IT was a dark day for the new Saints board.
The grim announcement many had feared, and increasingly expected, broke in the early evening as Saints confirmed they had accepted the resignation of Mauricio Pochettino and Tottenham announced his appointment as their new manager.
It was hardly a great surprise to anybody, but many Saints supporters had harboured hopes this was all media speculation and hype that wouldn’t come off. That was never the case.
What is more concerning was that you couldn’t help but wonder if the board had believed much the same. They appear well intentioned, but this was a blow to their credibility.
Whether it is fair or not, the enduring image they have allowed to develop during this whole saga is of people who did not react quickly enough or decisively enough, who did not see what was coming, and thus give themselves a genuine chance to prevent it.
They may be able to argue that is not the case, but that is the perception.
That sense that they were played by Mauricio Pochettino is very real, that he out thought them and outmanoeuvred them.
They are now left to pick up the pieces, not only to find a new manager, but to try and hold together a squad that looks likely to fracture and move on in different directions.
Those close to the Pochettino situation, even some within the club, were fearing this sort of thing was a possibility from as early as February.
His every move was utterly predictable as he continually batted away questions over his commitment to the club by stating he wasn’t worried about contracts as his ran down to the point of having just a year left and he would talk in the summer. When the end of the season came he made noises about sitting down for talks the next day that never happened.
It appeared throughout that Pochettino was simply keeping his options open, that he was waiting to see whether what he regarded as a better offer came along.
When Tottenham came calling he found exactly that.
It would be harsh to blame Pochettino. He is a career manager, and with the majority of ambitious coaches from abroad you often get the mentality that they don’t stick around for long.
Pochettino wants to manage a genuinely massive club one day, and, with all due respect, you don’t go from Southampton to Real Madrid or Inter Milan. If you are successful at Tottenham then maybe you do.
That, along with the feeling that this was to be a summer of change at St Mary’s with top stars leaving and not the tens, or maybe hundreds, of millions of pounds required to try and take that next step beyond the marvellous eighth placed finish of this season.
It is a harsh reality that Saints were victims of their own success, that the natural football pecking order has cost them a manager and probably some of their top players, but like it or loathe it, that’s the Premier League. It’s not quite the glamour and mystique that is often portrayed, at least not for clubs outside of the established big few.
The real problem here lies in the fact that the situation was seemingly allowed to drift so alarmingly.
Even now the club haven’t come out and defended themselves and their handling of it, and are yet to explain properly what has taken place and how this situation has come to pass. That is the absolute bare minimum you would expect.
Les Reed, who told the world he is in charge of football matters, is the man who seems most in the firing line.
Ralph Krueger may be the chairman but his wishy washy statement added to the increasing feeling that he is largely a front man, one who speaks well but isn’t there to be the hands on leader.
Gareth Rogers as chief executive is also far in the background. Reed seems to have been deemed the man for such matters. When he sat down and made that statement at the end of April, Reed backed Pochettino’s decision to wait until the summer.
“I would like to re-emphasise that we are happy with that – both myself and Mauricio are happy with that – so we can focus on the details of pre-season, transfer market planning and so on. We are both comfortable with the situation,” he said. Well, he shouldn’t have been even remotely comfortable with that.
Saints appeared to miss every trick going to try to pressure Pochettino into staying.
Firstly, if they didn’t attempt to have those talks early then they should have done before it got to the stage that Spurs were contemplating getting shot of Tim Sherwood.
Then, when the Daily Echo discovered that a new contract actually had been offered, Saints never took the step of confirming it, of at least making it look like they were doing something, of trying to use it to push Pochettino into signing at a time when Spurs had not yet come calling.
And when they did – and one source even suggested official permission was granted about a week ago – they didn’t try to sway public opinion either to try and get Pochettino backed into reconsidering his future. In the end it looked as though the club, so fearful of upsetting Pochettino, just went along with anything he said, hoped it would be all right rather than take decisive action, and then saw him walk out at the first possible opportunity.
In an earlier interview, Ralph Krueger made a telling statement when asked about Pochettino’s future.
“What really great managers do is stay in one spot until they cannot evolve there any more,” he said.
Krueger was fair in his analysis, but it does all rather suggest now that Saints are not evolving any further.
They have had a remarkable journey to this point.
The last five years since Markus Liebherr brought the club out of administration have been one tidal wave of positivity. Under Pochettino, Saints achieved some great results, finishing eighth and bagging a highest top flight points total in 29 years last season. They were young, vibrant, fresh and exciting and packed full of home grown talent.
It might be the natural order of football that Saints have done as well as they can and that a return to reality is inevitable, but that’s never going to please anybody.
It all suggests that in a world dominated by cold, hard cash, dreams are for the foolish. They cannot come true anymore in the Premier League.
Also understood is the financial situation the new board have inherited, described as difficult. Fair enough. The bigger issue though is that have looked paralysed by naivety. Again, that may be unfair but it is the impression they have allowed to grow.
They now face some very hard decisions. They simply must act quickly and decisively to appoint a new manager.
There are two ways they can go, and it’s an important crossroads for the club.
They either need to accept what is happening, in which case they will sell a few top players and should get in a great young manager and continue their ethos, albeit with what will be a markedly different looking first team. We are talking a bright and ambitious young man like Eddie Howe.
If they want to try and hold everything together as it is, then their only chance is a very high profile appointment. Of the names listed we are talking a Rafa Benitez type, maybe Gus Poyet.
As for the board, it hopefully at the least has been a learning curve.
They have lost a manager and their promise of open communication has been made to look like a lot of hot air. They failed that test at the very first hurdle, and no trying to hide behind ‘legal reasons’ will ever convince otherwise.
They cannot repeat these mistakes again.
Yesterday was a sad day for all concerned. A really good and popular manager has left and in his wake is worry, instability and uncertainty.
The new board simply must curb this now. This situation is bad but not beyond repair.
However, if this summer doesn’t improve rapidly then there will even more serious questions to be answered by those in charge, and if they cannot or will not answer them then they could be in for a very rocky ride.