Nicola Cortese - the enigma in charge of Saints

Daily Echo: Nicola Cortese Nicola Cortese

WHO is the enigma that is Saints chairman Nicola Cortese?

Adam Leitch profiles the man in charge at St Mary's who is being linked with a role at Italian giants AC Milan ....

 

Rewind almost four years to Friday, May 29, 2009. Nicola Cortese’s phone rings. It’s bad news.

Mr Cortese, a Swiss bank executive, is told that a rival group have been given a 21-day exclusivity period to buy Southampton Football Club after stumping up a £500,000 non-refundable deposit.

Mr Cortese’s initial reaction is shock.

He and the Swiss billionaire Markus Liebherr were convinced they were only minutes away from entering exclusivity themselves, and securing ownership of the financially troubled League One club.

After a brief discussion with Mr Liebherr, who had only shortly before accompanied Mr Cortese to England for a tour of the club and the surrounding area, they forgot about it for three weeks, keeping little more than a watching brief on developments.

Fast forward to today.

The rival bid collapsed and Mr Cortese is now the executive chairman of Southampton Football Club, a forward thinking Premier League side whose rise through the divisions has been as fast as it has impressive.

Mr Liebherr passed away a little over a year after completing the purchase and installing Italian born Mr Cortese to his role to oversee developments.

Since Mr Liebherr’s passing it has been one man driving the whole show.

That man to many is an enigma.

A 44-year-old former Swiss banker who lives in a £1.7m mansion in Chilworth, drives an Aston Martin and who appears to enjoy the finer things in life, and yet |is no fly by night party animal, living |as he does with wife Alexandra and |their two children who are now at school in Hampshire.

Indeed, he has also shunned the limelight enjoyed by previous chairmen, with predecessors such as Rupert Lowe and Leon Crouch having been regulars on Southampton’s black tie dinner circuit during their tenures at the helm.

It’s just not his way, but nobody could argue with the results.

To see Mr Cortese on match day at St Mary’s, so often sat with an empty seat either side of him, one of which is kept vacant in memory of Mr Liebherr, you get the sense of somebody who is in control, who doesn’t need an entourage of 'yes' men with him the whole time.

Whatever anybody may think of him, good or bad, Mr Cortese knows his mind, and is very much in charge.

Fans often believe that many of the decisions that filter down to them wouldn’t be taken by Mr Cortese, rather some flunky lower down the food chain. They would generally be wrong.

Mr Cortese isn’t at St Mary’s every day, but his power is far reaching and he takes a personal overview of almost every decision taken, no matter how ~|big or small.

Even the size and shape of the Christmas tree in the St Mary’s lobby apparently attracted his attention one year.

That is Mr Cortese, a man of exacting standards, a perfectionist perhaps, |who has proven time and again at |Saints to be ruthless and determined to get his way and push the club forward no matter what.

Staff have come and gone, with a number of potential employment tribunals settled not long before a hearing, an indication of his willingness to make change.

His ways have led the club’s greatest ever player, Matthew Le Tissier, to deem him “not a very nice human being”.

But you cannot argue with his success.

Alan Pardew was his first managerial appointment and not even a ten point deduction to start the season was enough to convince Mr Cortese that promotion couldn’t have been achieved.

Mr Pardew did deliver the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy in a Wembley final, but their relationship had deteriorated and very early the following season he was axed.

Next came Nigel Adkins. Their relationship followed a very similar pattern. Initially Mr Adkins could do |no wrong, and he became a hero to |the fans as he delivered back-to-|back promotions.

But rumours in the background had gathered even as Saints stood on the verge of elevation back to the Premier League that Adkins wouldn’t last.

He was seen as the man to get Saints there, not to take them forward to the next level.

In January, Mr Cortese made the |boldest move of his time in charge and sacked Adkins, despite all he had achieved and the fact his team were doing well at the time.

The decision led to a backlash from angry fans, not only at the dismissal but the manner of, Adkins being placed on gardening leave rather than give an instant payout, and the failure to give his achievements due recognition in the next matchday programme.

In came Mauricio Pochettino, a continental and suave foreigner, whose image fits Mr Cortese’s Saints.

Mr Cortese, self-assured as always, described the timing of the change |as “perfect”.

Whether Mr Pochettino will last or not, only time will tell.

