Southampton fans are perhaps better placed than most to deal with false dawns, but even so the chaos that has ensued since Chairman Nicola Cortese’s shock resignation will be a bitter pill to swallow.
The Premier League club have been one of the surprise packages this season, playing an exciting brand of football with a strong emphasis on youth, specifically British. For many they have been a breath of fresh air, a project that even the neutrals have wanted to see flourish and succeed, and indeed it may well have done.
Southampton today are almost unrecognisable from the club that were bought by the Liebherr family back in 2009, saved from the brink of capitulation by engineering tycoon Markus Liebherr in a bid to revive the ailing clubs fortunes. Southampton’s rise back up the leagues has been meteoric, and possibly more convincing than any Saints fan could imagine. So as we stand on the verge of another chapter in the clubs history, have Southampton fans been spoilt?
I think many of the Saints fans that had to come to terms with the club folding would be pretty appreciative of where the Liebherr’s have taken Southampton, but this isn’t the point here. Southampton were onto something big, with the staff and players in place there was a definite chance of continental football in the not so distant future. Granted Pochettino’s men have been through a bit of a slump of late, but the ideas and infrastructure are in place to make this club truly great once more.
This was the vision of Markus Liebherr; and one that following his death in 2010 doesn’t look set to be realised. Daughter Katherina, who has taken over the role of non-exec Chairman from Cortese, looks set to cash in on her father’s investment and a potential sale could well be in the offing. Southampton affections are with Markus Liebherr and Nicola Cortese, they were the ones with the vision and drive to bring the club back to the very top, Katherina by contrast looks to just be undermining all the good work.
Southampton fans have rightly reacted furiously to Cortese’s resignation. The clear feeling is that he was pushed by boardroom desires to change direction and cash in. Mike O’Callaghan, of the Southampton Independent Supporters’ Association was quoted in the Mirror as saying:
“It is a crying shame because Nicola Cortese did a great job running Southampton Football Club.
“We are now a forward-thinking modern club moving in the right direction. We’re setting the standards, half the team is English, and we’ve got new training facilities being built.”
Angry fan Mike Martin added:
“Markus would be turning in his grave if he could see what Katharina has done. He and Cortese saved the club and Nicola took us on to new heights.”
You don’t get the sense that fans have got above their station here at all, there is more just a sense that this will now be a project that was never quite realised. All the building blocks are in place for something great, but with a potential fire-sale ahead all the good work will soon likely be undone.
The magnitude of the boardroom level collapse probably wont hit home until the time when the biggest stars are moved on. The likes of Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana and Jay Rodriguez have all caught the attention of Europe’s top clubs and with Southampton now in an apparent position to sell, there could well be more upheaval on the horizon.
This could all add to suggestions that Pochettino will be next to go, already admitting that losing the man that put so much faith in him would largely render his role untenable.
A Saints source said:
“Mauricio is very angry and hurt by the departure of Nicola and is seriously considering his future. He said previously he could not see a Southampton without Nicola at the helm and has not changed that opinion.”
A club without it’s manager, key players and the funding to drive it forward will not be the same. If the domino effect that many foresee comes into effect, you can see Southampton returning to the type of club where Premier League survival is no longer a guarantee once more.
Some may look at Southampton and say that they didn’t know how lucky they were to have the Liebherr millions, but for the rest of us the end of this project will be a crying shame. A team that could have broken up the rigid Premier League hierarchy and achieved something quite special. For many this will be a long term project sadly unfulfilled.