FOLLOWING a tumultuous season at St Mary’s, Saints chairman Ralph Krueger faced the music in an hour long interview with the Daily Echo’s chief sports writer Adam Leitch.

In the second of a two-part series, Krueger is asked why supporters are still in the dark about the plans of the club’s new owner, infrastructure investments for the future and a new fans’ forum initiative.

  • A lot of the feedback I get is that people would like to know more about Mr Gao and the family and particularly why he has bought the club, his ambitions for the club, and there is a sense people feel insulted that they have not been told that as they deserve to know.

Katahrina never had to answer those questions...

  • She had her father’s legacy so it’s a different situation

The Gaos are private people and the commitment they made in purchasing the club and in this area shows ambitions as far as ambition to be in sports, to learn and to grow the game in China and a belief clearly in the local potential of the club and the growth potential, and a belief in the Premier League and in the sport.

Beyond that if you go around the league there is very few owners other than the English that have grown a club from League One up all the way through that in any way, shape or form are in the public eye.

It is their right to stay private.

My role is to represent ownership and be the voice of ownership and my responsibility is to then carry their wishes and their ambitions into the club.

I don’t think anybody should be hurt by that.

  • This is a big business but this is still a provincial football club and the majority of your fans live within a 50 mile radius of the stadium and you’ve been bought by a Chinese investor, initially turned down by the Premier League, and successfully appealed, he’s owned it for nearly a season and there’s not been a single statement as to why he’s bought it, what he’d like, what he wants for the future. Can you not see that is troubling?

What I can see clearly is what they see for the future which is for us to continue on our path of growth as a club.

Any businessman who invests in something of this nature is expecting growth but also showed extreme support in the difficult situation we were in.

I personally believe over time, and they are still getting to know the whole environment, and very private in his private life, and still getting warm to the whole experience of the Premier League.

It’s pretty shocking to think about going through your first season being this one and not losing it, staying calm, staying supportive.

That is a pretty strong statement of character for me that we always had support and never lost our heads along the way.

I think in the end the most important thing is what happened with the fans down the stretch. They were just all in and so passionate and had so much fun.

Our job is to carry that into the next season and carry that on to the field.

Ownership’s responsibility through us is to give the fans great football matches.

You don’t ask me about my private life and I don’t speak about my private life and you can say I’m only the chairman and don’t own the team but that’s not a topic.

  • That’s not what I’m asking. People want to know why he’s bought the club.

I just said clearly a belief in the club, in the Premier League and the growth of football in China is something that’s really important to them personally.

  • How does the investment into the club fit into what they want to do? And what do they want to do? The point is nobody knows.

As a club we are trying to increase our footprint in China, to have commercial growth but they are really interested in the knowledge that we have here and putting it into play in China.

It’s why they would like the club to play some games there and to increase their popularity and that is clearly launched in Mr Gao’s interests.

We are still trying to figure out how to do that and that we don’t lose focus on our core business which is to produce a good team here.

Football is the main reason he bought it otherwise he is obviously very experienced in real estate and could have invested in that.

It’s the opportunity that this intellectual capital gives them to grow the game in China is one of the major things combined with his love of the area.

I told you already he was here for five years in a row and had holidays in the New Forest and Bournemouth and liked the region and then this came on the map.

He enjoyed coming here, loves the region, loves the game of football and I believe he really wants to see the game grow in China.

That’s what I know right now.

We get full support and trust here.

We get to reinvest our player trading situation in full into the club and people shouldn’t take that for granted in all the different business models.

  • In effect Mr Gao is not investing by chucking money into the club within the fair play rules, but he is investing by not taking anything out?

It’s definitely a positive and our statements are public that we can fully reinvest.

We believe with his connections, and this was a tough season because of where we were, but we feel strongly about our growth in Asia and China and that commercially will help us to be able to grow within the rules of the Premier League and Fair Play rules and we will have more income.

Truly we remain ambitious even after this difficult season.

I am not going to say if we are 15th next season that’s fine and take the pressure off.

