Ballsy innovation comes crashing


Yesterday, Southampton’s chairman Nicola Cortese resigned.  Depending on how long you have been trailing this story, he is either being tempted to take up the chef exec job at struggling Milan, or has found working under owner Katharine Liebharr too much.  It’s also possible that Ms Liebharr has insisted on a return on her family’s two rounds of investment in the club and forced his hand.

Five years ago Cortese was a working in Switzerland as a banker and acted on behalf of the now-deceased and father of Katharine, Markus Liebharr.  They successfully put a deal together to buy Southampton FC and rescue the club from administration (liquidation is not inevitable, some clubs survive).  Cortese had no previous experience in the football industry.

Southampton are a small club who seem cursed to produce incredibly talented youth players, only to see extraordinarily bad executives spurn their bounty.  I remember writing about their ‘blood on the boardroom carpet’ six years ago.

A year ago this Saturday, Cortese sacked Nigel Atkins, the manager who won them two successive promotions and put them in a comfortable position on the FA Premier League.  Cortese was to 2013 what Vincent Tan is to 2014, the butt of a thousand jokes, but none of us were reading the script.

Cortese’ next move was to appoint Argentine Mauricio Pochettino, the 40-year-old  recently sacked manager of Espanyol.  Southampton haven’t looked back, despite the words “Hooiveld” and “Fox” regularly featuring on team sheets.

Pochettino is now one of the hottest properties in football but he’s not the story, his former boss is.  In appointing a young, low-profile, manager, Cortese tackled square-on the biggest problem in football – the vast risk invested on the shoulders of one man, the manager.  A football manager is expected to be a master of tactics, a motivational dressing room speaker, a media communications expert, a scout and pretty much guru of everything.

None of them are good at all of this.  As a consequence, clubs invest vast proportions of turnover on player wages and transfers, with haphazard diligence being carried out.  The man ultimately responsible for approving this spend is more likely to be a shouty media darling, spending an average of 2.5 years at the club, than someone who has experience of long-term strategic planning.

Cortese figured that what he really needed in a manager was a tactical head, someone who could run a technical team, consulting with scouts, coaches, nutritionists and fitness trainers, and come up with what American football teams call a playbook.  You want to play at Old Trafford?  This is what worked when small teams visited the Bernabeu last season.  Playing teams’ taller/faster/luckier with referees than you?  You’ve got to see how these guys are leveling the playing field in Uruguay.

Football clubs need their manager to be Master of Tactics, and if they can concentrate him on this, they’re doing better than 90% of clubs in the game.  They don’t need someone ‘connected’ to agents in value markets, this attribute can be recruited easily.  They don’t need a good media talker.  Despite being able to speak English, Pochettino gives press conferences through an interpreter.  Yet the fans love him!

Clubs don’t need someone to play to the galleries, or someone with the ability to induce affinity from his public, most of the time results will keep (most) fans onside.

With his technically-proficient and happy-to-be-working-anywhere manager installed, Cortese had all operations working as he wanted, including the inordinately expensive recruitment process.  Sacking a good and successful manager in Atkins was the most ballsy and innovative thing to happen in English football in decades, but he was operating in an industry which is the biggest financial basket case in sport.  So, despite his clarity of vision, the Southampton gig was never going to last.

Today’s newspapers predict a mass exodus as Pochettino and Southampton’s gifted players head for the exit, good news for Joos and Danny, perhaps, but you feel for the beleaguered fans, who were shown a glimpse of how things should be done, but for years will wonder, what could have been?

The rest of us can ponder the opportunity available due to entrenched inefficiencies in football.

“You should always have pressure on you”, Stefan Johansen, 15 January 2014.  I like this guy already.

Last shout for North America based Celtic fans for the Feile, which starts in Philidelphia tomorrow. Full details of the events can be found here. it’s bound to be a great weekend so get along if you can.
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  1. Pogmathonyahun aka Laird of the Smiles on

    Just popped in for lunch and Bob’s your mother’s live-in lover. Now to read the article ;-)

  2. Pogmathonyahun aka Laird of the Smiles on

    Off oot, back tae work.



