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Markus Liebherr 10th Anniversary
Monday, 8th Jul 2019 08:40

It has passed quietly but it has been 10 years since Markus Liebherr saved Southampton Football Club.

It was on the evening of July 7th 2009 when I received a phone call that signalled not only the rescue of Southampton Football Club but the start of 10 years that has seen mainly highs.

The call was from a member of the team responsible for orchestrating the buying of the club who confirmed that only a matter of minutes earlier Markus had signed the paperwork and the club was his.

It had been a bit fraught, Markus had been admitted to hospital in Switzerland and had signed the paperwork from his sick bed.

I remember what was said to me that night when I asked whether he would make a good owner, the reply was that he would, he was in it not to make money, nor throw it away either, but as a sort of project as he neared retirement.

The man on the phone said that Markus's wife was keen on him winding down his work and taking things easy and that Saints could be a part of this "Make him love the club" she had said.

Sadly the worries about Markus's health were well founded and he would enjoy Saints for only just over a year since his tragic death on August 10th 2010.

Although the papers were signed on July 7th the actual official announcement came the following morning when administrator Mark Fry announced the deal that had finally seen the club saved after at one stage being only days from liquidation in a 3 month saga that dragged on.

None of that I might add was the fault of Matt Le Tissier who had been involved in a consortium that proved a false dawn, Matt had got involved in his desire to do anything possible to save Saints and his intentions were nothing but good, sadly he found that those he was backing had lost their own financial backers.

Fry said in his statement:

"The sale of the Saints to Markus Liebherr is a fantastic opportunity to rebuild the club," Liebherr was attracted to Southampton by a number of qualities which include the club's rich sporting heritage, loyal fan base, first-class stadium and training facilities and the potential for the Saints to regain their rightful place in the higher echelons of English football.

"I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all Saints fans for their support and patience in what have been uncertain times for the club. I would also like to wish both Markus and the club well for future success."

The Guardian quoted Liebherr's official statement saying that the new owner does not intend to spend freely and insists he is in for the long haul as he endeavours to revive Saints' fortunes after their demotion from the Championship to League One

"I believe we have a superb opportunity to rebuild this great club," he said.

"Clearly this will require resources, planning, hard work and patience. We will assemble a strong management team at every level of the club. We will act rapidly but also plan for the long term, because I am here for the long term.

"I also look forward to the club re-engaging with the fans and the local community. We cannot succeed without their backing. We should not expect instant success but our fans, employees and other stakeholders can expect 100% commitment from me and my team."

Markus plan was to rebuild the club and make it a going concern, to make it self governing, he was not a man who wasted money in business and that wasn't going to change with his aquisition of Saints.

He had employed a UK based team behind the scenes who had not only sourced the right club for him, but engineered the bid and for weeks had been planning the initial weeks after the takeover, Alan Pardew was already on the books and had been identifying transfer targets, so that the club could act quickly.

Markus Liebherr had a clear plan for the club and it was not one of free spending, it was one of building great foundations and slowly turning it into something built on concrete and not sand.

Markus was in it for the long term and he hoped that it would be something that he could pass on to future generations of his family, but he also knew that perhaps his family might not find the love that he did, at 61 when he bought the club it was going to be his project as he wound down his day to day involvement in his core business, but that didn't mean that he was going to throw money at it and that was the case in 2010 just prior to his death after the transfer budget for that summer had been blown the previous January.

He did not write a big cheque for new signings, but made now CEO Nicola Cortese stick to the budget at least for the time being.

If Markus had lived things would have been different that is for sure, on the face of it the four years after his death were successful, but under the veneer the club was spiralling out of control spending money it did not have and was heading for financial meltdown after a series of poor transfer dealings, this would not have been allowed under Markus.

Success on the field does not mean all is well off it, look at Leeds, look at Portsmouth even who both had success but were overspending and have never recovered from the financial meltdown in achieving that success.

At this stage in 2014 things could have taken a truly dark turn, Katharina Liebherr could have walked away and cut her family's losses and seen the club perhaps go to the wall, but although she at that stage did not have her Father's love for it, she saw it as his legacy and therefore stepped in and became the second Liebherr to whom Saints fans owe a huge gratitude.

Perhaps the era of boasting of Champions League and top four finishes was over, but a new one based on reality was now in place and even though the last couple of years have been fraught, overall they have not been disastrous and the club can again move forward.

It should be noted here that Katharina Liebherr is Markus's daughter he would be distraught at the abuse she receives from some, there is no dividing line between them, essentially the club was bought by the Liebherr family for the Liebherr family, Katharina is running the club in just the way Markus did and would have continued to do had he lived.

So Markus Liebherr ,wherever you are now thank you very much, I remember that phone call at AFC Totton's old ground very well, a few days earlier no one had heard of Markus Liebherr, suddenly he was the name on everyone's lips, I finished the phone call, walked straight into the bar, bought a pint and celebrated, I still couldn't say much until the news became official, but inside I knew that the club was safe and Saints game against Totton would not be the last it would play !

Photo: Action Images

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LoisDeem added 09:03 - Jul 8
Good one, Nick.
Though the Champions league reference is surely either Freudian or mischievous?

SaintNick added 09:20 - Jul 8
Champions League Reference = Beware of false prophets

Boris1977 added 09:25 - Jul 8
Great post Nick. Single handedly turned round our fortunes. Some very happy memories after a very dark slump. Not quite living in a Liebherr Wonderland but his part in Saints history is surpassed by nobody.

codge added 12:25 - Jul 8
Excellent article Nick always informative as usual, dread to think where we would be now if not for Markus.

A_Saint_in_Stoke added 13:12 - Jul 8
Living through those "dark days" of seeing our beloved Saints being relegated from the Championship - having to go into administration, having points deducted - supporting the team in Div 1 at places like "Bristols memorial ground" then witnessing the tremendous effort that Le Tiss put into trying to put together a consortium to " Save Saints" and when that collapsed - thinking to myself - that's it we are truly finished ..... So we do have to thank Markus and his family for what we have at A BIG THANK YOU for saving our club - and hope that we never visit those dark days ever again.

legod7 added 13:30 - Jul 8
I was also at the pre season friendly at AFC Totton. There were loads of rumours going around about the takeover. Kelvin Davis was at West Ham during the day ,but changed his mind when he heard about Marcus taking over. The only really nasty thing about the takeover was Cortese banned Matt Le Tissier from St.Marys because of his involvement with the failed bid.

SaintBrock added 14:23 - Jul 8
How times have changed since then, would that he had remained at the helm. Then Champions League aspirations might have become a reality and who knows how Marcus might have reacted to our growing success.

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