04 10 / 2014

Saints trip to White Heart Lane tomorrow of course means a reunion with Mauricio Pochettino. It will be interesting to see what kind of reception he receives from the travelling support tomorrow- & while it’s not for me to tell people what they should do- I hope he’s not derided.

Since his departure there seems to have been a rewriting of history from some quarters, with criticisms you never heard during his tenure mysteriously surfacing. A backlash is inevitable after most departures but we shouldn’t let it overshadow the great job Pochettino did at St. Mary’s, leading Saints to their biggest ever points haul in the Premier League & a joint-highest finish. He did it in some style too, creating a brand of football that was hugely exciting, while also bringing through a number of young players & helping them to develop. Much of this season’s success has roots in systems he established.

For some his exit rankles, but I don’t really have an issue with it. It would have been lovely if he had stayed but with the chairman who hired him gone & the board prepared to sell many key players it’s not hard to see why joining bigger & better club- & that’s undeniable on paper- was attractive from his point of view. A rebuilding job is certainly more attractive a proposition as a new manager than an existing one. The lack of financial backing he’s received from Spurs has surprised me though.

The notion that Saints are better off without Pochettino is also a weird one to understand, & one that is based more on hope than reality I suspect. As good as our start to the season has been, if you swap QPR with Norwich or Fulham we have fewer points than we did from the corresponding fixtures last season. Sensationalist talk of relegation- which, it should be added, was far from widespread amongst the media & press- looks foolish but worries about how Southampton would do this season, from various sources including myself, weren’t unfounded. Until we’ve faced more of the clubs you would expect to be challenging for European places it’s too soon to say whether or not Saints are better this season than last.

More than anything else though, it’s time to move on. Fans should be happy with our start to the season & focus on that, rather than using it as a stick to beat an ex-manager & certain ex-players. Pochettino’s had nothing but nice things to say about Southampton & the fans, & I’ve nothing harsh or bitter to say about him. I wish him well for the future, & hope the Saints fans at Tottenham tomorrow give him a decent reception. I also hope his team lose, of course. Times change & people move on, but there’s no justification for all the anti-Pochettino sentiment in my opinion.

05 9 / 2014

Three days have passed since the transfer window closed on Monday night, & with all moves now sealed it seems like a fair time to evaluate Southampton’s business in what has certainly been a turbulent summer.

It was a summer that started badly when Mauricio Pochettino left to join Spurs. It wasn’t a massive leap in quality, given that Tottenham only finished two places above Saints last campaign, but having witnessed how Southampton’s new board were prepared to let Pochettino’s side be dismantled I don’t think you can blame the Argentine for moving on. However it was a real shame to see Pochettino, the best Saints manager of my lifetime, depart.

This was quickly followed by another departure, Rickie Lambert, in one of the board’s darkest moments of a pretty bleak summer overall. They were easily bullied by Liverpool into giving up Lambert for just £4M; a pathetically small figure given that we’d later go on to splash £12M on Shane Long. Some tried to justify the deal because it saw Lambert return to his boyhood club, but the board shouldn’t be making deals for sentimental reasons.

Adam Lallana, widely regarded as the cub’s best performer last season, Dejan Lovren, Luke Shaw & Calum Chambers soon followed him out of St. Mary’s, & with the exception of Lovren all departed for disappointing fees. Due to a sell-on clause, the club will receive less than £20M for Lallana, not enough to justify selling such an important player on & off the pitch. £27M isn’t terrible money for Shaw, but given Manchester United’s need for a left-back, the lack of alternatives who are as good as Shaw & Ed Woodward’s incompetence the fee could well have been closer to £40M. Chambers’ fee, seemingly around £16M, is a lot for a back-up right-back & many reports said new boss Ronald Koeman saw it as a “gift” given that Chambers wouldn’t have featured in his first choice eleven, but seeing as Chambers has since been capped by England and impressed at centre-half for Arsenal, much increasing his value, it’s hard to judge the sale as being a good piece of business. Lovren, a player for whom we already had an able replacement & whose reputation was largely based on playing in a successful system, for £20M was a good deal for Saints, to be fair to the board.

Dani Osvaldo also left, if only on loan with a view to a permanent move, which was probably inevitable ever since the club publically shamed him in January after his training ground bust-up with José Fonte. Whatever the rights & wrongs of said incident, I still fail to see how making it public has done anything but harm the club in making a talented player’s position at the club untenable & reducing his value. Gastón Ramírez’s departure- albeit just a plain season-long loan- was another hard one to fathom given how desperately lacking of creative players Saints have been this season.

Morgan Schneiderlin- in my opinion Southampton’s best player going into the summer- & Jay Rodriguez looked to be off too, until Ralf Krueger, the Canadian chairman with the demeanor of an especially keen science teacher who’s trying to be your friend, finally put his foot down & decided that neither would be sold. Credit to Krueger for staying true to his word & keeping two key players who didn’t want to stay despite clear interest, although this affair only served to dispel the myth that Saints could do nothing to prevent the earlier departures. It’s immensely frustrating that it wasn’t until after the sales of five star men that the board grew a backbone and decided to hold on to talent instead of making a quick buck.

