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2017/18 The Post Mortem Part 1
Tuesday, 12th Jun 2018 09:32

In the first part of our look back at last season we take a look at the culpability of the owner and board for what almost turned out to be a total disaster.

When setting out to try and dissect the last 12 months and put my finger on just what it was that went wrong it soon became clear that this was not going to be easy, there were more than one reason as to why it went to pot and nearly turned out a total disaster.

That there were many things that were going wrong, some our own fault and some totally beyond our control varying from the petulance of Virgil Van Dijk, through some injury issues, poor refereing decisions and at times just plain bad luck,, there were too many different aspects to look at in just one piece, so I thought I would break it down into a series of post mortem articles and take each in isolation, I start right at the top.

There are many Saints fans who blame Gao Jisheng, Ralph Krueger and Les Reed totally for the season, of course they have to take their share of the blame, but to pin everything on them is unfair.

Football clubs these days and especially those in the Premier League are big operations, the club probably has around 10 times the full time non playing staff it had in the final years of the Dell, over the past decade it has grown at a fast rate as we try to build the infrastructure to support a Premier League football team and that is not an easy task.

Twenty years ago it was a simple structure, the board consisted of local businessmen who essentially ran the club and appointed a manager and a few assistants to run the playing side of things and transfers etc, that method is old fashioned and as obsolete as having a selection committee to pick the team as it was when the club first started, to call for the sacking o the board is short sighted, firstly there are those on it who are not concerned with football matters, why should the finance director or the man responsible for marketing and getting in sponsorship be sacked when they have done an excellent job, you have to pin point the actual reasons why we went wrong and then look at what the solution is..

Some supporters blame the new owner Gao Jisheng, they complain that he has not pumped money into the club and has not revealed his plans for the future.

I would suggest that this is not a major issue, of course Gao will be looked at with suspicion, he is coming from a country far away and has no track record in football, but personally I would rather an owner who silently got on with things rather than promise us the earth.

He has bought into the club because he not only sees it's potential, but he sees that it is well run, you don't get to amass a fortune and succeed in business making knee jerk decisions, so far Gao seems content to let those who know how to run a football club get on with it and have a policy of evolution not evolution.

He was never going to pump millions into the club, that is also good, we have seen what has happened at other clubs, Aston Villa especially right at this moment, the problem with Chinese owners is that at times the government over there block large amounts of money leaving the country, as Villa are now finding, if you base your budget on money being pumped in from abroad you are wide open to issues as is happening to them now, you can't pay the bills if the owner can't get money out of the country.

So Gao is approaching it from the right way, he like Markus & Katharina Liebherr before him wants the club run as a business, it has to pay it's own way and develop itself and be self supporting financially, yes he seems willing to help fund certain projects to aid that development but only when needed.

So although Gao has got stick from some Saints fans, in the main it is unfair and although he does not seem a man to make public pronunciations, that is good an we are already seeing the club develop in other areas including China, so no real blame can be attached to Gao for this season.

Next up is Ralph Krueger, we have been brought up with controversial Chairman who like the limelight in Rupert Lowe and Nicola Cortese and that has blurred our view of just what the Chairman of the club should do, it is not a full time position.

Cortese and Lowe were also chief executive's of the club or for short CEO, it is the CEO's job to run the club and the Chairman's job to ensure that the CEO does his job and make sure that overall the clubis being run well in all departments as well as be the link between the club and the owners, he makes sure that everyone does their job in line with how the owners want it.

The Managing Director responsible for the day to day running is Toby Steele.

From that point of view Krueger is doing a good job, the club is well run, as I said earlier the footballing side of things although the most important are only the icing on the cake, Krueger has but an infrastructure in place over the past four years that has never been there in our history, not under Lowe definitely not under Cortese, if you make mass sackings of key men that that structure could collapse.

So does Krueger have any accountability for the season, yes of course he has to have some, but most of it is indirectly, should he have stepped in over Les Reed's head, indeed we don't know that he didn't.

Krueger seems to have trusted Reed's judgement and kept his nerve, yes it was a tight run thing, but Swansea, Stoke & West Brom all changed their managers earlier than Saints and were relegated, so our gamble paid off.

