Southampton fans left to bemoan how team unity has been eroded
Saints supporter Archie Bland shares his heartache with the club’s followers as he tries hard to put current predicament in perspective
When Morgan Schneiderlin tweeted his fury at being denied his dream move away from Southampton, it struck many observers as an indication that the club was in crisis. Four days and 30,000 retweets later, if you want more evidence that the Saints are not all marching to the same drum, you might find it in this fact: the tweet is still there.
As the Southampton official Twitter account tweets enthusiastically about victory over Brighton keeping alive the hope of a “perfect pre-season”, supporters like me will laugh hollowly. Schneiderlin’s message of mutiny stands as a painful reminder that a team which built their thrilling success on a spirit of unity is being torn apart by ambition.
Calum Chambers’ departure to join Arsenal on Monday meant that six key first-team players have left over the summer, an unprecedented number for a team that has stayed in the Premier League. Schneiderlin and Jay Rodriguez still hanker for transfers. While more reinforcements are in the offing, the arrival on loan of Ryan Bertrand has hardly soothed anxious fans. The grim summer raises the question: if success brings such a tide of bad news, should supporters of smaller clubs even wish for it?
“With every day that goes past, I get more worried,” says Chris Rann, a Saints fan who blogs for Metro. “You keep hoping that the next day you’ll see a turnaround, but it’s taking a long time.”
Alex Stewart, another supporter who blogs at putneilsingoal.com, is similarly hesitant. “I would be very worried if Schneiderlin or Rodriguez left,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it’s a crisis yet, but if the right replacements aren’t recruited it certainly will be.”
My own sense is of embarrassed disappointment: sadness that a team that seemed so tight-knit could break up so quickly, mortification that I was so naïve as to think it could go any other way. Rann chides me gently: “I think it’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like the players who represent you are your friends or family. The reality is that if another club comes in with more money they’re going to take it. And you can’t really blame them.”
As fans look back over the wreckage of the summer, a common thread is a sense that we flew too close to the sun – that this is an excess of ambition coming home to roost. The former chairman Nicola Cortese is charged with some of the responsibility for that. “Cortese talked about the Champions League,” says Stewart. “We had a sense of euphoria that made us unrealistic. We should accept that it’s not going to happen.”
And yet there’s a sense of perspective that comes from having been in administration in League One not so long ago. “I do think talk of a meltdown is overblown,” says Simon Peach, a Saints fan who reports for the Press Association. “It’s ludicrous how much other teams have spent to pick apart a provincial Premier League side that finished eighth, so it’s about how it’s now reinvested. Anyone who has a memory knows that things could be a hell of a lot worse.”
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