Good morning all! I hope you have had a good weekend and enjoyed our interview pieces with Saints owners Sport Republic this week. 

If you have subscribed to the Daily Echo on the back of it, thank you very much for your support.

The interview produced over 4,000 words of direct quotes from Dragan Solak, Rasmus Ankersen and Henrik Kraft so we had to split it up into digestible bits over the week. 

However, below is the full interview Q&A conducted with the bosses at Staplewood Campus, in their new office overlooking the main training pitch...

In your view what went wrong between August and May this year? 

Dragan Solak: I can say from my side that I am probably the guy who knows the least about football but how I see it, I think first of all everything that happened this year was coming in the last five years. The club didn’t have proper investment for five years and they were doing what they had to do to survive and stay in the Premier League and did a great job doing that. But every survival leaves scars that are seen or unseen on the tissue. We came in with the scars really put together and we hoped with increased investment we will be able to move the club towards where we wanted it to be. Unfortunately, it is shown you cannot buy success just as you cannot buy love! We spent a lot of money and acquired some wonderful talents but unfortunately, somehow we couldn’t create a team that was needed and all the other stuff that came up produced this very disappointing season for all of us. On the positive side of all of this, we finally have the chance for a fresh new start to reset. We intend to do that with a lot of energy and with the same confidence in the town and in the club, we are really looking forward to rebuilding this club back. Maybe after 10 years of survival, it might not be bad to have a reset, build a healthy foundation and hopefully stay in the Premier League for even longer than 10 years.

Henrik Kraft: Of course, we didn’t want to get relegated. But it is an opportunity now to reset and get everything aligned with our own version, for us to get closer involved. I think we can create a winning team and I think it will be a very exciting and entertaining season for us and the fans. We will come back stronger because we will have had an opportunity to make a lot of changes, if things are going okay you don’t always make the hard decisions but now we have to so hopefully that leaves us stronger.

Daily Echo: Dragan Solak during the Premier League match between Southampton and Mancester United at St Mary's Stadium. Photo by Stuart Martin..

Your initial joining statement – Henrik said: “We will be an active and engaged owner but we will not be starting any revolutions. We were attracted to Southampton because it is already a well-run club.” – Pretty much entirely new board, when did you first, and why did you feel you had to, deviate from that initial statement?

HK: In the first six months, we were very much aligned with that but I think everyone knows last season finished very, very badly. We lost nine of the last 12 games and it was relegation form. It has been an attempted evolution, the changes are never easy and if you’re trying to make change at the same time as when things are not going well on the pitch, that creates its own difficulties. It’s a relatively natural outcome unfortunately of the situation we’ve been in, wanting change and wanting to change some things and drive some improvements at a time when results weren’t working. I’m not sure I’d go as far as calling it a revolution now but obviously we have had to make more changes than we initially anticipated.

So many left, whose decision is it – is it theirs or has it been yours?

HK: There have been a few occasions where we have lost people that we didn’t want to, everyone knows about Joe Shields who was plucked by Chelsea. There have been people who left because there was promotion or an opportunity to go to a job they didn’t get, that’s natural I think. By and large, there have been no real surprises in the changes and probably more of them have been in line with us.

Everybody at the club takes their share of responsibility but how much responsibility do you accept for what happened and ultimately relegation?

Rasmus Ankersen: When you are the owner of the company you need to take full responsibility no matter what, we just have to look at what happened and make sure we get things right for next season. Now that myself and Henrik are moving closer to the action ourselves, we’ll pick the team we want to run the club day to day to make sure we do everything we can to make this club a success.

One of the things that lots of supporters have said to myself, they don’t feel they can fully trust the decisions made and therefore the ownership of the club, as we start to look forward then is that feeling something you’re aware of and hope to change?

RA: There’s no better medicine than winning football matches. Change is difficult and when you try to do it at the same time as in a survival battle, it’s extra hard. The proof will be in the pudding, all we can say now is that – as you have seen with the changes we have made over the last month – we are preparing to make sure that the club is fully aligned from the top to the bottom. We have to do everything we can to get decisions right but the evidence will be on the pitch, at the end of the day.

