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|Good for you Dave Merrington...|
at 12:51 18 Mar 2021
The Mail running an article today about figures in football who were aware of the abuse of the boys. Our own Dave Merrington is one of those figures, but thankfully and to his credit he comes out rather well as he took action.
I still don't know how this happened at Saints. I was a kid around that time and like most people had trials for the club. I knew no one in or around the club but I remember the name Bob Higgins was joked about as a kiddie fiddler at my school. So if kids not even attached to the club knew his reputation how the hell did people inside the game not know it too....
Anyway here is what they say about DM....
The former Burnley player and Southampton coach is one of the few within football who tackled sexual abuse.
He ensured serial abuser Bob Higgins was drummed out of the Dell and stood trial.
The report relates how, on the way back from a youth-team game at Wimbledon, Merrington heard young player Dean Radford being ridiculed about abuse at the hands of Higgins.
He waited for the chance to speak to Radford about it, then confronted Higgins — and did not flinch when the abuser became threatening and aggressive.
But because of flaws in the legal case, Higgins was acquitted of abusing Radford.
Higgins went on to abuse more boys at Peterborough United.
at 13:25 29 Jan 2021
“When the club was going bankrupt, there would be a lot of 15-year-old lads coming to St Mary’s with their dad. Now I’ve gone, they are 25, they have their own season tickets, their own income and they have lived through a period of unprecedented success.
“Because they have got those season tickets, they have got the right to moan. I just hope sometimes their parents will say to them, ‘You don’t remember when this club nearly went out of business!’”
Les Reed, Southampton’s former vice-chairman, is giving an honest answer having been asked by The Athletic how he should be viewed by the club’s supporters.
Very seldom in football can you have a grey opinion, though. It’s either black or white. “Reed stripped the club bare” or “Reed played a major role in the side’s most successful spell in the Premier League to date”.
What started as a three-month consultancy role at the third-tier club in 2010 turned into an eight-year stay at St Mary’s; a job too good to walk away from in the first place evolved into an untenable one.
His involvement in the Premier League’s Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) caught the eye of Southampton executive chairman Nicola Cortese and Markus Liebherr, the owner who saved the club from the brink of oblivion.
“When I arrived at Southampton and began the process of reviewing the academy, Markus Liebherr and Nicola Cortese decided what they really wanted was an overview of the entire football structure based on their ambitions,” Reed adds.
The dream was for the academy to produce up to 50 per cent of the club’s future Premier League squad, and for the football to be played in an exciting, high-tempo way.
“My remit was to make recommendations on how they could do that,” Reed goes on to explain. “I made that plan and recommended the way forward, and then they asked if I wanted to stay on. I didn’t expect that to last almost 10 years!”
Reed, who departed St Mary’s via the back door in November 2018, has had quite the career in football.
Starting as a coach, he joined the FA in 1986 as a development officer before leaving to become Alan Curbishley’s assistant at Charlton Athletic in 1995.
He returned to the FA three years later and went on to become the governing body’s technical director. Charlton, his boyhood club, would be his first destination as a consultant after leaving the FA for a second time in 2004.
The Valley was also home to his first managerial role in 2006 — one that ended with the now 68-year-old dubbed “the worst manager of all time” in an unofficial poll after he was dismissed following just 41 days in charge of the Premier League club. His eight games saw six defeats (including one to fourth-tier Wycombe in the League Cup), one draw and a solitary win.
“Would I change what happened at Charlton? No,” Reed says without hesitation. “Charlton is still my club. I go down to Charlton and the fans are brilliant. Nobody brings it up.
“Did that scar me? Not really. I dived into something because I thought I was doing the right thing for the club in the worst circumstances. The sad thing for me is that I went to Fulham that year (as an assistant) and we stayed up with two games to go and Charlton went down.
“That’s the bit that saddens me. I’d rather have been at Charlton to help keep them up. But that’s history.”
