Southampton look to Houllier after Sturrock is shown the door

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Southampton are planning to appoint a director of football to work alongside the new head coach, Steve Wigley, after the abrupt sacking of Paul Sturrock yesterday.

Southampton are planning to appoint a director of football to work alongside the new head coach, Steve Wigley, after the abrupt sacking of Paul Sturrock yesterday.

Sturrock's departure was described as having taken place "by mutual consent". In truth the Scotsman was dismissed just two matches into the new Premiership season - and five months into his tenure as the Southampton manager - after he lost the confidence of the chairman, Rupert Lowe.

Lowe immediately installed Wigley as the head coach. At first the appointment was described as temporary, with the former director of Southampton's youth academy taking charge for the next two games. But within hours it was confirmed as full-time to "kill" speculation that either Glenn Hoddle - who is still favoured by Lowe - or Gordon Strachan would return as manager.

Wigley will take charge of the first team and there will be a restructuring of how the club is run. Lowe and his joint managing director, Andrew Cowen, admire the model used in Europe, with a coach and a director of football working in tandem.

Southampton are keen to appoint the former Liverpool manager Gérard Houllier, but he is likely to turn the job down. If he returns to management, Houllier would undoubtedly want to work for a bigger club.

Philippe Troussier, who was considered when Strachan quit last season, would be interested having just been sacked by Qatar. A third candidate, the former Marseille coach Alain Perrin, who was also considered as Strachan's replacement, said last night that he had had no contact with Southampton since the start of the year.

Despite its abruptness the departure of Sturrock came as no surprise. He has been in charge for just 13 games but his relationship with Lowe has been strained almost since the start, while players have questioned his tactics and man-management.

Lowe has, it is understood, become alarmed by Sturrock's handling of the unsettled striker James Beattie, while his training methods have been unimpressive - as have the results. Southampton finished last season with four defeats and two draws in seven matches and often appeared disorganised.

The final straw for Lowe was last Saturday's home match against Blackburn. It had been thought that if Southampton had lost, Sturrock would have been sacked. They won, but the sight of 5,000 empty seats convinced Lowe that the manager's style of football and his stewardship were not working.

Nevertheless, in an extraordinary statement, Southampton tried to blame Sturrock's departure on the media. The statement read: "Management in the Premier League is highly pressured and when this pressure is compounded by a constant stream of negative and unfair media coverage, which has taken on a life of its own recently, the position becomes untenable. Those people responsible for perpetrating this unsatisfactory situation, often in return for financial reward, should take a long, hard look at themselves."

Sturrock joined in March on a two-year contract, which was to convert into a 12-month rolling deal, after being poached from Plymouth Argyle. He took over from Wigley, who had been the caretaker manager for two rocky matches after which he, ironically, said he had no desire to be in charge. Yesterday Wigley admitted he was "not quite sure" why he had changed his mind when he was offered the job as head coach on Sunday evening. "Earlier this year I didn't think the time was right for me. I did not feel ready," he said. "I am prepared for it. I feel that I can do a good job as head coach but I was not prepared to be manager. I had not craved the job but when it was offered to me, I did not think twice about accepting."

Wigley will have to appoint a new assistant as Kevin Summerfield has left with Sturrock. Dennis Rofe is expected to stay on the coaching staff.

Despite the talk of dressing-room discontent, the defender Graeme Le Saux claimed yesterday that Sturrock's departure had come as a surprise. "We did not know anything about it until we got to the training ground this morning," he said. "Paul, to his credit, came in and talked to us about it. The respect he walks away with is enhanced by that."

Le Saux went on to say that Wigley would bring continuity as he had been involved with the club for some time. But the same was said when Lowe disastrously appointed Stuart Gray as manager after Hoddle left.

Wigley is the seventh man to be in charge in the eight years since Lowe became chairman. Nick Illingsworth, chairman of the Southampton Independent Supporters' Association, said fans would be "shocked" by the events but added: "The thing with Rupert Lowe is that it is not always about results. He will look at the club and think about whether he thinks it is going in the right direction. It is a little bit shocking but the atmosphere in the club is not right."

Eight years of turmoil

Southampton managers under Lowe

Paul Sturrock

(March 2004 to August 2004)

Joined the day after Glenn Hoddle withdrew his attempt to return to St Mary's amid outcry from the fans. Previously in charge at Plymouth Argyle, where he was manager for three years, enjoying incredible success. Spent his playing career at one club, Dundee United, before going into management in Scotland.

Steve Wigley

(Caretaker, February 2004)

Reserve-team coach who took over after Gordon Strachan left three months earlier than expected. In charge for just two games - both drawn - he had been expected to stay in the hot seat until the end of the season but made it clear then that he did not want the job. When Sturrock was appointed Wigley returned, apparently relieved, to his former role, also heading the youth academy.

Gordon Strachan

(October 2001 to February 2004)

Joined with the club facing a relegation battle after losing six of their first eight games. He guided Southampton to 11th, and they went from strength to strength, reaching the FA Cup final in 2003. Left for "personal and medical reasons" (he needed a hip replacement operation) after refusing to renew his contract.

Stuart Gray

(March to October 2001)

In charge for four months, after a stint as caretaker, following the acrimonious exit of Hoddle. Gray, a former Southampton player, stepped up from a coaching role but struggled as the club moved into a new stadium. Dismissed to make way for Strachan.

Glenn Hoddle

(January 2000 to March 2001)

Left under a cloud when he used a clause in his contract to go to Tottenham Hotspur. Southampton were eighth in the Premiership at the time, having won five successive matches. He compounded the fans' anger by taking the defender Dean Richards with him to White Hart Lane. It was Southampton who had offered Hoddle a route back into management after he had been dismissed by England.

Dave Jones

(June 1997 to January 2000)

The former Stockport County manager was given a year's paid leave to fight child abuse claims. These allegations were later proved to be totally unfounded. Hoddle was put in temporary charge, with the club in 17th place in the Premiership, but after beating the abuse claims, Jones was not given his job back. He took the club to a Premier League tribunal, which he lost, but insists he bears no grudges against Lowe.

Graeme Souness

(July 1996 to June 1997)

The combative player turned combative manager once famously asked how many people there were in football called Rupert, and he never saw eye to eye with Lowe, then the chairman in waiting. He resigned after claiming that Lowe was interfering and putting unfair limitations on transfers. Lowe responded by writing an open letter to a local newspaper, denying Souness's claims. Souness was soon appointed manager of the Italian club Torino.

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