensive record Saints’ currently boast and the back line have rightly taken the plaudits but the work of the midfield in achieving this success so far shouldn’t be overlooked.

Early criticism of Wanyama came from a lack of consistency, this can often be the case with younger players but in the last month or so he has shown that he is more than capable of stringing together performances.

While those in the stands slowly begin to learn the popular Wanyama song, hijacked from the Celtic faithful, the man himself is finding his feet in the Saints midfield with greater haste.

Saints steal the show at Theatre of Dreams

AFTER it was announced Saints will be taking part in a production at the city’s Guildhall next summer, on Saturday Old Trafford became their theatre of dreams.

You might believe I’m guilty of hyperbole with an introduction like that, but when Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Co came sprinting to celebrate in front of over 2,500 Saints fans, ecstasy was personified.

oldtraffordA flood of fans bundled to the front as bedlam descended on the away end, for minutes I hugged and high fived random strangers.

After eventually managing to find my seat, someone next to me had broke his chair and lay helplessly on the floor still cheering.

Shortly before the equaliser a group of fans edged past me to leave, I told them that we might score yet, one of them smiled tightly and shook his head slowly in pity of my belief.

I just feel sorry for his young son, I doubt he wanted to leave.

It was rather surreal, after years of watching team after team visit Old Trafford and almost without exception losing, Saints came and competed and deserved to leave with something.

There were some exceptional moments in the match which were as vital as the late goal, sheer desire from Morgan Schneiderlin stopped United doubling their lead as he tracked back to thwart Danny Welbeck and Artur Boruc was again at his best.

For me though it was Lallana who was our shining light and was the epitome of a captain’s performance.

In the dying embers of the match it was Lallana who was still charging out of his own box with the ball and darting towards the corner to press United back in added time.

lovrenThere were a lot of fans frustrated with the Saints skipper at the back end of last season but he is once again showing just how good a player he is. Continuing this form will see him back in the England squad.

Last year Saints often followed impressive wins in tough matches with poorer displays in games you would label as winnable, they will hope to make sure that habit is a thing of the past when they host Fulham next weekend.

With the club flirting with the top four and with results at Anfield and Old Trafford, this season’s production value continues to soar.


NEIL McCann is the only footballer that I have booed while playing in the red and white of Southampton Football Club.

It was Boxing Day at Loftus Road in 2003 and the Scot was having a torrid time away to Fulham. When his number flashed up and he was substituted, along with a number of fans I cheered and celebrated his departure.

DannyFoxI was much younger then and looking back it’s a bit embarrassing.

On Sunday it was another left sided player who has represented Scotland that faced similar scrutiny, but to levels that should shame those who decided before kick off to jump on the back of Danny Fox.

This all came to a head in the last quarter of an hour for me when Fox attempted a pass down the line to a static James Ward-Prowse who was beaten to the ball. The former of course received a verbal tirade.

Moments later Fox made the same pass which was collected by Ward-Prowse and received a loud chorus of ironic cheers. This isn’t uncommon but following on from being berated for the games entirety it didn’t fall far short of bullying.

There were plenty more examples of this throughout the 90 minutes, large sections waiting with bated breath to pounce on pretty much anything he did.


Fox does look out of his depth in the top flight however at this moment in time he is Saints’ second choice left back and with Luke Shaw picking up knocks in his tender years he will be relied on during this campaign.

Having played a big part in helping promote the club back into the Premier League and despite errors in last year’s campaign he deserves far more respect and encouragement when he does feature.

When it was Jos Hooiveld returning to the side after several calamitous own goals and defensive errors he wasn’t met with the same hostility.

For a player who is regarded as out of his depth, fans don’t half hold high expectations for Fox.

It was almost as if fans wanted him to fail.

Keep on his back like this and that is exactly what you can expect to see.

Will you be happy then?


Soccer across the Pond: ‘Looking for Pulis’

Whether it was down to the delirious heat or our unconditional love for all things Southampton Football Club, the thought of seeing Anthony Pulis turn out for Orlando City had become an all too exciting one.

