Nicola Cortese’s future as Saints chairman today hangs in the balance, as a break in his contract looms large.

The 44-year-old Italian, who has overseen the club’s rise from League One to the Premier League, could exit St Mary’s during the close season.

The Daily Echo understands Cortese’s initial contract is due to reach a natural break this summer, which allows him to walk away penalty free or for the Liebherr estate to relieve him of his duties with comparatively minimal compensation.

There is no suggestion that the Liebherr estate would withdraw their backing for the football club no matter what the decision over Cortese.

The Liebherr estate have as yet not sought to extend the contract of Cortese, who came into Saints as part of the takeover by the late Swiss billionaire Markus Liebherr in 2009.

Therefore there is a chance they may choose to go in a different direction and replace him within the next few weeks.

As reported this morning, there were also indications that Cortese himself may choose to walk, having grown disillusioned with a failure to sign off and agree new and ambitious future plans for the club.

Though the initial five year plan that was drawn up was understood to have included the possibility of selling the club once it had survived a season in the Premier League, Cortese is now believed to be keen to drive it further forward.

The breaking of this news could put pressure on the Liebherr estate to keep Cortese in charge, depending on whether there was a ground swell of support for him.

It could also pave the way for a dignified resignation for Cortese whereby he could quite fairly point to his achievements and leave with a big reputation that would stand him in good stead for whatever he chose to do next in his successful football career.

Cortese’s time as Saints chairman has been one of huge success, and very lucrative for him as he has banked millions as a result, but he has also come in for some criticism along the way.

He can quite justifiably point to the fact he took over an ailing League One side and, boosted by Liebherr’s millions, has turned them into a Premier League outfit who are revelling in all that means.

But he has also been accused of lacking respect for the history and traditions of the club, falling out with former players, the media and fans' groups.

The decision over Cortese’s future is likely to be resolved relatively swiftly with the club reaching an important time of the year.

With Premier League status effectively secured, attention will soon turn to transfer plans, ticketing prices, decisions over a new kit and the other details that are sorted out once the season comes to an end.

Whether Cortese stays or goes few would argue he has left anything other than an indelible mark on the history of the club.

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