We are still going to strive for the top half of the table. We believe we can get back to that and they support that.

I have been working with this type of support of ownership since I’ve been here and I think it’s a healthy way to run a football team. I think we have a healthy model where we reinvest our player trading so we need to be good there.

We need to develop in our academy and we are looking for potential partner clubs in Europe where we had to stop because of our situation.

We also believe off the tail end of this because we got a lot of exposure being in a relegation battle – I got more texts from North American people down the stretch because of this than when we finished eighth. I got more text messages after the Swansea game than when I won a Gold medal with Canada.

I see it as a positive that they give us the trust to run it. At other clubs you have seen a quick change in the entire process.

We are all connected and all I am is a piece in the whole puzzle here.

We are a smaller club in a smaller place but we are in the best league in the world. The best individual sports league in the world. Southampton is in it.

It’s hard to get into this league and it’s way harder to stay in it than I thought.

I think I had it easy as chairman with the first four years and didn’t appreciate, but boy, oh boy, are we going to appreciate getting ourselves back up there.

This is global. It’s international growth and the television revenue is a sign of where this league is going and we will only get bigger as a league around the world.

To have an international owner gives us a chance to access the biggest country in the world.

I feel this was his first year of ownership and we weren’t able to tap into it because we didn’t have the results on the pitch.

People need to give this time and we will see some results because in China if you get popular it goes real fast.

I think this end stretch they have already seen real growth and interest.

We have had sponsor conversations we had to stop in February that we will reactive immediately with some Chinese firms.

The goal is for the income to come into the club and be interested in football.

I hope we can be speaking about some of that growth in our next conversation.

  • Can you talk about the stadium refurbishment plans, training ground development etc?

We have put some clear cap ex aside and the fans will notice change in and around the building here in stages.

We will begin this summer and we have been speaking about some projects to increase the quality of the day experience for fans in and around the entertainment and so on.

We are going to invest piece by piece into the hospitality of the stadium.

At the training ground we are starting to get final permits for building projects that are going to take three-to-five years.

They are not things fans are going to get excited about but everything, including my heart, was parked two months ago.

I have to say we were kind of paralysed since we spoke in January and I felt then here we go but first of all our staff and the quality of our staff, and thank you for mentioning it already, the quality of our business is as high as it’s ever been.

Now we’ve been able to stay in the Premier League I think we really have a very gritty feel in the club.

It’s a bit probably like the feeling you have when you got promoted in 2012/13 and you’ve got to really fight to stay here and we maybe lost that a little bit but it’s back in every area of the club.

If you walk the floor and look at how tense that was and how positive everybody stayed we have got very good people and have hired a new head of sales and marketing in areas where if we had have fallen they would have had a nightmare. They can now go out and fight.

On the operational side we have as good a workforce as Southampton has ever had and that kept me up at night more in the final three weeks of the season than anything personal or to do with football.

It was reduced to people and the responsibility to all these people, what relegation would mean and how big that cliff was scared the crap out of me to be in that but still keep our heads about us as we battled to stay in it.

  • Can you tell us about the fan forums you are planning to hold?

The fans were great and they backed us so much, but I felt we cannot always rely on football to have that connection so we are going to do three fan forums next year.

We will do a larger one to kick-off the season and people will apply in for one mid-season and one near the end of the season.

Our media team will offer people the chance to ask questions and we will live stream it so everybody’s involved and that’s just one sign of us trying to get better at what we are doing.

The communication with the fans we all lost touch with each other somehow during the season and I am excited to have us as a club build on that next year and really be out there and give them a voice and also us a voice a little bit more direct and I know the media will help us facilitate that.

It will start in August and we will have a process where people can apply for tickets.

  • Who do you foresee speaking at the forums?

I would always be present and I am certain off the hope we would have Les Reed and our manager.

As the season progressed we would see but I would see myself as a fixed person there to be able to deal with all the different information and improve the communication.

That’s one tool that has already come out of the last few months because the fans gave us so much. It was a beautiful thing to see and I am so grateful for it and we’ve got to start thinking of ways to give back and get more involved.