HK: We have to earn it…

DS: I think it’s also fair to say that all three of his have history behind us that brought us to the point of being able to a Premier League club, which is not cheap or easy to do. That means we have made a lot of decisions right in the past, Rasmus has a lot of sporting success and Henrik and myself have lots of business success. This part of our journey was not marked by huge success but we are guys who are fighting, we learn from our mistakes and have tried to work out exactly where we made mistakes in order to never do them again. We are willing to continue the fight so I think supporters should have faith that we have not just woken up a year and a half ago and became completely incapable and unsuccessful people from a life of success before that. But it is a phase where we were very happy with Southampton on multiple levels and still are, but through the first season and first half season some vulnerable things showed and some results started piling up and actually we were not able, together with the team, to answer why. We saw the team not really functioning, there was all this talk about the striker that was missing but at the time we had Armando Broja who was still playing for us and something was missing. This is really complex business where you can spend £100million on players or several hundred like Chelsea and somehow still not put them in a functional team. There are smart people there but it will probably take time for them, I’m sure they will come back stronger because the talent they have is unbelievable – but even they couldn’t put a functioning team together. It’s a very touchy business where we have to be very precise but believe me we have done a lot of thinking about everything that went right and wrong and are 100 per cent dedicated. I’m not saying we are not going to make mistakes again but we are 100 per cent dedicated to not making the mistakes again. Unfortunately, we can only ask now for a bit of faith and hopefully the results on the pitch can rebuild faith in us – that’s the only way to prove you are right or wrong in football, win or lose games.

Do you think that hiring two inexperienced managers in Nathan Jones and Ruben Selles was a gamble and was it a regret or a mistake?  

RA: There’s always risk and when you recruit a manager, it is not like recruiting a player in a set transfer window and often you’re not playing games. You almost always recruit a manager under time pressure, either because someone headhunts your manager because they have done well and you have limited time to find a replacement, or when you need to let go of your manager because you’re not happy and need to find someone who can do a better job. There is always an element of risk. The narrative about a manager is always a simple one but there are multiple things that have caused the fact we’ve been relegated, not just one factor. We think that there was a logical rationale to the appointments at the time but they clearly didn’t work out. It was not that nobody thought about how we would turn around the situation.

DS: It was easier for me because I was not involved with all the football talks, but I was involved in the choice of manager – so I take my part of the blame. We already had Ralph (Hasenhuttl) at Southampton, who was one of the longest-serving managers in the Premier League. We had a very experienced, high-level, proven Premier League manager, and then he started failing. I think Ralph is an extremely smart and honest person but you could see some kind of energy was not getting out of him anymore, when we were looking into this we wanted a change – we didn’t think that another long-serving manager of the Premier League was a change. What I saw in Nathan was pure energy that we needed, aggression in defence and offence, a guy that would make pitbulls out of our players. He proved he could do this in Luton but for whatever reason, he could not turn our squad that way, maybe it was the players he just didn’t get across and his system didn’t work. He was inexperienced as a manager in the Premier League, and maybe the pressure and presence is at a different level and can break many people who are not used to that. I don’t feel sorry for us, I feel sorry for him. If I could not do it, I would – I would be the happiest guy if Nathan would actually be the hero of Luton Town, got his promotion to the Premiership and actually became a Premier League manager by promotion. He had a lot of faith that he could do good things with us and it damaged his career as well, not only our club but himself. Having to sit at home and watch the team he practically created get promotion to the Premier League, it’s unbelievable. You can make a very emotional movie out of that. I feel very sorry in part for not enhancing his career, he is a good guy and an honest guy but perhaps wasn’t the right fit. As Rasmus says, sometimes you have a limited time frame to decide and he looked like the right fit from all the stuff we knew about him.

Daily Echo: Nathan Jones in the dugout

What about the Ruben Selles appointment, with still over a third of the season to go?

RA: At that time, we were not in a great position obviously and within the club there was a feeling it was important to go back to something familiar. One of the issues we have had is that Southampton, over the last few years, has been recognised as having a very well defined style of play and that has brought the maximum out of the players. That started slipping last season and it started to look like a team without an identity, and that carried on into the new season. We didn’t look like a team with clear principles of play, Nathan came in to try and fix some of the more immediate issues we had. For example, aggression and we had been very poor on set plays, Nathan had a great record at Luton on that, and being a team that was on the front foot and being aggressive without the ball. When that didn’t have an impact, the feeling was it was important to go back to something most of the players were familiar with, the 4-2-2-2 system. When you are under pressure you tend to go back to default setting and we felt like we should support that, there was a feeling of going back to something familiar in the building. That didn’t work, clearly.

James Ward-Prowse and Theo Walcott both told me there was not enough experience in the playing group, do you agree with them and is it something that you feel you have to learn from?