What is not in dispute are the strides the club have made under Mr Cortese.

While Mr Liebherr and his family have funded it, and Mr Cortese earned millions during his tenure, there is no question that he has spearheaded all that has happened since the takeover.

You would surely think it would make him an unparalleled hero, but there are still very vocal critics, some of whom argue that the history and tradition of the club have been sidelined. Some jokingly refer to Cortese’s takeover day as ‘year zero’ for a club which was in actual fact founded in 1885.

To be so successful and yet make enemies of some of the club’s biggest supporters such as Le Tissier and Francis Benali is puzzling.

The Daily Echo has had similar problems, being no stranger to a few legal letters and having been banned from the ground for some time for issues that Mr Cortese has not sought to explain.

And that’s not to mention his high profile fall out with The Sun, who for a time referred to Saints simply as ‘south coast club’ and labelled the chairman ‘Nicola Clotese’ in a row over access to St Mary’s for photographers.

He has fallen out with the Ex-Saints Association, been criticised by others within the game as well as fans groups and built up a unique aura around him, with very few getting close enough to know whether it actually reflects the |real man.

All this in among one of the biggest periods of success in the club’s long and illustrious history.

This is the enigma that is Mr Cortese, the man so driven he is prepared to upset, even if it seems he doesn’t actually need to, in order to achieve success.

No matter what anybody says about |him, you cannot argue with what he has delivered for Southampton Football Club and that is what he is ultimately judged on.

Four years ago he was merely a little-known prospective suitor for a League One football club languishing in administration.

He is now the high-profile executive chairman of a thriving Premier League football club, turning over tens of millions every year.

The details merely pad out the occasional blank.

 

This article originally appeared in the Daily Echo Weekend Magazine last May.

 

 

Comments (14)

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8:41am Wed 15 Jan 14

Malcombe says...

If only this rumour could be put to bed everyone is sick to the back teeth with this story, that old saying: There's no smoke without fire what are we to believe?

I cannot understand why with only half a season played a Club whether it's in Britain or from Europe need to disrupt the running of a another Club to try and poach and persuade a valuable personnel to join them, why out of respect can't they wait until the end of the season then drop the bombshell.
I know there's little sentiment and loyalty in Pro Football but everyone thought Cortese had a mission and wants to fulfil it, he has been at the Club 5 years and from what I see when I pass the Training Ground nearly every day of the week it's only just started.

Personally I think the Club should settle the minds of all the Supporters who pay the Wages and all the Staff and issue a statement to stop this persistent headline that's reared it's ugly head again we all hate it, I have always had in my locker that nobody is indispensable and I haven't changed my feelings it's just that there's another 16 games to be played and this horrible nightmare could ruin the results, unsettle the Manager and Players also we don't know if Potchettino is keeping a secret but having read his story on Saints Site he said he was very happy at the Club, his family were settled and happy and his 2 sons who speak fluent English like the Country and he still has many challenges ahead so who's being true and honest and who's telling lies?
If only this rumour could be put to bed everyone is sick to the back teeth with this story, that old saying: There's no smoke without fire what are we to believe? I cannot understand why with only half a season played a Club whether it's in Britain or from Europe need to disrupt the running of a another Club to try and poach and persuade a valuable personnel to join them, why out of respect can't they wait until the end of the season then drop the bombshell. I know there's little sentiment and loyalty in Pro Football but everyone thought Cortese had a mission and wants to fulfil it, he has been at the Club 5 years and from what I see when I pass the Training Ground nearly every day of the week it's only just started. Personally I think the Club should settle the minds of all the Supporters who pay the Wages and all the Staff and issue a statement to stop this persistent headline that's reared it's ugly head again we all hate it, I have always had in my locker that nobody is indispensable and I haven't changed my feelings it's just that there's another 16 games to be played and this horrible nightmare could ruin the results, unsettle the Manager and Players also we don't know if Potchettino is keeping a secret but having read his story on Saints Site he said he was very happy at the Club, his family were settled and happy and his 2 sons who speak fluent English like the Country and he still has many challenges ahead so who's being true and honest and who's telling lies? Malcombe

8:43am Wed 15 Jan 14

saintlysoul says...