Reed’s spell as manager of Charlton lasted just six weeks (Photo: Getty Images)
One would be excused for thinking the ridicule he received would leave Reed wounded but it’s hard not to believe him when he says it didn’t. Whichever way you look at it, that moment could have been the end of his football career.
What followed, though, was a return to what he’s best at — operating behind the scenes, where he can put a structure in place to give his employers the best chance of success.
But how did he get on with Cortese? On the face of it, the two were chalk and cheese: one’s an Italian banker, the other an FA man through and through.
“I think anyone who has worked with Nicola, if they are being honest, would say it was fiery,” says Reed. “Nicola’s personality was very, very driven. He wanted things done yesterday all the time. He didn’t want to build towards anything, he didn’t want something small; it had to be big and it had to be sensational.
“What I found when I first went in (at Southampton) was that people were demoralised and had seen false dawns before. Nicola certainly makes people stand up and pay attention. It needed something like that at the beginning, and he provided that.”
Cortese, like Reed, divides opinion. Some love him, some don’t. But Reed insists the rise from languishing in League One to pushing for Europe wouldn’t have been possible without the Italian.
“To be honest, it was so ambitious and he wanted to get there quickly,” he continues. “For me, that was a benefit because if I could persuade him that something was going to work then he would back it 100 per cent. If he didn’t (back it), then we might argue. But I don’t mind that. I had a number of run-ins with him and yet I had a number of really good times with him.
“He is a guy with a big ego, and I don’t think I’ve got a big ego. I think the balance worked quite well and I think we achieved an awful lot in that period.
“All Southampton fans will have their moments with Nicola. But there were a lot of things they loved about him. All we had to do was be ahead of the game and be ready for the challenges we faced. We wouldn’t have had that ability if it wasn’t for Nicola at the beginning. Whether we would have continued the same way after a while, I would have my doubts.”
Given the pair’s differences in strategy and how they operated, it was almost inevitable that there would be a time where one would have to leave. Katharina Liebherr took over as owner after her father’s death in 2o10, and she backed Reed.
“It wasn’t a case of whether I was sad or glad to see him (Cortese) go,” he says. “I think that era was over and the new era, with the more hands-on role Katharina was going to play, I could see that was the way forward.
“The fact was that, at the time, doom and gloom was everywhere. We were tipped to go down; we’d sold all our best players and Les Reed had stripped the club bare.”
Cortese was thanked for his efforts and a new, possibly calmer, era was ushered in by Reed. This was his show now.
His first task was to appoint a new manager, after Mauricio Pochettino was headhunted by Daniel Levy at Tottenham. There was also the playing squad to consider, which had also been hit by Pochettino’s exit.
But — and perhaps this is Reed’s finest moment of his eight-year stay — Ronald Koeman was hired, paving the way not only for a Dutch revolution but a host of future star names arriving.
“To be fair to Katharina, she gave me carte blanche to change that situation in the transfer market,” Reed says.
Before Sadio Mane, Graziano Pelle and Dusan Tadic joined, the former FA employee had to pick Pochettino’s successor. This, he says, was a “calculated” process and one where all roads led to Koeman.
“I had always kept a section of the Black Box (Southampton’s database) for scouting coaches,” Reed tells The Athletic. “You would have had Julian Nagelsmann on that list, Thomas Tuchel on that list… there are plenty of them. In fact, (current Southampton manager) Ralph Hasenhuttl was on that list.
“I knew Ronald was coming out of contract and (then employers Feyenoord) weren’t going to offer him a new one.
“Because of what Nigel (Adkins, who oversaw back-to-back promotions to reach the Premier League) and Mauricio had done, we weren’t at the stage where we would go and get a rookie. We had to bring in an impact appointment.
“He had worked with a sporting director at Feyenoord and Ajax, so the idea that we could work together was fine. Ronald’s appointment was the clearest one in terms of knowing it would work, because he has a strong character and wasn’t bothered about the doom and gloom stuff. He wanted the players in and said, ‘Let me do the rest’.”
Koeman’s appointment was followed by two years of unprecedented Premier League success.
