Lifelong Saints fan Ben Stanfield looks at Southampton's incredible season so far under Ronald Koeman.
I thought I should start this blog by making an admission to anyone reading that doesn’t know much about Southampton Football Club – I promise we haven’t always been this good!
I’ve had the privilege/stress (delete as appropriate) of following them throughout England for nearly 30 years now. During that time we’ve had our up’s and, more often than not, down’s but its been more than made up for with the way the Club has developed, both on and off the pitch, over the last 5 years.
I bet if I’d asked you 5 years ago to name three Southampton players you wouldn’t have been able to!?
Well now we’re full of cosmopolitan stars from around the World, managed by a former Dutch superstar in Ronald Koeman and, against most odds, flying high in the English Premier League.
Ultimately, with all that said, we have one man to thank for being where we are now – the late, great Markus Liebherr.
Markus was a German-born Swiss businessman who saved Southampton from the brink of oblivion back in 2009. To this day, despite his sad passing in 2010, everyone associated with the Club, particularly the fans, will always be grateful for his generosity and continue to support and inspire both his daughter, Katharina, who now manages the ownership of Saints on the family’s behalf, and the Club as much as we can.
Since that moment in 2009 it’s been the football club equivalent of a Roy of the Rovers story and fans like myself are making sure we enjoy every minute of it at the moment.
Looking at the current season, Saints have found themselves neatly placed amongst the biggest Clubs in England, fighting to qualify for an end of season European spot.
After being tipped by many for relegation before a ball was even kicked, it’s truly been a great season and one I hope we can now finish off with the reward the teams efforts deserve – a European qualification spot.
But it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Last summer we lost our manager, Mauricio Pochettino, a number of our key players (Rickie Lambert, Luke Shaw, Dejan Lovren, Calum Chambers etc.) and also at one point in the season our Chairman, Nicola Cortese.
Stormy seas looked to be ahead but, as it turned out, none of those astute sales, for which the Club received around €120m, have gone on to thrive at their respective Clubs and Saints managed to replace the manager with an even better one and a host of well researched and scouted players, who were keen to travel to England and prove themselves in one of the best leagues in Europe.
The key signing for me however, out of everyone who joined Southampton last summer, was the aforementioned Ronald Koeman.
I’m old enough to be able to say that Koeman was one of the greatest players to play football during the 1980’s and 1990’s and will be a name synonymous with any European football supporter.
Since his arrival Ronald Koeman has instilled a number of his beliefs in to the team and its no coincidence that, because of this, results have been paying off on the pitch.
Firstly, and maybe most importantly, he made sure he gained respect.
There is no doubting that, whilst some of them weren’t even born when he was playing, all of the squad respect him for who he is, his playing background and his tactical nous.
They are quite obviously keen to learn and develop under him and ultimately that’s one of the key skills he has built as a manager and why the Southampton board brought him to the club.
There is also desire in the team, technical quality in the team, confidence in the team and importantly discipline in the team. Any successful Club needs all of these assets to succeed.
There is an excellent mix of experienced players, such as Jose Fonte and Steven Davis, playing alongside 19 year olds, like Harrison Reed and James Ward-Prowse, who are just starting to make their way in the game.
Compared to the other major clubs in England – Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal etc. – Saints don’t have a very big squad and that’s continuing to be the big challenge in maintaining our momentum to finish in the top-6 this season.
Koeman and has backroom team have managed to regularly eek out a minimum 90-95% performance from all of his players and that will need to continue.
If we can qualify for Europe then, not only in my opinion will it have been thoroughly deserved, but more importantly it should allow us to keep some of our superstars, who are ultimately destined for bigger things in the game.
The likes of England’s Nathaniel Clyne and Frenchman Morgan Schneiderlin have both received International honours within the last year or so and, at 23 and 25 respectively, still have a lot to offer the game.
They are key to the way Saints play currently and, if we want to enjoy more seasons like we’ve had this year, need to be retained in order to do so. Do I think we need to qualify for Europe this season to keep hold of Clyne and Scheniderlin in the summer? Probably.
So finishing as high up the Premier League as we can is imperative now – something that the older generations of fan like myself would have found hard to believe during all those pre-Liebherr years of toil!
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