5 reasons for Saints fans to be optimistic ahead of the new season

Standard

Originally published on Friday, August 15, 2014.

It’s been a summer of upheaval for Saints so far, but on the eve of the Premier League season, here are reasons for Southampton fans to be positive ahead of the new campaign.

1. Ronald Koeman

The Dutch legend comes in with bags of experience and is a proven winner. As a player, he won Euro 88 as well as two European Cups, nine league titles in Spain and the Netherlands, and four domestic cups. As a manager in the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal, he has won silverware in the shape of three league titles, two domestic cups and three Community Shield equivalents.

2. Big name signings with top-level experience

Whilst a big reputation doesn’t guarantee success, it does underscore ambition by those who brought them to the club and players such as Fraser Forster, Saphir Taider and Ryan Bertrand have lots of experience at the highest levels of club football. Indeed Forster was referred to as “The Wall” by the Spanish press after his heroics for Celtic against Barcelona, Bertrand has a Champions League medal and Taider has come from one of the biggest clubs in the world following a World Cup.

3. Despite the sales, most of the big players are still here

Yes, we will never again see the names Lallana, Lambert, Lovren, Shaw and Chambers on the Saints teamsheet, but a lot of key players from the last few years remain on the squad list; Jay Rodriguez, Victor Wanyama, Jose Fonte, Gaston Ramirez, Jack Cork, Artur Boruc, Nathaniel Clyne, Morgan Schneiderlin, Steven Davis – they’re all still Saints players and many Premier League managers would be happy to have them in their side.

4. Experience and trust

Graziano Pellè and Dusan Tadic come from the Dutch leagues and one can only assume Koeman made a beeline for this pair due to his knowledge and experience of what they can do. Whilst the Premier League is undoubtedly a step up from the Eredivise, the manager obviously has faith in what they can do due to his first hand experience of their talents – especially in the case of Pelle who scored 55 goals for Koeman.

5. Long term planning

It’s easy to buy into the narrative that Saints have been in absolute turmoil this summer, but signings like Shane Long suggest otherwise. The club expressed interest in Long early last season meaning that his capture is not just a panic decision. He – and other targets – will have been identified and evaluated at length long before the credit card is whipped out. Nicola Cortese boasted about the club’s ability to plan and be unfazed by unexpected developments. Perhaps we have just seen that in action.

Svensson devastates while Lambert elates

Standard

Originally published in The Sports Pink and dailyecho.co.uk

An ex-Saint has ruined my plans for next summer, but a current one may just have sorted out yours.

In Dublin, 37-year-old Anders Svensson popped up to beat David Forde at the near post and condemn Ireland to a 2-1 defeat which pretty much kills of any hopes of the boys in green getting on a plane to Brazil next summer.

To make it worse, I even have a signed shirt of his from 2003. Still, can always use an extra rag. Not that I’m bitter or anything.

About 300 miles away at Wembley however, Rickie Lambert Esq. was busy scoring and creating goals against a rather limited Moldova.

This may have led to a number bemoaning the fact that it’s only Moldova and that Lambert is still not good enough for international duty, but the fact remains he is scoring goals in an England shirt.

Without his contribution in three of the four goals England scored, the result would have been rather more underwhelming – and in international football, you don’t get to play the big boys without dispatching the minnows first.

Lambert’s call up by Roy Hodgson has had a remarkable effect across the country. Since I was a small boy, all the English football fans I know have always put their club ahead of their country.

Personally, I put this down to firstly the clever marketing of the Premier League over the last 21 years, the bloating of the European Cup into the Champions League and finally the constant overhyping of the Three Lions (Golden Generation, anyone?).

In England, England is no longer the pinnacle of the game. Yet, Rickie Lambert seems to have reminded people that it should be.

His progress from the fourth tier to International football seems to have galvanised belief that it is possible to survive the influx of foreign talent and make an impression on the closed shop that is the England national team.

Suddenly, Champions League experience is not a pre-requisite to play international football – lest we forget, Gary Hooper, now at Norwich, has Champions League experience at Celtic, but I don’t see a clamour for his call up.

In Southampton especially, more people suddenly seem concerned, even emotionally invested in what England can do. That’s what international football should be about. Petty club rivalries are left at the door for the greater good as all and sundry come together in hope and expectation.

I had the good fortune to go Euro 2012 last year. The football was abysmal. Giovanni Trapattoni’s atrocious tactics and gameplans saw Ireland humiliated. Regardless, it was one of the best experiences of my life.

Poznan, a city of 600,000 people was invaded by 50,000 Irishmen and women there for the craic and unlikely dreams of glory.

Ignoring the financial realities for a moment, it now looks like I won’t have the opportunity to repeat in Rio the delights of Gdansk – in reality, it just means I won’t have the chance to sell a kidney to fund such a trip. Every cloud and all that.

Should England make it however and you’re lucky enough to be able to afford it, I can only urge you to look at heading to Brazil next summer.

If however you, like most people, don’t have a spare few grand to throw away on a football jolly, throw yourself into International football.

Enjoy the dreams, wallow in the disappointment, but above all remember how Rickie Lambert made it acceptable to care about your country once again.

Oops.

Standard

So, does this splash now look like such a good idea?

Admittedly, I enjoyed France’s abysmal performance far more than I did England’s (schadenfreude) but the English national media do have a tendency to big up the football team’s ability, before overreacting to ordinary performances painting them as the coming of the apocalypse.

And it is for reasons like this gem from The Sun that last night’s draw with Algeria raises a wry smile.

Rooney’s reaction is either being described as petulant or indicative of a frustrated warrior, depending on your point of view (seemingly fans think the former, pundits the latter) but what does seem universal is how Capello, in the space of 180 minutes, has gone from the man who could guide England to World Cup glory (which to my mind, was always optimistic in the extreme) to a cold, ruthless dictator whose methods are sapping the confidence from his players (again, a bit unlikely).

I think England will still make it through to the second round – although I disagree that results between sides comes before goal difference and goals scored as a tie breaker.

The reality is that England are a good side. Not a bad one, but most certainly not a great one. That has long been the case, but as long as jingoistic hyperbole continues, most patriotic football fans will be swept up in the bipolar condition that sweeps the nation.

Hell, we battered Algeria 3-0 a few weeks ago!