Having seen that Orlando were at home and facing Charleston Battery at the Citrus Bowl, a World Cup ground in 1994, for a group of avid football fans it seemed rude not to see what American ‘Soccer’ had to offer.

orlandoOut of the distance the Citrus Bowl grew on the horizon immediately resembling a Spanish ground with its tall concrete build. People were already queuing to enter the ground and this was to be the first of my preconceptions that would come to be totally false.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect during my first football match in the US on or off the pitch. Some parts were distinctly stereotypical and expected with t-shirts catapulted into the crowd at half time and yellow cards being sponsored by companies.

But what I hadn’t predicted was the genuine passion of the fans who packed into the ‘fanzone’ behind one of the goals. 

Shortly before kick off it became apparent that this wasn’t going to be the calm evening of soccer I had imagined as in almost military fashion the home faithful came marching in to drums in their team colours and baring a huge flag.

It wasn’t long before they were in full voice and letting off flares and directing abuse at the Charleston players as they emerged from the tunnel.

From the first whistle the home choir showed off their repertoire of chants. Some familiar to us in England and some beautifully American and completely unique.

pulisWith a Charleston player down injured, ‘Let him die’ rang out around the Bowl before having a few decisions go against them leading to ‘I’m blind, I’m deaf, I want to be a ref’.

The game itself was far better than I was expecting, with Orlando and Charleston competing in what is effectively the Championship to the MLS. The game however came down to a stonewalled penalty for Orlando after the referee had turned down what looked like two blatant spot kicks for Charleston.

The Battery had a side full of pace which made for an exciting encounter but Orlando were perhaps happier with their game plan and James O’Connor known for his time in England with Stoke, Sheffield Wednesday and Burnley was a cool head in midfield.

After Orlando manager Adrian Heath had made his second substitution nerves grew as to whether we would be seeing our former Saint.

It wasn’t to be, Heath further endearing himself to Southampton fans after his goal saw Everton past Saints in the 1984 FA Cup semi final at Highbury.

Despite this disappointment the best part of the evening was yet to come, a moment showing that the rivalry between Saints and Pompey knows no bounds.

Having spotted a blue shirt with a Premier League badge on the arm to our right we soon discovered that it was the strip of our south coast neighbours.

Firstly laughing at the fact we hadn’t considered that the shirt would be a Pompey one due to the Premier League badge we then waited for him to notice the pair of Saints shirts peering over towards him but it wasn’t to be.

Full time came and we headed for the exit. Climbing down from the bowl, from behind us in a deep all American accent came the word, ‘Scuuuuuumeeeersssss!’

OCLiving in the past with the Premier League badge still on his arm we felt it necessary to remind him just where his side are now plying their footballing trade.

This didn’t seem to register as ‘Scummers’ continued to ring out. Never mind, bless him.

The reception to our Saints shirts weren’t all negative though. One American man expressed his annoyance at not wearing his Saints kit on seeing ours but confessed to not being a fan of the new ‘jersey’.

Anyone heading to the States should definitely make time to see a local match. I will certainly be following how Orlando manage in the future in their quest to become an MLS franchise.

OWTS End of Season Awards

Welcome to the OWhenTheSaints End of Season Awards.

Here we honour and applaud the best while teasing and making fun of the worst of Saints’ 2012/2013 league campaign.

It has been a rollercoaster ride but ultimately Saints fans and players alike were left smiling and excited for the future after securing their safety in the top flight.

Saints fan, keen tweeter and Sky Sports News employee Sam Appleton (@Appy0911) joined me to cast his eye along with my own over the season gone by.

morganOWTS Player of the Season – Morgan Schneiderlin

Hardly a surprise and giving it to anyone else would have been a blinded attempt for originality. The French midfielder has been a dominant force for Saints breaking up play and chipping in with some important goals, he just gets better and better. Special mentions must also go to Nathaniel Clyne, Jack Cork and Rickie Lambert.

