What we should be discussing here is an impressive season. A season in which Mauricio Potchettino emerged as manager of terrific potential, who inherited a team of terrific potential, produced by a club with terrific potential. Heaven knows the media showered the Saints with praise, as did Roy Hodgson, who practically took up residence in the Itchen Stand, and any number of opposition managers who expressed admiration for the gusto and determination with which Saints set about obtaining the ball and the artistry they displayed when in possession of it.
What it will be recalled for, however, is the departures of chairman Nicola Cortese and Dani Osvaldo – and endless rain. “What about the summer?!” you cry. “What about the ‘fire sale?!’” All in good time, here we devote our attention to the season itself.
There were “rumours” that the relationship between Cortese, the brains behind Saints’ rise from League One, and Katharina Liebherr, the money behind Saints’ rise from League One, needed work (odd how such rumours find their way to the press isn’t it?) but the news, on the morning January 15, that Cortese was considering his position was dramatic. Ben Smith told visitors to the BBC Sport website: “ The 45-year-old has yet to make a final decision on his position but some at the club fear he could walk away at the end of the season.” Furthermore, Smith continued, if Cortese did leave it was more than likely that manager Mauricio Pochettino would follow. An easily made assumption given that Cortese had plucked him from the obscurity of being an ex-Espanyol head coach and he had been constantly linked with to the vacancy at Tottenham Hotspur since the sacking of Andres Villa-Boas exactly a month before. That evening, at 7.50, the BBC reported that Cortese had resigned. “Crisis!” (sic)
Before the dust had settled the inference was that Katharina Liebherr was unhappy with her lack of influence on the financial expenditure Cortese was obliging her to make. Conformation being made on March 31, with the publication, on the official website, of the Audited annual results for DMWSL 613 Group Limited for the year ended 30 June 2013.
Among the issues of concern were £27-million owed in transfer fees and the £30-million bill on the expansion an redevelopment of the Staplewood training ground, which had overrun the original estimate by £15-million. Newly appointed director Hans Hofstetter pronounced:
Whilst I perceive that we have inherited a difficult situation financially, there are now clear and structured plans in place to progress the Club and avoid a similar situation from occurring again.
The continued support of the Ultimate Shareholder cannot be underestimated, and we are grateful to be able to rely on their dedication to helping us flourish as a Club.
In the short time I have been at Southampton it has become abundantly clear that we are blessed with a staff that has all the necessary skills with which to progress, and now that we can supplement that with a strong Board I am sure we will enjoy a successful future together.
It also transpired that Cortese was paying himself a salary of £2-million a year. Well, he is a banker. One could argue he was worth it. Much of the credit for Southampton’s restoration to the top flight may be owed to Les Reed, Alan Pardew, Nigel Adkins and Pochettino, but nobody can seriously doubt that Cortese was the biggest influence on the workings and philosophy of the Club throughout that time – although one could deduce that Cortese’s philosophy differed from Rupert Lowe’s in only two major respects: the enormous amount of money at his disposal and his complete indifference to the opinions and wishes of the Club’s critics and supporters. Rupert was always prepared to stick up for his decisions.
We had to wait eleven days for the next “crisis!” to explode on the back page of the Southern Daily Echo (and it was not the departure of Pochettino, who announced he was staying on the 16th): the big story, on Friday January 26 was headlined:
Osvaldo was suspended for allegedlying – that is to say that everything he was accused of doing was prefixed by the adverb allegedly. As far as I know he has not been seen at the Club since. At twelve-point-nine-million quid Dani, was most expensive transfer acquisition in Saints’ history – and the biggest mistake. The other incomers, Victor Wanyama from Celtic and Dejan Lovren from Olymique Lyonaise, were impressive.
Generally, since Markus Liebherr took the Club over in 2009, transfer dealings have been more than satisfactory. Since promotion to the Premiership the much criticised policy of signing players with potential rather than experience has proved an astute one. Les Reed, currently designated Director of Football, heads a substantial scouting operation that gathers data on potential players, coaches and managers, internationally (the signing of Osvaldo, a 27-year-old Italian international, was something of an anomaly). This combined with the conveyer belt out of the Academy is, evidently, a formula for continued success.
Saints’ success with regard to recruitment and youth development was stressed with enthusiasm by new Chairman Ralph Krueger when he took office in March – in fact, he has been positively messianic regarding the Academy.
Saints kicked-off the season with a 1-0 win at West Bromwich Albion with six Englishmen in the side: four of them former academicians: Adam Lallana, James Ward-Prowse, Luke Shaw and debutant Calum Chambers. The other Englishmen in the starting eleven were Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez.
At Wembley, on the night of January 27, Luke Shaw became the fourth Saints of ’13-14 to make his England debut, joining the fray for the second half against Denmark – Lambert, Lallana and Rodriguez having preceded him – and was one of three Saints’ Academy graduates to feature that evening; Lallana and Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also making it onto the pitch for the one-goal victory. On the same night Ward-Prowse turned out for England Under-21s and Chambers, Harrison Reed, Sam Gallagher and Matt Targett represented the Under-19s.
Saints showed flashes of near genius early on. Defeating the previously undefeated Liverpool at Anfield on September 21 had the critics dismissing Liverpool’s chances of European competition rather than predicting those of Saints’, but the 2-0 defeat of a dire Fulham side at St Mary’s on Saturday October 26 saw Saints rise to third, and had the faithful and a few experienced pundits seriously wandering if they could stay in the reckoning. Defeats at Arsenal and Chelsea sobered everyone up, but Saints continued to scintillate; despite routinely failing to deliver the goals their football promised.
Disappointments were few, but being eliminated from the League Cup (Capitol One Cup) and the FA Cup by a dire Sunderland side that also forced two league draws must be principle among them. Dreams of edging ahead of Manchester United, Spurs and Everton failed to materialise.
The Norfum had lots of fun singing “We’re off to Brazil” towards the end of the season. Rodriguez was out of contention having sustained an anterior cruciate ligament injury in the 4-1 defeat at Manchester City in April, but Lambert, Lallana and Shaw made Hodgson’s final selection.
All in all, a season to remember – for reasons exhilarating and deflating. The let downs: Lambert was a Liverpool player when he boarded the plane for the Americas and Lallana had told the press that he was anxious to follow him. Shaw, unequivocally, was a signature away from being join Manchester United.
Pochettino, as every journalist, print and broadcast predicted, defected to Spurs on May 27.
What further development could we expect? Saints are, after all is said and done, a club of terrific potential.
On Tuesday May 7 Alan Lallana had a memorable evening, broadcast live via YouTube, at the Saints’ Annual Player Awards.
Click screen to access the event.
Saints finished the season by out-classing Manchester United at St Mary’s to the tune of one-all. The BBC statistics accorded the home side 59% posetion.
The game was followed by a lap of appreciation – or was it farewell?
Before the brouhaha surrounding the departure of Nicola Cortese Academy Manager Matt Crocker (pictured here in a programme from August 2006) slipped quietly out of the Club towards the end 2013, having accepted an offer to become head of coach & player development at the Football Association.
He was given a sound endorsement by Cortese on the Club website on July 17. Perhaps a little understated, given how important and prominent the Academy has become over Matt’s seven years at St Mary’s. He replaced the influential Huw Jennings in May 2006; being one of the last appointments made by Rupert Lowe before being ousted as chairman by Michael Wilde in 2006.