Quashie the new Saints standard-bearer is determined to ease the strain

Relegation really hurt and he could have jumped ship. Jason Burt talks to a player now steadying it

The cutbacks were severe. They would be at any club who have spent almost 30 years in the top division only to lose that status overnight. It was numbing stuff. A sense of shock. A sense that, frankly, this should not have happened.

"The only thing that puts it into perspective," says Quashie, "is the bare fact that we were relegated because we were not good enough. We didn't believe we were going to go down, and the biggest disappointment was that there were games which we should have won but lost the points in the dying seconds."

It hurt. It still hurts. Quashie is a mix of fierce determination - "even in five-a-sides I'm annoying" - pride and emotion. "It's what you want for yourself that sets the example," he says, and it's little wonder that his manager, Harry Redknapp, has given him the captaincy.

Now, just nine months after moving from the club's South Coast rivals Ports-mouth, he is Southampton's standard-bearer. "From the minute I walked into this place," he says, "I felt I had to show people there was life, there was something to get out of this position." Then he felt he could keep Southampton in the Premiership; now he is determined to get them back there. "To be honest, I don't want to be in the Championship. But it has to be done. Nobody needs to say how important it is to get promoted. If we don't, it puts an even greater strain on the club."

The exodus of players didn't help. Quashie saw Peter Crouch and Kevin Phillips leave and knew "they would have scored 25 goals for us in this division". He could have left himself. Aged 27, established as a Scotland international with a burgeoning reputation, he was a midfielder in demand. "I'm a loyal person," Quashie says, "but maybe I could have gone. I just felt I didn't want to being jumping ship."

Instead he has steadied it. Even so, he feels disappointed in the lack of investment. "We've got some excellent free transfers in and have tried to get players in, but others are offering better salaries." He picks out Sheffield United, Wolves and Leeds as clubs who have spent heavily, while remarking that both Norwich, with Dean Ashton, and Crystal Palace, with Andrew Johnson, have held on to their strikers.

It has made the Championship even more competitive than when he last played in it. "It's a strong league and it's only got stronger. The quality is better but also you've always got to get out there and scrap. When teams are right on top of you, it's how you deal with that. We've played teams off the park but it counts for nothing when they can turn a game by trying to bully you. But we can deal with that."

Even so, one game sticks in his mind: the away defeat to Luton Town. "We got beat and their players were jumping up and down," Quashie says. "It means more for them than beating Crewe. We have to respect these teams. That's reality. We're in the division for a reason. We're going to Kenilworth Road instead of Old Trafford because we weren't good enough to go to Old Trafford this year."

Next year, maybe. Southampton, who meet Derby County today, have made an encouraging start. They are primed for an assault. It helps, for Quashie, that Redknapp stayed. He thinks he knows why. "The way that he is, and I've been around him for four years now, he's not the type of person who'd want to go out with something like that [relegation]. He's managed at the top for so long, produced so many top players, that he took it quite badly. But if anyone can put it right it's him. And he'll do it his way."

And that doesn't include any interference, Quashie insists, from Sir Clive Woodward. "We're all geared to the same thing," he says. "And that's getting promoted. The manager is taking care of first-team affairs and Clive Woodward is working on developing the training ground, the youth and off-field matters. That's as far as it goes."

It was Redknapp whom Quashie followed to Southampton in the January transfer window. It was always going to be difficult. In truth, it got out of hand. At one stage Quashie had to send his wife and daughter away, such was the abuse he was receiving from Portsmouth fans.

"A lot of things have been said that are not correct," he says of his departure. "I was in no position to stay. I still have friends at Portsmouth, but I would rather be here."

Quashie can deal with such things with a sense of perspective. While at Nottingham Forest he lost his son, Tyler, a few hours after his birth. More recently, his mother was diagnosed with cancer.

The only ambition I feel I need in football," he says, "is to play football. There are lots of things in life people can or can't have. With my determination, I knew I could play, but my biggest ambition was to get my life back. It's been a rough ride but I've come out of it and come out of it a better person."

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