OWTS Goal of the Season – Rickie Lambert v Manchester City

Having taken Saints into the Premier League with his goals in League One and the Championship plenty had written off Lambert’s chances of being a force in the top flight. On the opening day, away to the reigning champions, Rickie slammed home past Joe Hart sending fans and players into a frenzy. The ‘Poznan’ which followed in the away end will live long in the memory.

Special mentions also go to Lambert’s free kick against Chelsea, Nathaniel Clyne’s goal at home to Aston Villa and a superb flowing counter attack for Morgan Schneiderlin’s strike at Wigan.

arturOWTS Save of the Season – Artur Boruc v Grant Holt

From the away end peering through the snow it was anyones guess how Norwich had been awarded a last minute penalty kick. With a long journey home awaiting Grant Holt’s spot kick was about to make it feel even longer. But Artur Boruc has other ideas, leaping to his right and palming away the kick which gave Saints crucial momentum going into games at home to Chelsea and Liverpool.

Special mentions also go to Boruc’s stop at Old Trafford against Robin Van Persie and Gazzaniga’s stop to deny Davide Santon.

Saints’ African Player of the Year – Emmanuel Mayuka

Loan Player of the Season – Steve De Ridder

The Jonno Quick Run of the Season Award – Jay Rodriguez v Liverpool

The ‘You do not save a Rickie Lambert penalty’ Award – Jay Rodriguez v Sheffield Wednesday

brentThe David Brent Management Decision of the Year Award – Nigel Adkins

Holding a 2-1 lead over Manchester United a treble substitution which saw Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Jason Puncheon depart for Jay Rodriguez, Guly Do Prado and Emmanuel Mayuka , an interesting intervention and the rest is history.

January Signing of the Season – Vegard Forren

Goal kick of the Season – Paulo Gazziniga at Anfield (Straight out of play behind Luke Shaw)

Twitter moment of the Season – When Sam Dobson didn’t take all the points on the Saints Quiz

LukakuAlternative Premier League Team of the Season –

Will_Turner71 – Mignolet; Clyne, Chico, McAuley, Shaw; Mirallas, Dembele, Osman, Snodgrass; Lukaku, Michu

Appy0911 – Boruc; Lowton, W.Reid, Nastasic, Cole; Coutinho, Schneiderlin, De Guzman, Pienaar; Benteke, Lambert

Right about now you are probably taking exception to much of the above, if so, let us know your selections.


Review of the Season: Mission Accomplished

THERE were ups and downs, agony, ecstasy, excitement, concern, and hirings and firings during a turbulent return to the Premier League for Southampton Football Club.

In a season where survival was the buzz word an unpopular and unexpected managerial change and finally brinksmanship from executive chairman Nicola Cortese had Saints fans petering on the edge of their seats for the duration.

morgan-schneiderlin-stoke-home148-830861_478x359But ultimately priority number one was achieved with some moments to savour along the way.

The comfort of mid table mediocrity was a secret ambition for many but the reality was rather more the inevitable nail biting and butterflies in the tummy well associated with the battle to avoid the drop.

A horrendous opening ten matches had Saints sitting deep in the relegation zone, a far cry from the auspicious 3-2 opening day defeat to Manchester City at the Etihad.

There was improvement though and a run of 12 games with only two defeats had the objective of survival back on the cards.

But just as performances and results had seen Saints’ footing steadied a self imposed earthquake threatened to bring them back down to their knees.

The popular and successful Nigel Adkins was shown the door with Mauricio Pochettino coming ‘into the building’ on the very same day.

imagesOutrage, frustration, anger with a horrible hollow feeling followed, but there was little fans could do but back the players whose hunger and desire remained hinged despite the change in personnel.

Performances continued and Saints were able to remain away from danger but failed to kick on and put considerable daylight between themselves and fellow strugglers. Something that wouldn’t change until the season’s end.