The fears of what would happen to Southampton after the departure of not only Pochettino but also players including Luke Shaw, Dejan Lovren, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert to Liverpool and other Premier League big guns were soon erased. The former Barcelona and Holland star had an aura about him; he oozed class and delivered in a way that hasn’t quite been seen since.
The 2014-15 season saw them finish seventh to qualify for the Europa League preliminary rounds, which was then bettered the following season with their highest top-flight finish in over 30 years. Koeman guided his team to sixth with a points tally of 63, booking a place in the Europa League group phase.
“They were great,” Reed says when asked to reflect on that two-year period. “For me, it was a culmination of what we had been building since 2009. This is what Markus dreamed of and it was so sad he wasn’t there to see it.
“Katharina was in tears because she knew that. She had a wonderful time in those two years as the owner. She was so grateful that we had been able to achieve her father’s legacy.
“She was perfect as an owner in terms of support. She didn’t have any inclination to interfere or get involved. As long as we could have good board meetings where she and her advisors would know the stability is there, everything was being spent wisely and we could be trusted, she was happy.
“She loved coming to the stadium, coming to the games and whenever she came, there was always a party afterwards. Those two years meant there were a lot of parties, because we had a lot of success.”
Southampton finished seventh and then sixth in Koeman’s two seasons (Photo: Getty)
With the wind in their sails and a host of star names attracting attention for the Premier League’s biggest clubs, sustaining this success was always going to be difficult. While there is an acceptance as to why Mane would opt to join Liverpool in the summer of 2016, Koeman’s move to the blue side of Merseyside in that same close-season was the biggest loss.
Working in a “head coach” role, it is suggested that the Dutchman wanted more control. After two brilliant seasons, it’s hard to disagree with this desire. But that left Reed at a crossroads.
Would he be willing to yield the power? Well, history will dictate that Koeman wasn’t satisfied and left for Everton.
Asked whether he should have done more to keep the now Barcelona head coach, especially after the joy he’d brought to St Mary’s, Reed doesn’t think so.
“I did absolutely everything in my power to keep Ronald Koeman,” he says. “It frustrated me badly. I had Ronald’s contract on my table, and it was all but agreed. But he changed agent and that to me is always a bad sign, particularly when you change agent at the last minute.
“It was clear that the agency was determined to get him to Everton by hook or by crook.”
Were there tensions between Koeman and Reed?
“It wasn’t fiery like it was with Nicola,” he says. “Ronald is very experienced; he’d played at the highest level and he was a world-class player and he would have an opinion. I was more than prepared and wanted an opinion.
“The nights I sat with Mauricio (Pochettino) in the dark watching tapes until 11pm… Ronald had a different style. But we knew from the outset my job there, as far as he was concerned with me as his boss, was to check and challenge. I wasn’t going to be like a chief executive without any knowledge or football experience who is going to ask daft questions. It was, ‘Just explain to me again your thoughts on that’.
“I understood why he went to Everton at the end. In his mind, that would be the opportunity to take another step from Southampton. We tried to persuade him it wasn’t. There was never a fallout.”
Koeman joining Everton was, looking back now, the beginning of the end of Reed. What had been six years of appointing good managers, signing future stars and continued growth turned into two years of despair, disaster and resentment.
Claude Puel, who had worked with Thierry Henry at Monaco in the late 1990s, was chosen as Koeman’s successor and handed a three-year contract. But he inherited a team which had lost Mane, Pelle, club captain Jose Fonte and midfielder Victor Wanyama.
If you look back at the bare facts of Puel’s only season in charge, many neutrals would wonder what he did wrong to be sacked at the end of it. There was an eighth-place finish and a narrow League Cup final defeat to Manchester United.
Speak to a Southampton fan though, and they’ll tell you the brand of football played under him did little to keep them awake at St Mary’s. Two years of being dazzled by Koeman was a trance they weren’t ready to step out of.
Some suggested Puel was hired because he was perceived to be the opposite of Koeman. The Frenchman wouldn’t stand up to Reed and the club’s board in a way his predecessor did.