I have heard that this effectively is a done deal NC will be off, MP will follow and the 'money' will be withdrawn on the basis that the trust wishes to sell. The knock on effect will be that players will leave - and the club will be thrown to no doubt foreign investors - what a crying shame. Still in was nice whilst it lasted. Before anyone thinks this is a WUM at work remember my accurate reportage re NA leaving I was laughed at and scoffed at then. This is accurate information!
I have heard that this effectively is a done deal NC will be off, MP will follow and the 'money' will be withdrawn on the basis that the trust wishes to sell. The knock on effect will be that players will leave - and the club will be thrown to no doubt foreign investors - what a crying shame. Still in was nice whilst it lasted. Before anyone thinks this is a WUM at work remember my accurate reportage re NA leaving I was laughed at and scoffed at then. This is accurate information! saintlysoul

9:07am Wed 15 Jan 14

Bassett Boy says...

Cortese is a business man, not necessarily a football man.
He would appear to be building his own empire and I can see no reason whatsoever that he should want to become a bit player in someone elses already considerable empire where his influence would be considerably less than the unquestionable power that he wields at Southampton FC.
It would seems more likely to me to be a ploy to further enhance his position with the Leiberr family, unless of course they are looking to pull the plug on their investment and he's jumping ship before it goes down!!
Cortese is a business man, not necessarily a football man. He would appear to be building his own empire and I can see no reason whatsoever that he should want to become a bit player in someone elses already considerable empire where his influence would be considerably less than the unquestionable power that he wields at Southampton FC. It would seems more likely to me to be a ploy to further enhance his position with the Leiberr family, unless of course they are looking to pull the plug on their investment and he's jumping ship before it goes down!! Bassett Boy

9:12am Wed 15 Jan 14

Saint. says...

Oh grow up DE! Bitter and twisted you are!!

Thank God you are not running the club!!!
Oh grow up DE! Bitter and twisted you are!! Thank God you are not running the club!!! Saint.

9:19am Wed 15 Jan 14

Clever Dick says...

saintlysoul wrote:
I have heard that this effectively is a done deal NC will be off, MP will follow and the 'money' will be withdrawn on the basis that the trust wishes to sell. The knock on effect will be that players will leave - and the club will be thrown to no doubt foreign investors - what a crying shame. Still in was nice whilst it lasted. Before anyone thinks this is a WUM at work remember my accurate reportage re NA leaving I was laughed at and scoffed at then. This is accurate information!
Your dream is the same as every other skunt
[quote][p][bold]saintlysoul[/bold] wrote: I have heard that this effectively is a done deal NC will be off, MP will follow and the 'money' will be withdrawn on the basis that the trust wishes to sell. The knock on effect will be that players will leave - and the club will be thrown to no doubt foreign investors - what a crying shame. Still in was nice whilst it lasted. Before anyone thinks this is a WUM at work remember my accurate reportage re NA leaving I was laughed at and scoffed at then. This is accurate information![/p][/quote]Your dream is the same as every other skunt Clever Dick

9:42am Wed 15 Jan 14

Positively4thStreet says...

Its a non story re hashed from Weekend magazine last May (according to the DE themselves).Nicola will never go until he has finished what he started,which is to achieve greatness for Southampton Football Club;and like others have said,it's his baby,and any father wants to see his child grow and become successful.
Its a non story re hashed from Weekend magazine last May (according to the DE themselves).Nicola will never go until he has finished what he started,which is to achieve greatness for Southampton Football Club;and like others have said,it's his baby,and any father wants to see his child grow and become successful. Positively4thStreet

10:00am Wed 15 Jan 14

Poole Tom says...

At the end of the day only one or two people actually know whether there is any truth in this rumour and those people will certainly not be posting on here! Like the majority I hope Nicola stays and sees the project through to the end, but football clubs are rarely stable institutions for very long these days so we will just have to wait and see. What this episode should teach us all is to enjoy the good times while they last because they sure as hell won`t last forever, no matter who you support.
At the end of the day only one or two people actually know whether there is any truth in this rumour and those people will certainly not be posting on here! Like the majority I hope Nicola stays and sees the project through to the end, but football clubs are rarely stable institutions for very long these days so we will just have to wait and see. What this episode should teach us all is to enjoy the good times while they last because they sure as hell won`t last forever, no matter who you support. Poole Tom

10:07am Wed 15 Jan 14

ChinaSaint says...

