As Nicola Cortese reflects on his departure from Saints he may well be wondering if those who accepted his resignation have walked into a trap he has learned to avoid through bitter experience.
Just three months ago Cortese was dining at football’s top table, invited to be a guest speaker at the Leaders in Sport conference.
It’s a highly prestigious affair, and was a rare public outing for Cortese, a man who very much kept himself to himself.
He revealed a lot about his mentality, and his general approach to life at Saints in one answer.
Cortese was asked about the decision to remove a highly successful manager in Nigel Adkins, immediately appointing Mauricio Pochettino.
Not only did people feel Adkins was harshly treated given his record of success at Saints, but also appointing somebody straightaway proved it was a cold and calculating move lined up while the former manager was still working hard.
Cortese’s explanation was simple.
“I remember when we changed with Alan Pardew it took about three weeks before we got a manager in,” said Cortese in front of a specially invited audience.
“On the first day everybody said, ‘It is a stupid decision to make that change if you’ve not got anyone.
“Two years later you do the change and have someone lined up and it was controversial and a cruel decision.
“We changed managers on the back of good results and people say ‘Why do you change now?’, especially in Nigel’s case as we came from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 [against Chelsea] at Stamford Bridge.
“But this is progress, especially when you have someone lined up. The decision has been taken beforehand and maybe a lot of people will say ‘Let’s wait now’, but we thought it was the right time to do it. I always planned in advance exactly the day I was going to do it.
“I think, to be honest, looking at those two scenarios, if one day I was in a similar situation again I would do it the same way again.”
Cortese learned a valuable lesson, one which he may feel his former employers are about to discover.
The inevitable question in football – a sport so fickle that ‘the King is dead, long live the King’ is almost an understatement – is always ‘what now?’ The truth is nobody knows. And that’s exactly the problem – it seems nobody quite knows.
In the same way that Pardew’s departure and the failure to replace him immediately left a power vacuum that sucked all into it, so too is there a gap at the very helm of Saints now.
Katharina Liebherr is non-executive chairman but is not there to run the business day to day. The search for a chief executive seems to have just started.
All this during a transfer window when there are big clubs circling for star players and with a manager who has previously stated he would leave if Cortese did. Whatever anybody’s opinions on the rights and wrongs of Cortese’s departure, that vacuum must be filled very quickly indeed, otherwise you can easily imagine things spiralling out of control.
Yesterday was another remarkable day for Saints.
Who woke up on Wednesday morning seriously expecting to be ending the day worrying about the future of the club?
It was a day that started with them still ninth in the Premier League and looking upwards.
Of course, nothing should ever surprise us about this club.
Just as those few, chaotic years of behind the scenes infighting and upheaval that preceded the 2009 takeover by Markus Liebherr and Cortese were about as eventful as you could ever see, so it seems the stability which appeared to be in place wasn’t really there at all. Even after those quit threats in May had dissipated, things weren’t right and it turns out Cortese’s resignation had been on the table for months, with discussions on the way forward for the club seemingly at an impasse.
What a sad ending.
Cortese was a divisive figure at the club, but a successful one.
It’s not exactly speaking out of turn to suggest he put some noses out of joint – former players, managers, staff, even this paper, who he banned for two and a half years before peace broke out earlier this season.
But for all that, you have to admire the job he did, and what he achieved.
It might not have been his money that funded it, but he took Saints from administration through two promotions, a JPT win at Wembley and to ninth in the Premier League.
He and Markus brought hope where previously there was only fear.
And what’s worse is the future looked brighter for Saints than any fan would have dared dreamed it might do when Cortese and Liebherr first rolled into town.
So, again, what now?
The future of Mauricio Pochettino is of course the first thing to be sorted.
He has been a really good manager, and it would be terrible to see him leave.
But, that said, if he isn’t fully committed then it is better he goes sooner than later as him hanging around half heartedly, not something you can really imagine him doing, doesn’t do anyone any good.
If he does go we will all be sad, of course, but another King will soon be born.
As for the talk about player sales, maybe a few might well question their futures if Pochettino goes but, though a lot of the players were fond of Cortese, history hasn’t shown many that have ever left a club because the chairman quit. Of greater long term concern are the reports that Katharina Liebherr might be looking to sell the club.
In themselves they should not be a surprise.
Though Saints fans have attempted to blindly hope, the reality was always that this was Markus’ baby, not hers, and the value of a club purchased for around £14m is probably now over £100m.
If you inherited a business miles away and had the chance for that money, wouldn’t you be tempted to sell it?
Katharina’s business advisors would surely also point out that the club is at about peak value.
All right, you could invest another £100m plus to try and get to the next stage, but it’s by no means a guarantee of that, and even then it’s still not a great risk-reward ratio.
The only thing her advisors might not have reckoned upon is that if problems do arise from this instability then the value could go down.
Whatever the truth it is paramount that going forward Saints have owners that care for and respect the club and are committed to it in the long term.
So, as Cortese departs the scene, how will history remember him?
A guy who appeared ruthless and uncaring at times, but also engendered some close bonds with players and managers.
A man who knew exactly what he wanted and how to get it.
A chairman who shunned the limelight and black tie dinner circuit so beloved of some of his predecessors in favour of a place in the background, yet still made enemies as frequently as friends.
Perhaps somebody who was a perfectionist, almost to a fault – all those fans who always used to say ‘that’s far too lowly a decision for Cortese to have made’ were almost exclusively wrong.
But, ultimately, an executive chairman who helped lead the club from its lowest ever ebb to one of its highest, in the space of just over four years.
His place in history is secured.
Probably the best way to sum up his legacy is that there will be some mourning his departure, and others celebrating it. But if he is not replaced quickly, Cortese himself knows that his achievements might seem even better.