Southampton's Changing Aspirations
Looking back to 1991, you can see a startling difference already. Featuring in the Southampton squad were Tim Flowers, Francis Benali, Jason Dodd, Jimmy Case, Matt Le Tissier, Alan Shearer and Rodney Wallace. These are some of the greats of their time and we refer to most, now, as legends.
Alan Shearer was one of two outfield players in 1991/1992 season to have played in all 41 matches, playing 3690 minutes, scoring 13 goals and never being substituted. The other player to match this record was goalkeeper Tim Flowers, playing the same minutes and appearances.
Southampton, being in the Barclays First Division and having "The Dell" as their stadium, created an electric atmosphere however they only managed to finish 16th in the league that year. The desire that year was to finish mid table despite having, what we refer to, as quality players.
This was the last time the First Division was used as in 1992, the 22 clubs making up the First Division elected to resign from the Football League and set up the Premier League. The Football League was consequently re-organised, with the Second, Third and Fourth Divisions now renamed the First, Second and Third respectively.
We now go to 1995/1996 season where, yet again, many things changed. We now have a new manager in David Merrington but only to be sacked at the end of the season and to be replaced by Graeme Souness. A few stars have remained in Dodd, Benali and Le Tiss, however Southampton had some newer faces in Matt Oakley, Jim Magilton, Dave Beasant, Bruce Grobbelaar and Ken Monkou join the ranks. Amongst those names are again some Southampton legends.
Saints appointed Merrington because they wanted improvement on last season`s finish however Merrington could only get Saints to 17th spot narrowly escaping relegation on goal difference. Despite yet again, having some big named stars in the squad the ambition of the club wasn`t fulfilled.
Now the 1999/2000 season sees a huge change in terms of players. For me, this was one of the best squads available and showing true ambition by the club to improve on Southampton`s fortunes. This season saw the likes of Paul Jones, Wayne Bridge, Claus Lundekvam, Dean Richards, Chris Marsden, James Beattie and Marian Pahars. These players were under yet again a new manager; a coach by the name of Glen Hoddle. Under Hoddle, the club wanted an improvement and he delivered. Hoddle got the boys to 15th in the league finishing 11 points above relegation.
In the space of 10 years it is evidential that Southampton have been improving and growing from strength to strength. Improving the higher calibre managers each time and the depth and strength of squad. But can Southampton continue to improve on aspirations or will they fall along the way side?
The year is now 2003/2004 and to continue the trend Southampton have certainly developed and improved. In this season Southampton played in the UEFA Cup against Steaua Bucharest due to coming runners up in the FA Cup against Arsenal the season before. Despite a brief encounter of the UEFA Cup, it was certainly an improvement. Yet again a newer high-calibre manager was at the helm in the form of Gordon Strachan and seemed to change it around even more at saints.
Southampton again looked to have improved their squad with Antti Niemi, Michael Svensson, Anders Svensson and Kevin Phillips being added to the frame to help them push on.
However times weren`t so good for Southampton moving forward and doom & gloom was fast approaching.
We continue on our journey to the 2007/2008 season. This year was a rough season with Southampton narrowly avoiding relegation from the Championship and losing their manager George Burley half way through the campaign to take charge of Scotland.
In May 2008, Rupert Lowe returned to St Mary`s as chairman of the PLC with Michael Wilde taking over as chairman of the football club. Dutchman Jan Poortvliet was named as Saints` new head coach with Mark Wotte coming in as Academy Director, but after a disastrous year the club lost its Championship status and the Holding Company (Southampton Leisure Holdings PLC) went into administration.
Following confirmation of relegation, Saints were subsequently deducted ten points going into their first campaign in the third tier of English domestic football in nearly 50 years.
Having now lost some of their key players Southampton needed to rely upon new emerging talents like Adam Lallana, Marek Saganowski, Nathan Dyer and Simon Gillett to get them through.
We now arrive at season of 2011/2012.
Southampton had been relegated to League One between 2007 to 2011 but have managed to get back into the Championship. This year in particular produced some of the most magical times and completely matching the clubs ambition.
This is the year Southampton reached promotion back to the Premier League finishing 2nd in the league, one point off matching the winners Reading.
The club, during the last 4 years, had survived administration, been taken over by Markus Liebherr and led through a five-year plan by Nicola Cortese.
After a stuttering start to the 2010/11 campaign, Nigel Adkins was brought in as manager, moving down a division after helping Scunthorpe United twice win promotion to the Championship.
Young players like Lallana, Morgan Schneiderlin and the emerging Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain flourished as Saints battled their way into the automatic promotion places on New Year`s Day 2011. Promotion was all-but secured with victory at Plymouth Argyle on 2nd May, and was mathematically sealed in the final game of the season a week later.
Back in the Championship after a two-year absence, players such as Jack Cork, Jos Hooiveld and Danny Fox arrived as Saints hit the ground running, winning six of their first seven matches to go top of the league by mid-September.
By Christmas, Southampton had been beaten just four times in the Championship and were on the verge of going a calendar year unbeaten at home in the league only to lose to relegation-threatened Bristol City on 30th December.
In early February 2012, the club announced that it had begun development on the new Football Development & Support Centre, a cutting-edge new facility at its Staplewood Training Ground in Marchwood.
Saints` on-field progress continued as they returned to the top of the division in February midway through a 12-game unbeaten run that lasted almost two months.
The club broke its transfer record twice in the summer of 2012, bringing in striker Jay Rodriguez from Burnley before signing Uruguayan international Gastón Ramírez on the final day of the transfer window. Japanese Olympic captain Maya Yoshida also moved to St Mary`s to link up with his compatriot Tadanari Lee, who had arrived in January.
Academy graduates James Ward-Prowse and Luke Shaw, both still teenagers, broke into the side, playing regularly in the Premier League alongside the likes of Lambert, Schneiderlin, Lallana and Fonte - all of whom had been playing for the club in League One just two years earlier.
So we finally arrive in the current year 2013/2014
After a mixed first half of the season, Saints appointed former Argentina international Mauricio Pochettino as first-team manager following his three-year spell in charge of Spanish top-flight side RCD Espanyol.
He quickly set about enhancing Southampton`s reputation with memorable home wins over Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea as Premier League safety was secured with a game to spare.
The transfer record was against broken twice in the summer of 2013 as in-demand midfielder Victor Wanyama arrived from Celtic and Italy international striker Dani Osvaldo moved from Roma.
With a squad consisting of international stars, Academy graduates and players who had experienced the club`s rise through the division, the 2013/14 season began with a clear message: Our dream is real.
The team started the new campaign brightly, recording memorable results both at home and on the road to climb as high as third place in the Premier League table.
On Wednesday 15th January 2014, Nicola Cortese resigned from his position as Executive Chairman. Katharina Liebherr, the owner of the Club, took up the title of non-executive Chairman as a result.
I believe it is fair to say that Southampton Football Club has been on a rollercoaster of a journey since 1991.
A journey that some remember better than others, but none the less a journey we as a Saints family experienced together.
I believe that the aspiration of the club has certainly been tested but has certainly been improved over this era. Now with a top-class training facility, a team largely full of international stars, a 32,000-seater stadium and sat in the Premier League, I`d say that the aspiration is truly improving season after season.
It`s clear to me, despite not knowing at the time, Southampton has become one of the elite clubs throughout the years. Many players and managers have come and gone but one thing that stands and will always remain are the fans. They have stuck by the club through good and bad times but through it all they remain.
We used to debate about Stuart Gray or Steve Wigley as our new managers...now it`s Mancini and Koeman!!
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Originally appeared on jamesreading86.wordpress.com.