SAINTS fan Daren Wheeler insists Nicola Cortese’s boots would be “big ones to fill” if the chairman departs St Mary’s.

Wheeler has hailed the Swiss-Italian businessman as the club’s “best signing in the last 15 years.”

Cortese’s future at Saints is shrouded in mystery after reports that his relationship with the Liebherr family had broken down.

Wheeler, who writes a weekly column Beautiful South in the Sports Pink on Saints, is worried as to what might happen if the chairman does leave.

“Nicola Cortese has made some unpopular decisions at Saints, but the people he has been brought in have been more successful than the ones they replaced,” said Wheeler.

“Cortese is only an employee of the football club, and who’s to say that the person they get in to replace him one day wouldn’t be even better?

“You just don’t know.

“In the short-term, though, I would be concerned because Cortese is an intelligent, shrewd, successful businessman.

“His boots would be big ones to fill.

“He’s made some first-rate decisions.

“I don’t want a media-friendly, cuddly sort of chairman like Dave Whelan who everyone likes.

“I want a chairman who is not afraid of making unpopular decisions.

“Cortese is certainly that. There was an outcry when both Pardew and Adkins went, but Cortese was proved right on both occasions.

“He is the best signing the club have made in the last 15 years, more so than the likes of Rickie Lambert.”

Cortese has previously hit the headlines during his time at St Mary’s for his public spat with Matt Le Tissier and Francis Benali, plus decisions ranging from changing Saints’ kit from the traditional stripes to a more conventional red kit, increasing season ticket prices for disabled and partially-sighted fans, and installing pay and display machines in the car park at St Mary’s.

Wheeler said: “He has made decisions that have upset various supporters groups.

“But we have to look at the bigger picture.

“We don’t go to games to watch stripes, we go to support the team.

“Under Nicola Cortese, we have gone from bottom of League 1 on minus 10 points to, briefly, the top three of the Premier League, out-playing several big-name clubs along the way.”