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Relegation 2005: Where now? Southampton

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Stephen Orford


Due to the mild irritation of his disability Stephen Orford has never kicked a football in his life. In modern football, only Jose Mourinho can claim to have so little playing experience....
[full biography]
20/05/2005 08:30:00.
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The pain and misery of relegation from the Premiership may take some time to really sink in for Crystal Palace, Norwich City and Southampton, but all must begin to look to the future as soon as possible. It has been only two days since these three lost their top-flight status for next season, but the time for wondering where it all went wrong in 2004/05 in surely done.

The financial implications of relegation from the Premiership are often dire, so where now for the doomed trio? West Bromwich Albion chairman Jeremy Peace estimated that the cost of relegation from the Premiership would have been somewhere in the region of £18 million. This is a massive short-fall for any club to cover, let alone clubs whose potential gate receipts, marketing and sponsorship revenues are about to plummet with the on-set of Coca Cola Championship football. With the best will in the world, it is unrealistic to expect fans to be quite so enthusiastic about the visits of Plymouth Argyle, Luton Town and Crewe Alexandra that are about to replace those of Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea. However, at the time of writing, all three relegated clubs have made noises in the media about their financial stability, and insist that there will be no need to sell players.

In the third and final part of this series, squarefootball looks at the prospects of Southampton Football Club as they prepare for an assault on the Coca Cola Championship next season.

Of all the Premiership’s relegated clubs, Southampton’s demise was perhaps the least expected when the 2004/05 season kicked off. However, from the moment Rupert Lowe dispensed with the services of manager Paul Sturrock for seemingly no crime other than the inability of his face to fit, the St.Mary’s club has been on a downward spiral that has culminated in their first exile from top-flight football for 27 years.

Unlike his counterparts at Crystal Palace and Norwich City, Lowe is not a mega-rich sugar daddy. His financial plan for the club is based around a frugal spending policy, and it is this which is likely to mean that the financial impact of relegation will be felt less harshly by the Saints. Lowe is often criticised for his admission that he is more of a businessman than a football man, and the fact that he has presided over so much managerial change in recent years. However, he is shrewd enough to have inserted clauses into players’ contracts which ensures that their wages will drop in accordance with the fact that they are no longer Premiership players.

Lowe’s biggest problem, as was just alluded to, is the uncertainty over the club’s management. It could be argued that should the Saints lose the services of Harry Redknapp over the summer, Lowe is not responsible. He has pointed out that the final decision rests with Redknapp, but the former West Ham and Portsmouth boss is making all the wrong noises about his future as far as Southampton fans are concerned. A more harsh judge might suggest that Lowe is at fault, having appointed the increasingly touchy Redknapp in the first place.

Warning signals were fired when Happy Harry left Fratton Park that his enthusiasm for football was on the wane, and it would surprise nobody to see him walk away from the game for at least the the immediate future. Should Redknapp depart Lowe could be forgiven for feeling a sense of deja vu. The most successful manager in the club’s recent history, Gordon Strachan, disappeared for a short sabbatical, only to show up offering some of the most tedious punditry and football insight known to man on Match Of The Day 2 this season.

Yet more unhappiness for Saints fans could follow when they consider that their squad is also one which seems ripe for the picking. New England squad member Peter Crouch looks as certain to leave for pastures new as Andy Johnson does at Palace, while there will be a very long queue indeed for the services of another Saints striker, Kevin Phillips. Himself a former England international, Phillips was left out of the first eleven for the final day loss to Manchester United which sealed Southampton’s fate.

Antti Niemi is the arguably the most saleable asset in the club. The Finnish international goalkeeper has long been linked with both Arsenal and Manchester United, as the cat-fighting duo attempt to plug gaping holes in their respective shot-stopping departments. Henri Camara and Calum Davenport are almost certain to end loan spells with the club, while Anders Svensson and Mikael Nilsson should both return to their native Sweden as their careers wind down. Adding to the club's defensive woes, highly rated left-back Olivier Bernard only joined on a short term contract from Newcastle, and could disappear from view shortly.

Just a few months after following Redknapp in from bitter rivals Portsmouth, Scotland international Nigel Quashie could also depart, while the midfield could be further decimated by the loss of Redknapp’s son Jamie, for whom the battle with a string of serious injuries is pointing increasingly towards a seat next to Mr Strachan on the BBC sofa.

To stay in the top flight for over a quarter of a century is a phenomenal achievement for a club the size of Southampton, and it was perhaps a statistical probability that it would end sooner or later. Yet, Saints fans might feel especially uncomfortable about the timing of their exit from the top tier, and will be praying that their stay in their new division is not quite so prolonged.


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