Reed, though, claims the softly-spoken Puel was, in fact, the more assertive of the two.
“Claude was very strong on his opinions in a number of areas and was difficult to shift in terms of his opinions. I would never describe Claude as soft. He was quite stubborn,” he says.
So, after what, on paper, appears to be a very good season, why did Reed think a change was needed? Was this a case of Southampton’s vice-chairman cowing to fan pressure after they had been calling for Puel to go?
“Claude was an excellent technical coach and I think he would have improved if he had longer to adjust to the tactical and intense styles of play in the Premier League,” explains Reed. “The question with him was, ‘Would he change? Would he understand it?’ I wasn’t completely sure that he would. I probably had four hours with Claude discussing this.
“I’m not the dictator… I appoint the managers and I fire them but it’s always a board decision. I probably had my work cut out if I was going to try and persuade everyone that sticking with Claude was going to make us different.”
After Puel came Mauricio Pellegrino.
Rafael Benitez’s former assistant at Valencia and Liverpool came with a recommendation from fellow Argentinian Pochettino. Southampton undoubtedly thought they’d managed to spot the next big thing in the managerial world.
When questioned about how he got that one so wrong, Reed accepted responsibility for Pellegrino not working out but also suggested the now 49-year-old misinterpreted the Premier League. It’s also suggested he wasn’t the club’s first, or even second, choice for the job.
Reed interviewed two other candidates but wanted to go after someone of Koeman’s ilk; an established manager who could come in and turn the tide. This, he explains, couldn’t happen as it wasn’t “company policy” to pay compensation to other clubs.
Pellegrino’s short-lived tenure went down as another Reed failure. In Pellegrino’s defence, while clearly out of his depth, he walked into what colloquially might be termed “a shitshow”. Virgil van Dijk, Southampton’s most important and best player, had handed in a transfer request to try to force through a move to Liverpool. Liebherr had also sold an 80 per cent stake in the club to Chinese billionaire Jisheng Gao.
The first months of Pellegrino’s ill-feted spell were dominated by the Van Dijk saga until the central defender eventually moved to Anfield in January 2018 for £75 million. By making Jurgen Klopp wait six months to get his man, Reed estimates Southampton earned an extra £25 million.
Even though Reed was astute at maximising value for the club’s assets, spending that money wisely became an issue post-Koeman.
Reed with Mario Lemina, signed for £15.4m from Juventus in 2017 (Photo: Matt Watson/Southampton FC via Getty Images)
When asked why the club suddenly appeared to be far less successful in the transfer market, he says: “I wouldn’t say the recruitment went bad in a dramatic way. I think the way a lot of those players were managed and handled was a factor.
“Guido (Carrillo, a striker signed for £19 million in January 2018 who never scored a goal for Southampton) is an interesting example. We had three choices for that position. I’ve never dictated that a coach must have a certain player if they don’t want him. Carrillo had played in the Champions League with Monaco, and Mauricio (Pellegrino) wanted him.
“Out of a choice of three, where they are all pretty close, he wanted Guido. (But then) Because of Mauricio’s loss of confidence, he didn’t pick him. What Guido needed was to just be put in the team, like Graziano (Pelle, the striker he was bought to replace) was, and stay in. Although he did suffer with an injury.
“I’ll be fair and say that Ronald made that mistake with (Holland midfielder) Jordy Clasie. Ronald badly wanted Jordy and we knew what he was capable of. But once he got here, Ronald still treated him like a young player at Feyenoord.”
Reed suggests Mario Lemina and Sofiane Boufal were also good players who could have thrived in different circumstances, and claims the issue with Wesley Hoedt (now a regular starter for Lazio in Serie A) was Van Dijk’s wish to play on the left side of central defence, previously Hoedt’s spot in the team. Reed also cites Jannik Vestergaard as a player initially labelled “another Les Reed failure” before his improvement in recent seasons under Hasenhuttl.
Whichever way you look at it, these deals have hit Southampton in the pocket. The club found themselves unable to find buyers for either Carrillo or Boufal, and both players left last summer for nothing. Hoedt and Lemina are out on loan for the second season in a row.