In terms of arrivals, it too soon to judge individuals as successes or failures but it is clear that some holes in the squad have been filled, while others haven’t. Dušan Tadić has made a promising start and looks very sharp, as has Graziano Pellè whose mobility and work-rate have stood out. Ryan Bertrand is not as good a player as Shaw, but is a solid replacement & complements Nathaniel Clyne very well. Saphir Taïder’s short spell at the club was another embarrassing chapter in the tale of the summer, while having seen him play bar a few short clips I don’t have much to offer on Florin Gardoș. Shane Long is a player I like, but £12M was too much to pay for him. Fraser Forster again is a decent player & certainly an upgrade on the erratic Artur Boruc, but cost rather a lot of money in comparison to the likes of Michel Vorm & Keylor Navas who were sold before him. Sadio Mané appears to be the kind of dangerous wide player Saints have been in need of ever since our return to the top flight & is perhaps the most exciting of all the additions. Finally, Toby Alderweireld looks to be a good signing if he can rediscover the form he showed at Ajax, but I would question the decision to bring in two new centre-backs when other areas look a lot more threadbare.

With all of this considered, I think it has to go down as a poor summer for Southampton. The squad may have more depth, but key areas- mainly attacking midfield & both fullback positions- are still weak & should someone like Tadić or Bertrand get injured there’s little in the way of cover beyond unproven players from the U21 squad. Saints’ first choice eleven is unquestionably weaker & the squad as a whole is only marginally stronger, if at all. Saints have made a profit this window, & may argue that that puts them in a stronger position for the future, but if it were a window for the future then selling Shaw & Chambers, two of the country’s brightest prospects, makes even less sense.

Southampton’s team is weaker than it was four months ago & the squad has less potential. We still have a decent team more than capable of finishing in the top half & the summer didn’t turn into the complete disaster it was threatening to become, but that doesn’t mean it was a good one. It wasn’t.

18 9 / 2013

Artur Boruc is currently Saints’ number one & has been for a little under a year. Were it up to me though, Paulo Gazzaniga would be the man between the sticks- & here’s why.

Let me start by saying that I don’t have a particularly high opinion of any of Southampton’s current crop of goalkeepers. All have flaws, but only one has upside- if you’ll pardon the Americanism. Boruc’s kicking is atrocious, error-prone & his shot-stopping is certainly below par for the Premier League. Kelvin Davis’ kicking is also poor & his shot-stopping ability is very suspect, having been cheaply beaten at the near post on several occasions since our return to the top flight. Gazzaniga meanwhile has shown himself to be error-prone & suspect when it comes to dealing with crosses.

The Argentinian, however has major upside. He’s young- at twenty-one over a decade younger than Boruc & Davis- so is a long-term option. His kicking is excellent & he’s also quick off his line; two attributes whose importance is often underestimated in the modern game & are particularly important given how Mauricio Pochettino’s side play. Keeping possession of the ball is essential, both to enable patient build-up play & to minimise the amount of energy-sapping, high-tempo pressing the players have to do when without it. Gazzaniga’s speed off his line also helps the pressing game, as it allows Saints to play a higher line of defence; something Spurs have been able to do with Hugo Lloris in goal. This should compress the area in which the opposition can play in, making Saints’ intense pressing more effective.

Contrary to what some will have you believe, Boruc isn’t that great. Many sweep his deficiencies under the carpet because they’ve warmed to Boruc’s character, loving how he glorifies hooliganism & is, apparently. a “LAD”. That bears a striking resemblance to those calling for Billy Sharp.

For me, the bottom line is this; none of our goalkeepers are that great so we may as well go for the one who could become great, while also offering key attributes the others don’t. If Gazzaniga is given regular football & the confidence of knowing he’s the man, he”l improve. There may be a difficult teething period, but he’ll be stronger for it in the long run.  I don’t think Boruc is any better than Gazzaniga, so I don’t think he should be playing instead of him.

02 9 / 2013

With the transfer window now closed, we know that the above will be Southampton’s final twenty-five man squad; even though it only contains twenty-three players. I for one am happy enough with that; we’ve added quality to an already talented bunch. A lack of width & pace upfront is my only minor concern.

31 8 / 2013

Dean Hammond left Southampton on Friday, joining Leicester for an undisclosed fee. Whilst he hasn’t had adoring fans with a romanticised agenda calling for his inclusion in Saints’ latest line-ups, unlike a certain Billy Sharp, he departs having made a far greater impact in Saints’ rise to the Premier League, & is a far greater legend.

Hammond was a key cog in the Southampton machine for three seasons, ever since his 2009 arrival from Colchester. His commanding presence in midfield, both with the ball & without it, gave the likes of Rickie Lambert & Papa Waigo N’Daiye the ideal platform from which to dispatch chance after chance & also shielded an ready solid defence. Morgan Schneiderlin & Jack Cork were both partners with whom Hammond developed a good relationship, as both were willing to sit in front of the defence, allowing him to venture forward as your archetypal box-to-box midfielder. Both would go on to develop into top quality players & ultimately make Hammond surplus to requirements, but he took in it his stride, accepting his time was up, & hasn’t wallowed in self-pity at not getting his chance in the top flight. Hammond is, without doubt, a consummate professional, & swearing on live television is the one of few blots in his proverbial copybook. Blots I’m more than willing to forgive.

Saints won the JPT on his watch, with Hammond- as on-field captain- lifting the trophy with club captain Kelvin Davis, & gained back-to-back promotions. Hammond was crucial in all of this success & I have no doubt that he’ll prove a shrewd acquisition for the Foxes.