Question: What was the most important lesson we learned 2012-13?
Answer: that we, the Saintly host, are entitled to our opinions, but Nicola Cortese does not feel any obligation to listen to them, never mind take note. At least former chairmen went through the motions.
Nothing illustrated this more starkly than the departure of Nigel Adkins. Our Nige was doing a great job. He’d taken Saints from League One to the Premier League in two season and while they were not setting the world alight they were certainly getting an increasingly firm grip on the division. As 2013 dawned he was doing a commendable job: learning all the time and evidently, to my eyes, in tune with the philosophy of the Club. He’d earned the right, I believed, to take Saints down and have a crack at getting them re-promoted. That, after all, is what happened with Lawrie McMenemy in 1973-74; and the board’s faith was repaid.
My take on what happened, and I am far from being the first person to articulate this, is that the departure of Adkins was, primarily, not down to failure, but that Nicola Cortese reckoned he had found somebody who could do the job better: “Thanks Nige, you’ve done a good job. Here’s your P45. Cheers!” Sans, of course, the “thanks” and the “cheers”.
Inevitably, the Echo ran a poll and Cortese’s decision received a 92% disapproval rating. There was no indication how many voted or whether any of them had ever attended a football match. Ruthless? Yes; but no more so than the failure of Billy Sharp and others to get a proper chance to prove themselves in the top tier.
The media was summoned to a press conference at St Mary’s on the afternoon of Wednesday 18 January at which Mauricio Pochettino introduced himself and ran through a few platitudes; via a translator. The question on everybody’s lips was: “Where is Cortese?” Followed by: “We are owed an explanation.”
Matthew Le Tissier, predictably, denounced Cortese as a “coward” for not facing the press and the fans. We had every right to expect Cortese to give the public enough of his thinking on the matter to keep the controversy stewing for weeks, possibly months, but with nothing to fulminate about the controversy was practically dead as we strolled pubward from St Mary’s after a goalless draw with Everton on the following Monday night.
A narrow defeat at Manchester United and a point gained at Wigan was followed by Premiership champions Manchester City visiting St Mary’s. Paul Doyle’s Guardian report noted that “… City began sluggishly, briefly flickered and then floundered like disheveled brawlers before being floored by slick Southampton.” It was an outstanding display, which culminated in a 3-1 victory. It was one of the most memorable matches in the St Mary’s Stadium’s short history. Even hardened Cortese knockers wept with hapiness. Liverpool and then Chelsea were defeated at St Mary’s in March and the only doubts that Mauricio is an outstanding coach are harboured by Southampton’s small but lively contingent of contrarians.
Ending the season 14th was as much as anyone dared hope for. With the exception of Steven Davis’s recruitment the experts’ advice to sign experienced Premiership players was ignored. And it’s just as well, all those given the opportunity excelled in ’12-13. A couple of players got flack -- they didn’t deserve it.
Those who witnessed Rickie Lambert step up from League One to the Championship were in little doubt that he was capable of making the transition to the Premiership. Nobody was disappointed. Adam Lallana and Jack Cork also impressed.
Morgan Schneiderlin was the Saints’ player of the year, for the fans and his teammates, and Echo readers. Like Matt Le Tissier, he is so naturally gifted that his game looks effortless. The ball appears at his feet as expected and is moved and dispatched with a calm insouciance; he tackles nonchalantly; he just strolls through matches. So back in February, when it became known that he had made more interceptions and tackles than anyone else in the Premiership and that his pass competition rate was around 85%, I was not surprised. However, when appraised that his work rate is among the best in Europe -- he averaged seven miles per game -- I was staggered. That said, he’s never failed to stagger me, and I look forward to being staggered by Morgan the Magician for many years to come.
The discovery of the season was Luke Shaw who, aged 17, looked the most accomplished Saints’ left-sided defender since Wayne Bridge ruled the port-flank with Chris Marsden. James Ward-Prowse also demonstrated outstanding potential.
But the Deftly Hallowed player of the season award goes to Nicola Cortese who, for the fourth season running, left his critics floundering.
Sammy Saint eclipsed the team internationally in November 2012, going viral on YouTube dancing Gangnam Style.
Sammy’s seen here giving a crowd- pleasing reprise prior to the Stoke City match.
The new programme was a tad funereal, the new kit was … erm, different.
The last game of the season was a goalless draw with Stoke City followed by a leisurely amble of players and families around the pitch clapping at and waving to the spectators – who responded warmly. It had been billed as a lap of appreciation.