THE words tumbled out of Les Reed’s mouth as he addressed the media last month at Saints’ Staplewood training ground.
Only a few weeks ago, on April 25 to be precise, Reed remarked: “No club has been given permission to talk to any of our players and that will remain so.
“As far as the policy is concerned, we have had a great season, we want to build on that season, we want to improve the squad going forward, we want to retain the players we’ve got.
“They are all contracted, they all have existing contracts and we intend to honour those contracts.
“Any enquiries we get will probably be met with a ‘no, not for sale.’ “Our intention is to keep this very good team together and build on it by bringing in players to improve upon it.
“We want to keep all of our best players here at the club and build on that for the future.”
They are quotes impossible to take out of context, and taken at face value sent out a strong message to any clubs weighing up bids for prize assets Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana.
We are not a selling club, Reed was stating.
We want to keep our best players.
We will not let our players talk to any club interested in signing them.
That was what Reed was saying.
He wasn’t suggesting it, he was saying it.
There have not been too many public statements by Saints directors in recent months, but Reed was only singing from the same song sheet as chairman Ralph Krueger and director Hans Hofstetter.
“We are definitely not factoring in a big player sale.”
Those are the words Krueger spoke last month.
A few weeks earlier, Hofstetter insisted: “We do not need to sell any player Mauricio wants to keep.”
These were all big statements to make, and now is the time when Saints fans are anxiously hoping they do not end up as hollow words ... sentences to beat the people who made them with.
With big money bids on the table for both Shaw and Lallana – £27m and £20m from Manchester United and Liverpool respectively – now is the time for those men to back their statements up with firm action.
If they were serious when they uttered those words printed above, then Saints have to reject the bids for their two prize assets.
That they haven’t done so publicly yet is worrying.
There is a World Cup on the horizon and the pair’s market value could rise sharply with good performances in Brazil.
If Shaw or Lallana were to have a ‘Michael Owen v Argentina 1998’ moment, then millions would be added to their price tags overnight.
I wrote in last Saturday’s Daily Echo that Saints would be sending out totally the wrong messages if they sold any World Cup bound player prior to the tournament in Brazil starting. That has not changed.
Of course, we have to live in the real world here.
For all Reed’s comments about honouring contracts, he knows modern day football makes that virtually impossible.
It was ever thus.
“Ultimately, it will be the player who decides if he wants to go.”
Bridge put in the request as he was keen to join the Roman Abramovich-funded revolution that had just started at Chelsea.
The fact the England international left back had three years left on his contract was irrelevant.
It is the same now at St Mary’s.
Lallana and Shaw both have four years left on their current Saints contracts, taking them through to the next World Cup.
But it is possible both could have left the club prior to the forthcoming World Cup starting, let alone the one in 2018.
Reed was wrong to talk about honouring contracts because if the player(s) concerned really want to go – and there is a club willing to pay a lot of money to sign them – then they will go.
Again, it was ever thus.
Eleven years ago, Chelsea were willing to pay £7m for Bridge, at the time a lot of money for a left back.
Now Manchester United are happy to pay £20m more than for a Saints left back with senior England experience.
The footballing landscape has not changed that much down the years.
Danny Wallace left Saints for Old Trafford in 1989 because he saw United as a bigger club giving him a better chance of winning trophies, even though Saints were on course for a top seven finish themselves at the end of 89/90.
He was right, going on to collect FA Cup and European Cup Winners Cup medals.
Bridge left because he saw Chelsea as a better chance of winning trophies and playing European club football.
He was right, too.
There is a footballing hierarchy and Saints are high up in it.
But however well they have done this season – and they have done very well indeed – they still cannot offer Champions League football.
They still cannot pay the huge salaries that clubs will far bigger financial resources can offer.
At the moment, we want to believe Les Reed.
We want to believe Ralph Krueger. If he was not factoring in a big money sale, no need to make one (or two) then.
We want to believe Saints will turn down all offers for their stars.
Certainly before the World Cup begins.
There must be a healthy dose of realism in all this, however.
Manchester United and Liverpool are two of the biggest clubs in the world.
Not many players reject them.
And if Lallana and Shaw find the lure irresistible – and could anyone really blame them for going? – then it is up to Krueger and the board to get the best deal possible for Saints.
The chairman said last Sunday that any decisions taken this summer would be in the “best interests of the Saints”.
If he is true to his word, that means no players being sold until after the World Cup finishes.
Roy Hodgson might not like that. The players might not like that. Agents might not like that.
Ralph Krueger is employed by Saints to get the best deals for the club.
And a ‘best deal’ is not selling the crown jewels within days of a transfer window opening and a World Cup on the horizon.