Now to Les Reed, he is the general whipping boy for the fans being the Director of Football and from that point of view the man charged with making the big footballing decisions, but Reed's role is a lot more complex as he oversees all the footballing structure, he obviously has heads of department under him, but the technological advances at the club and at Staplewood are all down to Reed, as is the running of all the teams etc, it is not just a question of dealing with the first team and sacking managers and signing players.

Reed is a member of the sub board responsible for the footballing side of the club only along with Ralph Krueger and Toby Steel, Reed will report to them what needs to be done and then as a committee they will decide what actions to take.

Saints supporters will say that Reed is to blame because he appointed the wrong manager and failed to sack him, in essence they are probably right, appointing Pellegrino was a mistake, but sacking him is not so simple, remember in November we were comfortably around 10th spot despite the Van Dijk issues, yes there were problems, but at that stage was the manager completely to blame or was being hampered by the Van Dijk situation.

Football clubs who go around sacking managers seemingly every six months ultimately keep making the same mistakes year in year out, Reed was keeping his faith in the fact that the structure was sound and giving Pellegrino time to sort it out.

Not many people would argue with the fact that Reed did give him far too long, but Reed's problem was finding the right man to take over, as the three relegated clubs found out just changing a manager doesn't automatically mean that things will get better, indeed we were linked with all three of their new managers as potential replacements for Pellegrino, there is a case for Reed keeping his nerve and holding out for his man.

There is also the question of transfers, but more of that in another installment


Overall Gao has no real responsibility, Krueger seems to have just kept faith with Reed's decisions and the gamble paid off.

Les Reed has to bear a fair amount of criticism here, but not as much as many would have you believe, the Van Dijk issue was a real problem and disrupted things and certainly the failure to replace him was a big problem, but overall Reed should not be villified as much as some seem to take pleasure in doing.

In football you have to make tough decisions and the proof of whether they pay off is always at the end of the season, mistakes have been made but the reality is that we stayed up, Ralph Krueger's job now is to look at the mistakes made and whether they were avoidable and what changes need to be made going forward.

Certainly there are signs that there is a change in that Mark Hughes is a different type of manager than most we have employed of late, he is more Ronald Koeman than a Pochettino, Puel or Pellegrino.

In essence a football club that panics is one that goes down, this season has been tight, but we have the structure there and we had faith in it and that proved justified.

Photo: Action Images

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helpineedsomebody added 10:15 - Jun 12
by staying in the EPL every season thats all SFC ambition is
to be honest thats everything the supporters hope for
i dont think there is any club in the country that lives within its means its the owner not having the means to push the club to a higher level.
1 why cant they upgrade st marys last season they made £42 million pounds

2 whats the excuse that they cant drop ticket prices by 25%

3 improve the food at st marys

4 listen to the fans

Wembley76 added 10:29 - Jun 12
At last, a balanced view of "running a multi-million pound football club"..... well constructed Nick.

Wembley76 added 10:36 - Jun 12
Sorry 'helpinneed' but you reall do need help!
No investment?
Err, prices HAVE been reduced regularly (cup games, away travel etc)....... but you seem to ignore that fact too!
Do you even remember food options at the Dell?

SaintNick added 11:20 - Jun 12
Helpineed to address your points

1.Due to the greed of the top six and their ability to make far more money than us, every club who is below them has that one ambition

2. No investment since 1885, we spent around around £60 million in transfer fees etc in 2017/18 alone

3. Prices I agree with you prices should go down, but if they reduce them by 25% then that is money that comes out of other areas, there needs to be a balance

4. St Mary's food is no better or worse than most Premier League grounds

5. They are upgrading st mary's it is getting a upgrade or do you mean increase capacity, if so then they need to see several seasons of full houses week in week out, we had nowhere near that,

6. they are starting to listen to the fans with their new fans panel


helpineedsomebody added 12:31 - Jun 12
hi nick

1 big mac didnt spend a fortune building good teams

2 players sales where has all the hundreds of millions of pounds tv monies gone

3 we both agree

4 thats just an excuse sorry

5 capacity/ ambition/investment/ st marys no class gone back to being run like the dell

6 not sure why they want the opinion of the fans they havent listen to us in 135 years why start now


saintjf added 12:45 - Jun 12
Yes a really logical and a rational view of the season. Pelegrino was the main problem and as you state was not an easy problem to fix despite it being obvious to all by Xmas time that he was a failure. I am not sure Van Dicks messy departure would have been such a problem if Fonte had been replaced. It was an awful season but Saints are still in the premier league despite all the problems. It is no good sacking people as punishment for a poor season. You hope people will learn and be a little bit less remote from the fans.

davej added 12:57 - Jun 12
Allegedly the Manager's position was up for discussion at Christmas however it came down to a casting vote

Jesus_02 added 12:57 - Jun 12
The attendance at the stadium is restricted by the cost which in turn is set to get the most out of the capacity.