Dalian Wanda to takeover ? Would not surprise me, time the Chinese took over a Prem Club and they have just bought Sunseeker.
Dalian Wanda to takeover ? Would not surprise me, time the Chinese took over a Prem Club and they have just bought Sunseeker. ChinaSaint

10:08am Wed 15 Jan 14

Southseachris says...

If he's still here by the weekend then he's staying.
If he's still here by the weekend then he's staying. Southseachris

10:19am Wed 15 Jan 14

Barcelona Saint says...

I just cannot see him walking out midway through a season. That is not Cortese.
It would be vary harsh also if the Ms Liebherr decided to pull the money just like that. If anything, they will both wait till end of season and then make a change or further decision.
Our merry go round will stay merry for the time being..
I just cannot see him walking out midway through a season. That is not Cortese. It would be vary harsh also if the Ms Liebherr decided to pull the money just like that. If anything, they will both wait till end of season and then make a change or further decision. Our merry go round will stay merry for the time being.. Barcelona Saint

10:26am Wed 15 Jan 14

Churchill Saint says...

Poole Tom wrote:
At the end of the day only one or two people actually know whether there is any truth in this rumour and those people will certainly not be posting on here! Like the majority I hope Nicola stays and sees the project through to the end, but football clubs are rarely stable institutions for very long these days so we will just have to wait and see. What this episode should teach us all is to enjoy the good times while they last because they sure as hell won`t last forever, no matter who you support.
You are right; no one on this forum really knows. However, for me the rumour seems much stronger that before and a number of more serious media are reporting that its almost a done deal - including BBC, Telegraph and SSN. So, I think its going to happen. My guess is that the Liebnerr's will sell to the highest bidder, that may well be Dalian Wanda. One thing for sure is that if SFC is sold it will be for a lot of money and the new owner is going to be looking for a long term return on investment - which would be good for SFC - this is not a Vincent Tan/Tony Fernandes situation because of the sums involved. It is also not impossible that Cortese is orchestrating the sale of the business and will return as Chairman under the new owners. This would be the best possible outcome. On the other hand, I am sure if we were to lose NC we would also lose MoPo and his team, which would be disastrous in the short term.
[quote][p][bold]Poole Tom[/bold] wrote: At the end of the day only one or two people actually know whether there is any truth in this rumour and those people will certainly not be posting on here! Like the majority I hope Nicola stays and sees the project through to the end, but football clubs are rarely stable institutions for very long these days so we will just have to wait and see. What this episode should teach us all is to enjoy the good times while they last because they sure as hell won`t last forever, no matter who you support.[/p][/quote]You are right; no one on this forum really knows. However, for me the rumour seems much stronger that before and a number of more serious media are reporting that its almost a done deal - including BBC, Telegraph and SSN. So, I think its going to happen. My guess is that the Liebnerr's will sell to the highest bidder, that may well be Dalian Wanda. One thing for sure is that if SFC is sold it will be for a lot of money and the new owner is going to be looking for a long term return on investment - which would be good for SFC - this is not a Vincent Tan/Tony Fernandes situation because of the sums involved. It is also not impossible that Cortese is orchestrating the sale of the business and will return as Chairman under the new owners. This would be the best possible outcome. On the other hand, I am sure if we were to lose NC we would also lose MoPo and his team, which would be disastrous in the short term. Churchill Saint

10:52am Wed 15 Jan 14

jasons odd says...

Aaaaargggghhhhh . This is soooooooooo depressing.
Aaaaargggghhhhh . This is soooooooooo depressing. jasons odd

1:41pm Wed 15 Jan 14

REDARMYRULETHESOUTH says...

WE ALL SUPPORT CORTESE.

HIS AMBITIONS ARE OUR AMBITIONS.

RED ARMY 2014. TOP CLUB IN THE SOUTH.
WE ALL SUPPORT CORTESE. HIS AMBITIONS ARE OUR AMBITIONS. RED ARMY 2014. TOP CLUB IN THE SOUTH. REDARMYRULETHESOUTH

3:39pm Wed 15 Jan 14

hedge end bob says...

I will wait for SFC to make a statement, not Sky, not the D E but SFC. In the meantime ,COYReds.
I will wait for SFC to make a statement, not Sky, not the D E but SFC. In the meantime ,COYReds. hedge end bob

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