After months of PR gaffes, Saints unveil their number one weapon to unite disgruntled fans (From Daily Echo)
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Ronald Koeman to speak about his Saints revolution
FINALLY, almost a month since he was appointed, Ronald Koeman will today get to speak at length about his Saints revolution.
Announced as the replacement for Mauricio Pochettino on June 16 – the club’s 14th manager in 15 completed Premier League seasons – the Dutch legend this afternoon meets non-club media for the first time.
Generally, the Southern Daily Echo would not preview a press conference.
This is different, though.
It so often is at Saints.
The have endured a miserable few months with regards to public relations.
Both chairman Ralph Krueger and director Les Reed have made statements that were quickly used to beat them with when their words were exposed as hollow ones.
Club officials only have one weapon now in a bid to start turning the tide and improving fans’ goodwill towards them.
It is a good weapon, though.
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A fanbase desperately in need of good news after seeing the club’s best ever Premier League team ripped apart by big-spending vultures are putting their faith in Koeman.
They have no option but to.
Fans have complained that Saints’ new board has not backed up their intial talk of increased transparency with more public comments.
But, when Krueger and Reed have spoken, all too often their words have rebounded painfully on them.
Back in April, Reed was keen to banish “a lot of misinformation” about Mauricio Pochettino’s contract talks and continuing speculation linking him to Tottenham.
“The first point I’d like to make is that, with regards to Mauricio Pochettino’s contract negotiations, both Mauricio and myself ... are very happy with the way we are approaching it at the moment,” he said.
“Let’s clear it up because he (Pochettino) gets asked the same question every week. We talk every day. We are talking about everything to do with the future – planning, pre-season planning, the transfer strategy.”
Those words didn’t clear anything up, and within weeks Pochettino had quit.
To join Tottenham.
So much for the “misinformation” Reed spoke of.
You got the impression at the time that Pochettino was stringing Saints along, and the events of late May did nothing to shatter that unsavoury illusion.
There was more.
“We want to retain the players we’ve got,” Reed said with regards to ‘speculation’ linking Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana with big money moves.
“They are all contracted. They all have existing contracts and we intend for them 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 new players to improve on that.”
Those contracts were NOT honoured. Enquiries were NOT met with a ‘no - not for sale’ reply.
Saints’ “very good team” has NOT been kept together.
Speaking in late April, Reed also said: “Our fans deserve to understand that there is not going to be a fire-sale here. We have repeatedly said that.
“Deals are not about to be concluded for any of our players and we want to keep all of our best players here at this club.”
While there has not been a ‘fire sale’ in so far as Saints do not need to sell for financial reasons, supporters can only see three star names from last season have left and two more – Lovren, Schneiderlin – could yet follow them.
Chairman Krueger has always come across as an enthusiastic character when speaking to the press.
He was happy to give a long interview to the Echo’s Adam Leitch the day after Pochettino’s departure, when some chairman might have hid behind a locked door.
“Any transfers that take place will be under our terms,” he told this newspaper.
“We will decide the terms to potential transfers in and out of the club. We will involve the manager. That is important for everybody to know. That’s why we have been able to not agree to any transfers to date, because we have control of the situation, and anybody who is saying anything else doesn’t understand that we are in a strong position.”
When asked by Adam Leitch ‘do you need to sell anybody?”, Krueger replied: “We do not need to.”
Within days of those words tumbling out of his mouth, Lambert had been sold to Liverpool.
The transfer that left Saints fans in a state of shock was dressed up as ‘we couldn’t turn down Rickie’s dream move’.
Why not? He is a footballer who was incredibly well paid by his club. He was under contract.
Was he ever told to “honour” his contract, as Reed had stated?
Letting Lambert leave before a new manager had been appointed – coming so soon after Kruger’s comments to the contrary – was a huge PR gaffe.
It also opened the door for other players to leave, probably citing their own ‘dream’ moves.
That no doubt led to the likes of Shaw and Lallana seeming to leave with undue haste as soon as England’s World Cup dream had died a miserable death.
They couldn’t even be bothered to meet Koeman before departing.
Now we have the ridiculous situation with Lovren, whose head is at Anfield – according to the player himself – but whose body is still very much under contract at St Mary’s.
Will Saints tell him to “honour” his contract?
Against that backdrop of ‘foot in mouth’ comments, Ronald Koeman was appointed.
At the time, it was the best peice of news Saints fans had received since the 2013/14 season ended on May 11.
It was really the only good bit of news, apart from perhaps three of the club’s players being selected in Roy Hodgson’s World Cup squad.
Three players who could not wish to leave Saints.
Given that today is July 11, you could argue there have only been two good bits in as many months. They are Koeman’s arrival and this week’s near £11m signing of Dusan Tadic, the first peice of Koeman’s potentially large rebuilding jigsaw.
Krueger was keen to emphasise as many positives as possible when he spoke following Pochettino’s switch to White Hart Lane.
“There are some things that aren’t really sexy for the fans but are really important for the health and stability of the club,” he said.
“We have an outstanding new chief commercial officer in Martin Semmens, the owner and founder of Elvis Communications in London, who’s building our commercial department.
“We have Kate Terry, the new head of marketing, moving to us from Apple in London and a new chief financial officer coming.”
That was all well and good, but it wouldn’t have cut any ice with the fans.
It reminded me of Rupert Lowe’s comment in the matchday programme about a profitable radio station and Saints’ stadium catering on the day the club were relegated from the Premier League in 2005.
Fans are only really interested in the first team, and prior to Tadic’s arrival all they could see was a dismantling of their dream.
Supporters who are asked to pay over £20 a game are not fussed about new chief commercial officers.
Ronald Koeman is the only man who can put a smile back on their faces and allow them to dream again.
He has a tough job, no doubt about that.
I can’t think of many Premier League sides who could have lost so many regulars in such a short space of time.
Saints could lose five in one summer – the three who have gone plus Lovren and Schneiderlin.
Add to that the injured Jay Rodriguez, and goalkeeper Artur Boruc could well be dropped.
In all, that is seven players out of last season’s starting XI who might not be lining up at Anfield for the visitors when the curtain lifts on the 2014/15 campaign.
Dave Jones once fielded five debutants in Saints’ opening game of the 1998/99 season against Liverpool.
There could well be more against the same opposition in just over a month’s time.
Koeman, therefore, has more pressing matters on his plate than acting as Saints’ main PR figurehead in the weeks and months ahead.
But, like it or not, that is one of many roles he will have.
Battered into submission by the events of the last two months, some supporters have lost faith and trust in those that run their club. There are some who, mistakenly in my humble opinion, insist Saints have simply tossed aside the ambition they had during Nicola Cortese’s time in charge.
Koeman is a legend in his native Netherlands, and also feted in Catalonia for the part he played in Barcelona first conquering Europe in the early 1990s.
If he says all the right things to start with, and then (far more importantly) backs up his comments in the transfer market and on the field, then legendary status awaits him in Southampton too ...