If they actually wanted to grow the club they would need to increase the capacity and provide a greater variety of prices. I believe our cheapest Season Ticket is still more expensive than Man U's cheapest.

My largest concern about the overbloated board structure that we now fund is that if we where to go down we would now be in a worse position that under Lowe. And yes we fund it. Without the fans their would be no club and we are the ONLY ones giving a large proportion of our disposable income.

halftimeorange added 13:09 - Jun 12
Reduce the price of season tickets - it has been done - 10% off next season for senior citizens, at least in the premium seats - so there will be no complaints from that sector!

1970 added 13:26 - Jun 12
Ultimately in any business sector a sharp drop in performance warrants some extensive investigation and unfortunately some-one to take some responsibility but in our case no-one is going to take that responsibility and there will be no investigation they will just carry on ripping off the fans with big media stories then buying no-one and still have all those numpties in charge, no mass sackings required just tell us what parts of the bus were broken and who didn't perform that's all we ask but nothing and no-one is to blame its all a kick in the teeth to people that pay hard earned money.

Hugh_Jarce added 13:30 - Jun 12
Season ticket prices are, I believe, the 6th most expensive in the EPL and de facto in world football. So over priced IMHO

underweststand added 14:58 - Jun 12
First my response to Nick's article.
Having spent my entire working life (now retired) in different work sectors I'd agree with most of your comments regarding responsibility of /to the Board, and their roles.
It's not unusual to draft in someone from outside the work sector who has a broader view and greater business experience than your local millionaire fan. (in this case Ralph).
Like Lowe and Cortese before him (he's not football) but nevertheless brings new ideas.

How the club spends its money; bigger stadium, cheaper seats, better food ..oh and how about another £50 million for transfer fees (not to mention salaries) is always a devisive issue amongst fans. A quick calculation for an "average top signing" on a 4 year contract would suggests salary costs will be +/- ....similar to that of the original transfer fee.

Example, Cortese's approval of the Ramirez and Osvaldo deals cost the club something over £40 million. Neither player covered themselves with glory, just made them richer.
Cortese expenditure on foreign imports from his " Italian connections" were over 70% more than on "British " players, many of whom had more successful careers and cost less. Even in other Prem. clubs expensive " foreign " buys don't always guarantee success as the football culture in the Prem. is quite unique.

Les Reed inevitably takes the criticism for things that were sometimes beyond his control but at kick-off time it was the players and not the Board who were ultimately responsible for results. (missed chances, bad defending and referees with their own " Fergie time".

Most people agree that Pellegrino was " a bad call" , but who can you get when you sack a manager in mid season ?. If Pellegrino had gone at New Year we might not have got Mark Hughes at that time. Many of the unemployed managers around are out of a job for an obvious reason. Their "success story" in another club... was a one-off situation.


underweststand added 15:26 - Jun 12
THis part 2 is my two-pennyworth on others comments on the site.
We barely get near a record gate, even when playing "the biggest clubs", nothing to say we would get more fans in if we upgraded SMS to 35K -40K.

Ticket prices - have been a regular complaint for most of the 60-odd years that I've supported Saints and whilst the comparison of SMS prices with Old Trafford maybe valid .
a good question might be ...Where do you sit in a crowd of 75,000 for that price?

Did someone write "overbloated Board structure "? .
Think I'd have to say... I'm surprised there aren't more job sector responsibilties at Board level. The obvious ones of finance and player recruitment,command most attention but the areas of Sales/Marketing/Sponsorship are a vital source of potential income. Local work with Saints Foundation is important for goodwill with the local community. The Academy has grown enormously in recent years and is a cornerstone of the club's profile, and the introduction of a ladies team structure / Academy host families / and contact people around is not just a job for someone on the end of a telephone.