“It was my job to manage all of that so if someone has to take the blame, I’ll take it,” Reed says, when asked who carries the can. “If I take the credit for the rest of it, I have to take the blame when it goes wrong.”
Of course, Reed’s role wasn’t just restricted to recruiting players, but directors who just so happen to be involved with transfers will often only be judged on their signings, regardless of the other changes they may have made behind the scenes.
But should every club go down the route of having a technical director of some sort? Manchester United famously don’t have one despite it being talked about every time their results take a dip.
“I don’t think one model fits all,” Reed tells The Athletic. “What each club needs to do is look at its needs in terms of what would a sporting director do? Where are the gaps in our organisation?
“If your CEO is a good negotiator, say, Daniel Levy, then he won’t need a sporting director. But what he might need is someone who manages the training ground and all the other resources.
“If you get that balance right, and I would say Daniel (Levy) and Ed (Woodward) have — Manchester United were top of the league (this week) — then why change it?”
Southampton showed Reed the door in November 2018, bringing an end to his eight years at the club.
The club’s hierarchy wanted to go in a new direction and Reed, chairman Ralph Krueger and director of football operations Ross Wilson were out.
You get the sense with Reed that he would be remembered differently had he departed at the same time as Koeman. Those two subsequent years of failure wouldn’t have happened on his watch. He could have gone out at the top.
“I wasn’t planning to leave,” Reed explains. “I think the takeover at ownership level played a part in a slight change in culture at the club, which has resulted in a complete restructure of how the club is run at board level.
“If that hadn’t happened and Katharina had carried on, I think we would have maybe not got into the depths of the problems we did on the pitch.
“It was difficult to do it in the same way. I’m not one who wants to get out when everything is going well.
“I’m comfortable with what I did at Southampton. I’m proud of saying to Markus Liebherr, ‘We can do this’. I hope a significant number of fans will remember me for the growth of the club.
“If things happened over the last couple of years I was there that were detrimental and were my fault, then I take that on the chin.”
Reed soon found himself back at the FA again after leaving Southampton. He returned to the governing body as their technical director — a role he’d held at the turn of the century.
“It wasn’t what I expected, simply because of circumstances caused by the pandemic,” he concedes.
“One of the things I had to do early on, and this isn’t a criticism of the previous regime with Dan (Ashworth), Matt Crocker and Dave Reddin, but they were there during a five-year growth period and more and more staff were being added. More and more projects were taking place.
“The speed at which that happened, the volume of staff and departments grew to a point where they didn’t have time to restructure the management of it. I could see it straight away.”
Ashworth, Crocker — who is now Southampton’s director of football — and Reddin all left, freeing up some of Reed’s budget and allowing him to promote from within.
“We were able to split the responsibility down and restructure it in a way that made it a little bit more efficient,” he says. “We didn’t change anything with the England DNA and all the good stuff that had happened before, it just meant we had a different way of operating.”
A common criticism of the FA is that it’s too archaic, too white, too old-school and reluctant to change.
“In most areas, it has moved on significantly,” Reed argues. “It is a much more modern organisation than it was when I first joined. The senior management team are all very modern-day thinkers and all have experience of modern business.
“I have no doubt the new chairman will be taking the reins of what is a very forward-moving, forward-thinking business. But it is big. It’s a cruise liner and not a speedboat.”
Aged 68, you’d expect Reed to head off into the sunset and enjoy the fruits of a career in football that has spanned several decades. Instead of that, he’s decided to return to work on a consultancy basis — just like the time he was hired by Southampton.
His new venture, Reed Consulting Sports Advisory, will see him work with prospective football club owners as well as those already in charge of a club.
After spending as long as he has in football, with the customary criticism that comes his way, the fact he knows he has more to give to the game is a testament to his character.
Whichever way you look at it, Reed has done a remarkable job at building himself back up after a setback. The embarrassment at Charlton and the way it ended at Southampton didn’t stop him moving forward.
