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Saints: timeline The  Bounce  Back

As the faithful debated who was to blame for Saints’ plight, and why, the administrators, Begbies Traynor, set about vending the football club.

Thanks to Aviva writing off a big-hearted slice the outstanding mortgage on St Mary’s Stadium, Southampton FC was on offer for a knock down price; oft quoted as “£15-million”. A modest amount given the company’s assets; including a nearly new 32,000 capacity stadium, a training ground that four years previously had been widely regarded as among the best in the country and an academy sans parallel.  On the other hand, Saints were now a League One club starting the season with a 10 point deduction inflicted by the Football League for having the effrontery to panic a bank manager.

There followed much conjecture and badly informed gossip concerning bids and possible bids. However, as with the situation preceding Michael Wilde’s takeover in 2006, much of this was based on the big talk and posturing of “insiders” with “contacts”. In hindsight it’s clear that the only serious contender was what, by Monday 7 July, the Echo was calling the “Swiss Group”. At 1:24pm Wednesday 8 July, Dan Kerins informed Echo website readers : “SOUTHAMPTON Football Club has finally been bought.”  

Southampton Leisure Holdings Plc joint Administrator Mark Fry today confirms that DMWSL613 Limited has acquired the Company's assets, principally Southampton Football Club for an undisclosed sum. The purchaser is owned and controlled by Markus Liebherr, 61, who is a Swiss national. Markus Liebherr also owns and controls the Swiss-based Mali Group, which consists of five companies engaged in technologically advanced engineering.

Markus Liebherr appointed Nicola Cortese as CEO of his new acquisition. Nicola Cortese’s first appointment of note was to bring in Alan Pardew as manager. Progress since has been surprising, even when the considerable investment made in the Club is taken into consideration.

The generous percentage of that considerable investment has been spent on the infrastructure of the Club. As with Rupert Lowe’s administration, emphasis has been placed on Staplewood and the Academy.  

Indeed, player recruitment has been prudent. The expensive signings have, with one notable exception, been young men with potential.

The notable exception being £1-million Rickie Lambert, a 27-year-old whose career had been spent in Leagues One and Two. We may assume he was headhunted by Pardew to get the goals that would propel Saints up out of League One. Rickie delivered . There was reasonable doubt he could repeat the achievement in the Championship. Rickie delivered again; and again; and, is now delivering for England. Penny for penny Rickie Lambert is arguably the the most successful transfer acquisition in Saints’ history.

Another contender for that particular accolade is Morgan Schneiderlin. Bought in the summer of 2008 in the hope he could help a callow side retain Championship status, his nonchalant presence in midfield has been crucial in Saints’  re-emergence, as have been the contributions of Kelvin Davis and Adam Lallana who, like Morgan, were regulars in 2008-09.

Saints often impressed in ’09-10,  but never quite looked like pegging back enough of the 10 point deficit to squeeze into a play-off position. However, there was a fabulous day at Wembley – Sunday 28 March – when Saints defeated Carlisle United 4-1 in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final. It was not a planet-footy shattering event, but it gave supporters a memorable day out – particularly those travelling by a hopelessly dysfunctional rail service.  

The bottom dropped out of the 2010-11 season before it started. The poor opening was perplexing but the untimely death of Markus Liebherr, which was announced on the Echo website at 6.25pm on Wednesday 11 August, was dismaying. There can be no doubt that his intervention in the Club’s affairs had saved it from, at the very best, a protracted sojourn in the Football League. If one thing had become abundantly clear over the previous three seasons it was that – for all the hyperbole that helped oust Rupert Lowe from the chairmanship – there was no good fairy or fairies around Southampton with the inclination and economic resources to buy Saints, never mind  buy Saints back into the Premiership.  

Before it was thought tasteful to speculate on the future of the club without Markus Liebherr’s backing Alan Pardew was sacked. His replacement was Scunthorpe United’s manager Nigel Adkins. “Our Nige” won his first game (1-0 at Sheffield Wednesday) at the third attempt. Thereafter Saints rose sedately up the table.

On Tuesday 28 December, prior to taking on third placed Huddersfield Town at St Mary’s, Saints were sitting tenth in League One with 28 points from 19 games. On Saturday 8 January, when Premiership Blackpool hit town for the Third  Round of the FA Cup, Saints had 37 points from 22 matches and were in second place, having netted 11 times (and much too cool for Blackpool, who were vanquished 2-0).     

Second (to Brighton & Hove Albion) was where they finished the season. As fans and pundits bandied such words as “consolidation” Saints partook in three, seemingly, significant transfer dealings. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain followed Theo Walcott to Arsenal and Jack Cork (a loanee during season ’08-09) and Steve De Ridder were added to the squad.

The predictable choruses of “No ambition!” and “Manager: out of his depth!” Were soon echoing around pubs, clubs and fansites.  Saints opened the season with a 3-1 home win over Leeds United, putting them in second place. That was Saints’ lowest placing all season. It was, indeed, their final placing.

Being pipped for the title by Reading was manfully born. Consecutive promotions was a fabulous achievement by any reckoning.  

The first home match under Markus Liebherr’s ownership, a 2-2 draw with Millwall

Bristol Rover’s number 9 Rickie Lambert, was allocated the talismanic – for Saints – number 7 shirt on signing in time for a home League Cup tie against Northampton Town. He scored in the 2-0 victory.   

Adam Lallana, Morgan Schneiderlin and Kelvin Davis, all part of the side relegated from the Championship in 2009, who played key roles in returning Saints to the Premiership in 2012.

José Fonte and Guly do Prado in their League One pomp.

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