Saints reaching major crossroads

Sunday 11th May 2014 13:09

Mauricio Pochettino: Could potentially be on his way out of St Mary's

Mauricio Pochettino: Could potentially be on his way out of St Mary's

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Southampton FanZoner Ben Stanfield believes the end of the current season spells a crucial period in the future stability of the club.

In 2009 our saviour Markus Liebherr, along with then Chairman Nicola Cortese, devised a five-year plan to give Southampton Football Club, who he had just saved from going out of business completely, a second chance at life and a plan to try to reclaim the good times that our wonderful club had once achieved.

Now, as that plan culminates against Manchester United in the last game of the 2013-14 season this weekend, I think he would look down from heaven very satisfied that it has been achieved.

During that time we have had a number of players, several managers and also a more recent change of regime at the very top of the club, but it's still been delivered to timescale and (hopefully) budget.

Saints rise through the leagues has been nothing short of incredible and, as a club that has notoriously always struggled to maintain their place in any league they've been in, it's been very satisfying as a fan to be able to enjoy success at the other end of a table for a few years.

We have built up a very talented squad, predominately made up of young British footballers, and have been playing some scintillating football to achieve 8th place this season - which is realistically top of the league that we would have been expecting to compete in (i.e. the top seven being in their own league - both financially and talent wise).

So, whilst that five-year plan can be marked off as 'completed' the big question everyone in and around Southampton Football Club is now asking is "what happens next?"

It certainly seems that Saints are at a crossroads in their current evolution. Do they go one way and keep the squad they have, keep the manager they have and invest in several other top players to make a push to try and break into that top-seven next season?

Otherwise do they admit they can go no further? Refrain from spending any more money on players and risk losing Mauricio Pochettino and the likes of Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana?

It's a fine line between success and failure and one that I'm sure has/will be very sensibly discussed by the powers that be.

You cannot achieve anything at the top in football these days without spending vast amounts of money. Yes our owners are a billion-pound family organisation but that doesn't mean it's about to all be pumped into something that could essentially be seen as a hobby for them.

Realistically Pochettino, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana and potentially several others could quite easily walk out the door in the coming weeks. If we are not to build on what we have achieved this season then how is Adam Lallana for example really going to improve on a season with Saints where he has finished 8th and cleaned up at the end of season awards (winning all four of the most prestigious ones on offer).

I've heard very serious rumours that there is no more money willing to be pumped in by the owners to take is to the next level (i.e. £60m-£100m) and that in fact they will just try over the coming season(s) to maintain their place in the Premier League until a suitable buyer is found, whilst cashing in on Shaw, Lallana etc now.

These are just rumours though and it is also quite conceivable that, with some strong drive from the Board of Directors towards the current manager and star players about their plans to really push on for the top-seven, that next season could see this group still together.

All of the signs (from local and national media outlets, as well as indirect messages from players/manager comments (or lack of commitment anyway) etc) is that it is very likely that Lallana will be off in search of Champions League football, whilst his profile is at its highest ever peak, and that Luke Shaw will head to Manchester United as the long-term replacement for Patrice Evra.

If those transfers do both happen then Saints will likely pull in around £50m and that, alongside the TV revenue/Premier League prize money, should see a neat return for the season. The questions are then of course, how much of that, if it all, is invested and more importantly who will be in charge of the team and actually therefore investing it?

But if Pochettino does leave, with Tottenham looking a serious contender for his services, then I still think Saints - whatever sort of playing staff is left - should be seen as a very attractive Club for a number of managers currently out of work (or those that are in work that we look to attract).

The Liebherr Empire, along with Cortese, has built Saints back up from scratch to one of the most idolised Clubs in the Premier League and there is still a fantastic set-up from top to bottom.

Spending lots of money to try to get to the next level doesn't always work (just look at how much Tottenham spent this season to really get no further on) and you only have to look at the likes of Leeds United a few years ago, and Portsmouth more recently, who tried to do it, failed and have ended up almost in oblivion themselves.

For me, as a Saints fan, I need to remember that we were so close to going out of business and to not get greedy by expecting more and more. Maybe this really is as far as we can go as a club, and we should be grateful for what we have achieved over such a short space of time, but I wouldn't ever want us to go gung-ho with spending unless we really could afford it.

Markus' plan has got us off and running and its now up to the likes of Katharina, his daughter, Ralph Krueger, Les Reed etc to stick or twist. Only they can decide the fate of Southampton - if indeed it's not already been decided.

For now though I am very keen to look back on this season fondly and be thankful for one of the best squads/manager that I've ever had the privilege of following as a Saints fan. Watching young footballers play with passion and commitment week in, week out is all you can ask as a fan. If some of those leave due to their own personal success then you just have to pat them on the back and thank them for representing your club in the way you would hope they would.

But that's something to worry about tomorrow so I'll deal with that if and when tomorrow comes!

By Ben Stanfield, Fanzone's Southampton Blogger. Follow him on Twitter: @benstanners, and don't forget to follow @FanZone too!

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