    Hail! Hail! PMTYH




  3. No.25,if he’s half as good as Naka and Lubo we’ll have got ourselves a player.welcome to the hoops Stefan



  4. Southampton could make a lot of money with the young players they have at the moment. They started very well this season with favourable fixtures but then slipped a bit with a more difficult set of games plus injuries to the likes of Boruc and Wanyama.

  5. Kris Commons, 12 goals in 16 league games, 3 in 4 ratio, playing mainly as a striker this season. He also creates many for others.


    Perhaps we’re playing the in vogue, very modern false number 9 but don’t recognise it!!

  6. eddieinkirkmichael on

    “only to see extraordinarily bad executives spurn their bounty”. Could you explain Paul67 how Southampton could avoid this scenario?


    As they are a relatively poor club by EPL standards and can’t compete with the wages on offer at other clubs so are essentially a selling club.


    If you do have an answer could you also share it with Peter Lawell as he also seems to suffer from this affliction.

  7. kayal33



    12:15 on 16 January, 2014


    Kris Commons, 12 goals in 16 league games, 3 in 4 ratio, playing mainly as a striker this season. He also creates many for others.


    Perhaps we’re playing the in vogue, very modern false number 9 but don’t recognise it!!…….actually I kinda said the same thing a couple of weeks ago, yer bang on.

  8. eddieinkirkmichael, this was a reference to the civil wars before and ruing the Rupert Lowe era, nothing to do with being a selling club. Selling assets at the right time is crucial to anyone who wants to maintain success.

  9. Well! That’s my new printer arrived, I’ll be offski now to set it up to my PC , so if you see any shuttles unexpectedly taking off from The Cape today you’ll know I’ve fecked up, HH , any lurking Huns GIRUY.

  10. Sad news about Trigger…..Only Fools & Horses , classic comedy.


    When Del fell through the bar, Trigger didn’t bat an eyelid!! Brilliant.



    RIP Dave

  11. leftclick Together we will get justice for the Dam 5 on

    Roger Lloyd-Pack AKA “Trigger” R.I.P


    another who made me smile

  12. TheOriginalSadiesBhoy on

    RIP Roger Lloyd-Pack. A great actor. Saw him in so many different roles. Always made me laugh as Trigger :-((

  13. An excellent article! Can’t help but like Mauricio Pochettino.



    Wonder if he would be interested in applying his skills in the Champions League in the next few seasons, perhaps with a team in Green and White?




  14. well done Murray ,another good work out …braw


    came back well in that set …7-5 ….will play Spain’s Feliciano Lopez in round three.



  15. Discussion on gout coming up on Radio 2: active discussions last week on this site so there might be some useful info to be gleaned.

  16. Philbhoy - Free the Dam 5! on

    Blue 7860 – you say Wallace has a very impressive background in running a football club. I disagree. He was only at Manchester City for 4 years and I would question how impressive that was. He oversaw a record loss of £197m in one year (2010-2011) – according to Guardian the wage bill was £21m higher than the total revenue! He did say at the time “Our losses…will not be repeated on this scale in the future”, which was true. Man City only lost £97m the following year. They lost £121m the year (Wallace’s first with the football club. Any football club in fact, having joined from a sports media company). So in summary, in the 3 years of his entire career running a football club, where accounts are available, Wallace oversaw a losses of £415m. I anticipate that when Citeh announce their most recent results shortly, they will also have incurred a loss. Now it is of course the case that Shiekh Mansoor was willing to wear those losses to fasttrack Manchester City’s route to the top of the league (where, I am sure, their fans believe they belong) but I’m not sure any of this indicates “an impressive background in running a football club”, rather it is more like the “fantasy football” games in the newspapers. Can he make cuts when needed? No evidence of that yet.






    Lifted from Share Discussion from RIFC.



    This guy sounds just right for the huns.

  17. Richie #TeamOscar on

    Is Sally the only manager in senior football who is paid more than double the salary of his highest paid player?

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