When Southampton’s 2013/14 season ended it was described as the ‘end of a project’ – and it certainly seems that way. Said ‘project’ – a term I loathe to use as it is better suited to a management consultant’s PowerPoint presentation than football – was to see Southampton rise from League One to the Premier League and establish itself as a top flight team.
That was achieved quicker than former Chairman Nicola Cortese had expected when Nigel Adkins led the Saints to the Premier League with back-to-back promotions, and if there is one act that symbolises that the project is indeed at an end it is the sale of Rickie Lambert, Southampton goal machine, to Liverpool.
The man is a hero. I must express my own personal sadness that he has left, especially at a time when the club seems to be lacking a direction and is linked with selling off just about anyone who looks even half-decent.
However neither I nor any other Southampton fan will begrudge his move to Liverpool. It’s the club he has supported since he was a boy, the one club he said he would never turn down. It’s also an incredible achievement. When Southampton escaped League One there were doubts over his ability to score goals in the Championship – something he answered very quickly in a 5 – 2 away win at Ipswich – and here he is now at a team in the Champions League.
In an effort to find some shred of comfort I look at the fact that Rickie is 32 and sooner rather than later we would have had to replace him anyway, and is it better for him to bow out having made England’s World Cup team than seeing out his career on our bench before retiring? For a man who played not all that long ago for Stockport, Rochdale and Macclesfield, it’s a big deal.
For those of us mad enough to support Southampton the World Cup was something to be so excited about until today. The club's three representatives who linked up with the England squad earlier this month don’t look as if they will return to St. Mary’s stadium as Southampton players.
It’s all quite alarming.
If you believe the chat it’s the World Cup that forced Saints to sell Lambert, Liverpool insisting it happened before the tournament began or it didn’t happen at all. I can’t say I’m a fan of this, and it could be interpreted as a sign of weakness from those at the top of Southampton, noble as it was to not stand in the way of Rickie’s dream.
Weakness is not in short supply. His departure was announced in a statement which said that the club had received offers for a number of players. I’d like to be sarcastic at this point and ask rhetorically ‘surely not?!’ but the fact is that’s about as much information as we’ve had from those at the top of the hierarchy since they arrived, aside from a load of old waffle.
The fact is that the second Katarina Liebherr took command and Ralph Krueger was installed the game changed.
We have heard in recent weeks that the ambition to become a club competing in Europe is still there. But one of the first things we heard when both had settled into the club was that the ambition was to pay off existing transfer debt, and that the club’s state-of-the-art training facilities had cost 50% more than first thought.
It’s not exactly encouraging. If I want to fill people with hope I don’t start by bringing them crashing down to earth and talk with a lack of ambition whilst trying to promote the very opposite, but then again I’m not a management consultant with a flip chart and a series of graphs. Who am I to argue anyway? It’s Katarina Liebherr’s club and when you spend as much money as her family has, you tend to think that she can do what she wants.
This is indeed a new era at the club and it’s begun badly.
I said not too long ago that I didn’t think Pochettino would leave but he’s gone. Do I blame him? No, but I really do fail to see what he will achieve at Tottenham. I’d go as far as to put money on him being unemployed in 12 months’ time, such is the way Levy operates – and if he left because he felt loyalty to Cortese and didn’t feel as though he could work with the new setup at Saints then lord knows what he’s expecting at White Hart Lane.
So, manager gone, talisman gone, can it get worse? Yes. Our captain has decided his future lies elsewhere and whilst stopping short of handing in a transfer request – speculation suggests that it’s a way to get around giving up his loyalty bonus – Adam Lallana is off too.
It’s different for Adam but perhaps just as understandable as it is for Rickie, in as much as a lot of us have all been at work and thought ‘I think I’ve done all I can here, it’s time to move on and do something different.’
Adam’s first goal for us was in a 1 – 1 draw on the penultimate day of the season against West Brom, a point that helped us evade relegation to League One, postponing it for one campaign. That ought to give you some idea of the service he has provided and length of stay. I remember his league debut, a 1 – 1 draw with Preston North End in which George Burley (remember him?) hauled him off at half time.
Adam has seen us field a team of kids and get kicked out of the Championship, fall short of the play-offs having started with a ten point deficit, get promoted as runners-up in consecutive seasons, avoid Premier League relegation then finish eighth. Really, is there anything more for him to do at St. Mary’s, given the size of the club? I refer you back to my last article for Natter Football entitled ‘Have Southampton Peaked?’ – the answer is yes, we have peaked, no, there’s little more to play for in reality.
To try and put a positive spin on all this, it could be seen as the end of one era and therefore the start of a new one.
We will – admittedly not 100% out of our own choice – change our squad for this new era. Squads change over time and we just have to do it a bit quicker than normal. It’s not a mass exodus for the time being at least.
The good news is that according to the people in charge player recruitment is ongoing with a series of scouts scouring the world in search of new player. Oh but we won’t sign anyone until we have a new manager. Right. We have to attract a manager to a club that is seen across the world now as having a closing down sale that rivals the last days of Woolworths. It’s going to be hard to attract a top quality manager and the list of names so far I don’t personally find inspiring.
When we do get a new manager, is he going to see it merely as a stepping stone and be gone in 18 months just like Pochettino? Seems to be that if you do well at Southampton you leave.
Maybe that’s why we haven’t been linked with any incoming transfers yet. For a team that has just finished not far from the European places we should be linked with every available player and his missus in newspapers and online, but as of yet? I’ve not noticed even a scrap of speculation.
These are testing times for the average Southampton fan. I have pledged my support to the club by renewing my season ticket at a new, higher price, and can only hope that my money is reinvested - and properly. Ultimately I support a club and not any individuals, but will project two be as exciting as the first? I’m resigned to the fact that it almost certainly will not be.
By Chris Cox - Southampton fan - @CertifiablyMod