RA: Whenever you lose, the explanation or reason that tends to come out is that you lack leaders or experience, if you go to Leeds and Leicester now they may say the same thing. In the summer there was a fatigue within the team in relationships between some of the senior players and management, we – together with the management team – had to make some decisions on what direction we wanted to go. The conclusion was that Ralph had done a great job and deserved now to be backed with increased investment, that also meant we needed a refreshment of the squad to turn the curve upwards again. That meant some of the more experienced players – who were not playing at the end of the season, and big characters can be good when they play but bad when they are not. But we recognise that we probably didn’t get the squad balance quite right, whether that means we should have added more experienced players it’s hard to tell. Overall, we signed some amazing players, we have some great growth and frankly some of our best players this season have been some of the young guys and fans have enjoyed watching them. The squad balance and the identity of the team we didn’t quite get right and there is definitely an element of balancing experiencing and youth that could probably have been better.

What is the plan to bring the club back to the Premier League?

RA: The number one thing for us is to now create full alignment from top to bottom. We know how we want to play on the pitch, we have a coach who can execute that and we have a director of football overlooking that appointment and who can get the players we need to play that style, and we will support as much as we can from above. That alignment needs to be right and if we can get that right then we have a major building block for success.

Daily Echo: AFC Bournemouth v Southampton in  Premier League season at Vitality Stadium. Saints players celebrate ther win..Picture by Richard Crease.

Jason Wilcox hire – what attracted you to him and what do you expect from him this season and beyond?

RA: Southampton’s DNA is developing talent and if Manchester City’s academy is not the best in the world, then it is definitely up there. Jason is not a guy who has been there for two years, he has been there for 10 years and really built it. First of all, that DNA and belief in young players and track record of developing footballers is always going to be an important part of being a director of football at Southampton. On top of that, Jason has a playing career and knows what it takes playing at the highest level, and if you have the chance to meet him he is very competitive, a great leader and we think this is something that we need – somebody who can bring day-to-day leadership in line with where the club wants to go.

Is it accurate to say he will be the link between manager and board, and he will play a significant role in recruitment, alongside a new appointment?

RA: He will have day-to-day contact with the head coach and we will be here more often. We will have a presence here but that is mainly to support everyone and show that Sport Republic is behind the club and wants you to be successful. We want to support them but won’t be here executing day-to-day operations, that is their job to do. Jason will support the manager every day, be involved in key decisions and make sure we have that alignment.

Russell Martin hire – another young, up-and-coming manager, what is it about Martin’s achievements that tell you he’s the man to provide promotion?

RA: You’ve asked the question in a clever way but we will have to disappoint you. I think it would be inappropriate to talk about a new manger before they are appointed.

DS: There will be time to discuss the new manager when it is confirmed and we will be happy to do so as we owe it to supporters and to you, particularly after our unsuccessful choices. What I can say is that the new manager, the suggestion and the analysis and the reason why will come predominantly from Jason, not from us, because he is the new director of football. We hope to be consulted and to be involved in decision-making but we truly believe in the people we will give power to run the club and will do everything we can to support them and enable them to do better. Then we will come to the game like everybody else and hope to see our team winning!

RA: What we want to do with Sport Republic is build a larger system of clubs and fuel player development through that. We have enough on our plate building that and that is our focus, then we will support the director and management team here and at the other clubs. Clearly, this is our flagship club, so we will give whatever attention it needs to be successful.

How much influence will the manager have on matters beyond the pitch?

RA: You don’t want to sign a player the head coach doesn’t want. There is a lot of waste there, so that is one part. But on the other hand, people from the outside sometimes forget that being the head coach is a hard job and they don’t have much time to watch players and that is why have a big scouting team that doesn’t do anything else but find the right players. The head coach is very important in identifying the type of player we want and the final process when we have three candidates, he can help choose which one he prefers. Jason will overlook this and it’s a collaborative effort.

DS: He is always capable of staking his desires but they have to be checked over and there has to be a discussion and a joint decision. Nobody is going to just buy players and tell the coach, here is the team! He needs to like the players and know their role in the team. We will not send him a bus load of players, it’s not one man’s decision but it is in the domain of Jason, the manager, their team and scouts and us on the transfer committee.

RA: You want to have multiple views on a player to make sure every stone is turned. It’s a big operation, modern football. There is a whole system that operates that.

