How Southampton's summer transfer window turned into an unexpected revolution
The rebuilt Saints head to Liverpool to face two of the players they sold to the Reds, while a third, the injured Adam Lallana, looks on
For Southampton, the transfer window became a revolution. Full-on right the way through" is the verdict of Les Reed, Southampton's executive director. "And it hasn't stopped."
Manager Mauricio Pochettino left in the summer – along with six first-team players for fees totalling £95m – replaced by a new manager, Ronald Koeman, and seven players costing £47.4m.
Today the rebuilt Saints face their first test, away to Liverpool, who include two of the players sold to the Reds, Rickie Lambert and Dejan Lovren, while a third, the injured Adam Lallana, looks on.
"I think the perception is that there was just a queue of players waiting to knock on my door and be the next one out," Reed, the reluctant architect of that rebuilding, told The Independent on Sunday. But he rejects talk of a "fire sale" and believes that the media overreacted to a situation whose catalyst was the departure of Pochettino for Tottenham Hotspur on May 27.
"It was sudden," the former FA Technical Director, England coach and – for 41 days in 2006 – manager of Charlton Athletic said. "We had to identify a new manager, the right person for our vision and our structure, and we think we have. Ronald was at the top of a very short list."
But even Koeman's arrival could not prevent Lallana following Lambert to Anfield and Luke Shaw joining Manchester United. And Lovren began to press publicly to join the exodus, which would also include Calum Chambers to Arsenal.
"When players know that a big club is looking to bring them in, they dream of big and better things," Reed said. "You tell them that they might be better staying here, but once their heads are turned, you've got to make a judgement. You have to be fairly detached and businesslike about it."
How did Koeman react? "He knew exactly where we were. But we had to dispel the myths and rumours and make it clear that this was a club that was going forward. And this was amid incredible speculation that the club was about to implode, which we knew couldn't have been further from the truth. It was frustrating."
Fans, though, found events hard to square with Reed's statement in April that players were not for sale. "My message had been that we didn't need to sell, so there was no point in predators coming along thinking there was a fire sale and that there would be easy pickings. Every club has offers made for their players. We were in a position to remain very strong and make sure that the prices we got were acceptable and so we set the benchmark very high and it was up to clubs to match that."
Yet when they did, with no replacements signed, speculation was fuelled that Katharina Liebherr, the owner, was asset-stripping in preparation for selling up. Not so, Reed says. "Katharina Liebherr made an amazing impact when she came in on a more hands-on basis and internally the club was extremely motivated. But it would have been wrong to present a new coach with a squad he hadn't had any contribution to assembling. Now it's as if the pendulum has swung the other way and we're landing targets."
They include England goalkeeper Fraser Forster, Serbia playmaker Dusan Tadic and forwards Graziano Pelle and Shane Long. But could Saints have kept more of the team that finished eighth in the Premier League last season? "We would have been very happy to keep all those players," Reed said. "But I think the media frenzy and the rumours in the background and the perception made it very difficult once bids started to come in. And it was all very public. Once that happens, players believe the rumours.
"But we got good prices and we know now that every single player in the squad wants to be here. If you're going to be successful you've got to have that, but if you've got three, four, five players who are affecting that environment, then you have to make some cold decisions.
"I think the fans recognised those signs and symptoms and the majority have been brilliant, very supportive. They know we're working through this and building a team again for the future."
Having already won at Anfield managing Benfica in 2006, Koeman is not only looking forward to his baptism in English football but feeling bullish. "If you'd like put some money on us to go down, I think you will lose it," he said. "What I see in the pre-season is that we are a much better team than other teams in the Premier League."
Liverpool v Southampton is live on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 1.30pm
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