Home wins against Liverpool and Chelsea and three points on the road at Reading put Saints out of the relegation reckoning in the eyes of numerous fans and the media yet following these victories a final three points to put all doubts to bed were no forthcoming.

Draws with West Ham and Swansea and a crazy 3-0 defeat at home to West Brom saw Saints continue to teeter on the edge of Premier League survival eventually crawling over the line with an away draw at Sunderland.

If a lack of certainty on the pitch hadn’t been hard enough it was then time for a lack of clarity off of it again as rumours over the future of Nicola Cortese surfaced.

nicPochettino then explained his position and the backing of players followed for the chairman as his policy of brinksmanship with the Liebherr Trust had fans sitting and waiting for what was eventually a positive outcome.

Instability had seen Saints plummet to League one but stability under Cortese with the funds of the late Markus Liebherr has seen the club built back up again.

The threat to this stability evoked a strong reaction from the fan base but it now appears that the club will enter an important summer on solid ground and ultimately in the Premier League.

Season 2012/2013: Mission accomplished.

The Organ Grinder or The Monkey?

With a division between Nicola Cortese and the Liebherr Trust being aired in national media this week, Southampton fans have been forced to ponder a rather interesting question.

What means more to the club, the funds of the Trust or the leadership and drive of their Italian executive chairman?

Depending on your view, who the organ grinder and the monkey are will be very different.

saintsfrontman 6Money in the game today is unfortunately vital to achieving success in the top level of English football and for that reason alone many will no doubt feel no need to look at this further.

After all Markus Liebherr’s money is the reason the club lived past the summer of 2009, brought Rickie Lambert to St Mary’s and funded various other signings which have seen Saints climb from League One to the Premier League.

The club will forever remember what Markus did in rescuing Saints and his name will forever ring out from the stands.

Money though did not decide on the changes in personnel which saw Alan Pardew, Nigel Adkins and now Mauricio Pochettino occupy the managerial hot seat.

Money also didn’t decide to drive the development of the club’s training and youth facilities with the proviso of working towards constructing a future based on a core of home and club grown talent.

Money didn’t construct and develop the numerous changes at St Marys which has seen Saints openly disclose their ambition of competing in Europe.

The notes, pounds and pennies are needed to make these things happen but without the vision, ambition and drive the money means little.

There are plenty of people in this world with the money to splash at football clubs but considerably fewer who are able to run them with success both on and off the pitch.

This is why the answer to the question cannot be taken at face value.

Few are clearer on and more determined to achieve the vision set out for Southampton in the last few seasons than Cortese. Unless the reason behind the uncertainty surrounding his future comes from a drastic change of heart.

There have been plenty of decisions and feuds which have resulted in ill-feeling towards the current chairman. However in a results led business on-pitch success has smoothed over these situations.

‘A genuine leader is not a searcher for concensus but a moulder of consensus.’ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Cortese is certainly not one to search for consensus and with most Saints fans happy and excited to talk of ‘The Southampton Way’, it is clear that he has moulded consensus at the club.

The man’s popularity may have oscillatated but nobody can argue with his unprecedented results. Cortese is a popular man for most on the South Coast.

Popularity though takes a back seat in the Italian’s mind which has seem him labelled as aloof. But nothing gets in his way in making what he believes to be the best decision for the club he has described as his ‘baby’.

Again this has been proposed as a reason as to why his role at the club is currently in a fragile state, with the Liebherr trust keen to wrestle back some power with regards to decision making and maintaining a better club image.

Whether Cortese likes popularity or not though the general feeling from yesterday’s news was one of panic.

Of course it is hoped by most Saints fans that the next few days will see a positive outcome in which the Trust and Cortese are able to reach an agreement for the future. We had all been hoping for a relatively pain free summer with our greatest concerns regarding the comings and goings of players.

But with most things to do with Southampton Football Club it is never easy or straight forward.

Cortese’s ‘baby’ has grown up fast with the club’s five year plan being delivered prematurely.

Will he be leaving Southampton behind as it leaves its early years under his watch, both left to wonder what might have been?