HK: The goal is to win the Championship, the goal is very clear, the goal is to get promoted. We are trying to shape the organisation to make sure it is fit for purpose and absolutely achieves that goal. I think we will have a lot more resources in reality than most of our competitors this season so we are in a very good position. If it doesn’t happen this year, hopefully it happens next year. We will continue to build, and a lot of the young players we brought in are getting better. That is one of the big advantages of the youthful nature of our recruitment, a lot of the players are getting better as they progress in their careers.

You mention recruitment, how tough was January for you – you didn’t get the impact you needed?

RA: January is always very tough, it is tough from a financial perspective. Nobody wants to lose their best players in January, players need to hit the ground running – it’s tough when there is no pre-season, so there is always risk on recruitment. I think a couple of the players like Alcaraz and to an extent Sulemana have done well, but there have clearly been some mishits where the players haven’t had an impact for one reason or another.

DS: We also changed the game model unfortunately, we did the January window and then changed the manager. Suddenly the new manager came in with new ideas and those players were basically brought in like a week ago, hopefully we will not have this situation again.

RA: Again this is with the alignment, January is tough, we did our best and the scouting team worked very hard.

Daily Echo: Southampton's Carlos Alcaraz (centre left) celebrates scoring

What will happen if the club are unable to win promotion back to the Premier League after multiple seasons?

HK: First of all, what we have said is that we are fully committed to the club and it is a long-term project. There are other things that as Rasmus has alluded to, we are building with Sport Republic. This is to be able to create an infrastructure that actually gives us what we want long term, bringing players through in a different way so we’re not fighting on the last day of the transfer window. We believe that over two or three years we will move towards a much more sustainable business model. Obviously, we believe in the investments we have made and continue to make.

RA: There will be some turnover naturally because the squad is too big but there are some very talented football players in that group which we will be intending to keep. I think it’s more an exciting job for them, if I was the manager that looked into the dressing room I wouldn’t be too worried.

What’s the best Saints can hope for under Sport Republic?

RA: I don’t think we should make any big promises but what you have seen with Brighton, Villa and Brentford – these clubs have finished in the top 10 this season. If you work over a number of years with a concentrated strategy and make good decisions you can punch above your weight in the Premier League. We are not going to go in and compete on money, we will invest, but that is why we are building the club network we are is to try and get the players into our system before they cost £30million. Time will tell whether that will be successful or not, whether that ends up improving the club we will see but I think there is some good evidence from other clubs that it is possible to do. There is a lot of talent there that can improve, hopefully we can get a good pre-season, play some exciting football, entertain fans and win football matches.

Henrik, you referenced a gap in quality academy youngsters between 19-21 at the fans’ forum but are you now excited by the ages below?

HK: There was a specific gap for whatever reason and I think the signings that have been made have been targeted to fill that gap. You look at the players coming through, it’s very exciting. We have had debuts from a number of very young players this season. I think Sam was actually the youngest and he came on and showed why, obviously Dom we have seen a couple times this season and Kami Doyle in the game before. There’s some great players coming through and we won the B team division with basically an under-18s team, a very young team that won that. Tremendous achievement.

Daily Echo: Dom Ballard could be in line to feature for Saints once relegation is confirmed

What does the Southampton way mean to you in your new vision?

HK: I think the Southampton way probably means difficult things to different people, I guess we’re not too hung up on slogans whereas what the DNA of the club is, is more important to us. The DNA of the club is very much around youth development, excellence in the academy, bringing top talent through and giving people a chance. I think that resonates with everything we have tried to do and will try to do, we’re not afraid to take risks. When you give a young player a chance, that’s taking a risk. There’s another a slogan at Southampton which I like better and that is ‘be brave’. That’s really what we’re trying to maintain, that whole nature of the club combined with the amazing infrastructure we have here is what has attracted us to the club, I don’t think any of that has changed.

Dragan, how important is the Saints Foundation to Sport Republic?

DS: I think it’s hugely important, we believe that the club is community and a club without community doesn’t mean anything. The people who love the club and support the club are coming to the games and they are the blood flow of the club. We connect back with the Saints Foundation and we have great plans for the future of the foundation. We have to be a little bit focussed now on the football but the more success you have on the pitch, the easier it is to achieve your goals as well. I think we believe the foundation is a great thing. For me, I took this box and I was super happy to receive photos of the kids enjoying the box at the games, I was really happy that they could enjoy the games with the best food and drinks – but hopefully, they were not giving them my wine! The happy faces for me are absolutely why we work and why we do what we do, it’s hugely important to continue to support it and we hope that the building of a bigger and more successful football club will lead to a bigger Saints Foundation too.

HK: It’s important to add that its work will be unaffected this year by relegation.