“People keep telling me to write a book, but that’s what retired people do. I look back at my career and would I change any of it? No.”
at 10:10 25 Jan 2021
Rumour seems to be he's getting the bullet.
I actually think that's a shame. We know better than anyone that managers need time and patience. I know he's spent money but that was probably Abramovich's idea.
I actually think that over time he will be a very good manager. He seems bright, speaks well and would have the respect of the players.
Unfortunately for him Chelsea is possible the worst place for a relatively new manager to start their career. I was worried they might come for Ralph but I imagine Chelsea will want a "big name".
at 11:58 15 Jan 2021
I don't think we have actually given enough credit to our defensive improvement. I certainly haven't. I was so used to moaning about Vestergaard and Stephens.
We certainly seem to have turned it around amazingly...
Here's the preview for this weekend from the Guardian...
"Though Southampton laid some ghosts to rest in winning 2-1 at the King Power Stadium just over a year ago, it will be a while before they play Leicester without last season’s 0-9 shellacking cropping up. Their improvement since then is as obvious as it is remarkable, but their current defensive solidity is particularly astonishing. The last team to score more than once against Southampton in the league was Manchester United in November. The Saints have conceded just twice in their last five games – most recently in the 16th minute of their home game against Manchester City on 19 December, 344 minutes ago. No team has more than their eight clean sheets this season – one away from their entire tally from last season. Away from home they are surprisingly reliant on set pieces: they have scored six times from open play, and six times from restarts, including a penalty"
|Cup game off. |
at 14:12 6 Jan 2021
Not that any of us had any plans to go but anyway.....
at 10:30 11 Dec 2020
So this is the Guardian's take. Interesting point that we press so well but fade and throw away points. Is this something Ralph needs to think about. Maybe his pressing is not sustainable by a team and we need more of a plan B at times...?
"There’s good and bad news for Sheffield United fans before their side’s trip to Southampton this weekend. The bad: Ralph Hassenhüttl’s side are among the best in the Premier League at pinning opponents back and forcing them to surrender possession with their high press, a tactic employed successfully by Leicester when they beat the Blades last weekend. And the good? In the top flight, only West Ham have thrown away more points from winning positions (34) than Southampton (25) since the start of last season – a statistic that suggests Hassenhüttl’s men find his approach extremely draining. United may well find themselves on top in the last half-hour of Sunday’s game at St Mary’s but will have to prevent their opponents from putting the game beyond them in the opening hour
at 15:02 30 Nov 2020
I was gutted yesterday. Those bloody nauseating mancs with their stupid accents, their Pogba, their self righteous snotty attitude and their arrogance. It really sticks in the throat losing yet again in that manner. I honestly thought we were good enough to beat them this time.
There were good things.
I thought JWP was very good and unless you are biased or just plain stupid then you cannot say he has made himself the best free kick taker in the country right now. Another absolute beauty against a top keeper.
Che Adams. The commentators were eulogising over his effort and hold up play. He looks a different player to 12 months ago and I can only see him improving further.
Vestergaard - I used to think he was simply a lamp post with boots on. But he's certainly improving and I have to give him credit for that seeing as most of us thought he was a total waste of money.
Theo is always going to frustrate in the same way Redmond does, they just aren't finishers, but if they were we couldn't afford them. But he's been great since he arrived back and has given everything. Like Ings it's nice to have that local connection back in the team from a player that loves being here.
Walker Peters not wanted at Spurs yet he's come here and is first name on the team sheet. He already looks better all round than Cedric and Valery rarely gets a mention these days. OK he's not perfect but he fits in really well.
And of course the feeling that these days we will give anyone a game. I don't fear that we will get spanked by the big boys. It might happen of course but we do give a decent account of ourselves.
So United were celebrating like they won the league? Good! I rather they celebrated beating us, than if they roll into town, kick our arses 5-0 and disappear like it was nothing.
We might not make top 4 or even top 7 but we are going to give a lot of teams a very bloody nose this year.
There. I feel better now.
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