"LIstening to the fans " ...can be exemplified by those who frequent "this board" .
Almost every issue comes out with a 50/50 split of opinions - not least on player performances - and I'm no exception to that, but in truth exactly what it takes to get a squad fit , well-trained , on form and winning on the day ...is a mystery formula being asked by every club lower than Man City in the Prem.

I'm as disappointed as anyone at only 17th place, but we are still in the "best" football league in the World and look forward to a better placement in the top half next season, beyond that it's down to shots in off the woodwork, "blind" referees and a bit more luck.


skiptonsaint added 16:55 - Jun 12
Good review and I look forward to part 2.

Reading above it looks like we have had a bad spell and people deserve another chance etc

Fine with that but I am concerned that there is complacency since the sale and other clubs have caught up and some ie Bournemouth have overtaken us

Quite good might not be good enough in the future

DPeps added 18:37 - Jun 12
The gist of this article seems to be: everyone is a bit to blame, yet no one is ultimately responsible, which seems very judicious but is not very helpful. The problem is that modern organisations (like football clubs) are so complex that no-one outside (or inside, in some cases) has any sense of who's responsible for decisions. I don't want blame and for heads to roll necessarily, but there has to be some serious rethinking of the way the club is run.

The issue I have with the article is that it underplays the disastrous nature of our season. At times the implication is that the club knew exactly what they were doing (the gamble to wait before sacking MP paid off?!).

Ok, yeah we didn't get relegated but we only missed that fate because we beat Swansea in a playoff. Let's not forget that the bottom half of the league was rubbish this year, and we were one of the worst teams down there. Things will be harder next season as the teams coming up seem to be better than the teams going down. I'm a bit concerned that the hierarchy at our club are quite bullish and myopic, and I didn't see much in Krueger's post season comments to suggest that there will be the thorough investigation that's really needed.

BoondockSaint added 20:12 - Jun 12
I disagree with the idea that this season was just a result of "everything went wrong that could go wrong", and is just a bump in the road.

It is the result of bad management over the last two years (at least).

"Saints supporters will say that Reed is to blame because he appointed the wrong manager and failed to sack him"

Pellegrino or Puel? It's convenient that this article only applies to this year.

The 35 goals that went out the door with Pelle and Mane have never been replaced.

Ralph seems to contribute nothing but double talk you would get from a motivation speaker/scam artist.

The marketing department (if it exists) does nothing to build the brand unless you are talking about appearing in that great media hub, Baltimore. Where are the promotions to fill St. Mary's? Kids at half price will more than make up the difference as their parents buy snacks, programs, shirts, etc.

And finally, yes, it does come down to running the first team. That should be the main focus of the board. Everything else feeds off that.

It often seems as if the Saints board's preoccupation with the academy is because they are more interested in signing young players to sell than acquiring talent for the first team. Well, the board is in for a rude awaking:
If you were a the parents of a talented youngster on the South Coast, which team looks more attractive: 12th place Bournemouth or relegation bait Southampton? Again it comes back to the first team's performance.

SanMarco added 11:49 - Jun 13
Responsibility should be important in any organisation. Until relatively recently politics, business and finance in this country could be seen to be taking it seriously. Nowadays everyone slithers around blaming others or simply laughing at the very idea that there hugely well paid/powerful job comes with any attendant responsibility (Boris Johnson, Trump and those executives who get 'bonuses' while losing billions come to mind).

In the Saints' case we have seen a significant decline and it would be good, sensible and necessary to explain what has happened and who is responsible. Doesn't have to involve sackings and/or insincere apologies just an understanding that having someone to hold to account when things go wrong is a GOOD thing. I get what Nick is saying but to me this feels like more than just a few bad decisions and some bad luck. It feels like those who should be responsible are not even looking properly at what is happening with the squad on the pitch. They need to because we can't fall any further and stay in this league - we won't get away with it again.

SaintBrock added 22:00 - Jun 14
Truth is SFC is a private company and apart from the regulatory requirement to report annual financial performance the owners are beholden only unto themselves.

That's the deal, you can pay to turn up and watch or not, the choice is yours take it or leave it. All the rest is romantic eyewash, fans have no rights other than to be able to watch games safely.

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