A friend of mine has a decent track record as a manager in the Football League. He got his first job as boss when he stepped up from being the number two at a small club, and within a year had taken them to the brink of promotion to the Premier League.
It was a brilliant achievement, on minimal budgets. Superb on the training pitch, he’d coaxed the very best from a group of players who punched way above their weight.
In the summer he went to a League Managers Association course and got asked if he had an “exit strategy”. He was told: “You can’t do any better there. Find a way to move on while your stock is high, and you’ll get another, better paid job at a bigger club.”
He laughed. He told them how proud he was at what he’d achieved, and how he thought he could kick on next year and take the club even further.
Then he got back and found the chairman had sold his three best players for big fees. Several others who were out of contract had moved on for even bigger wages. And by Christmas his small club were struggling near the foot of the table and he got the sack.
It took him a year to find another job. Everything he achieved was dismissed as a flash in the pan. His reputation had gone from top to bottom in a few months. It’s a tale I’m telling because I can’t help feeling that Southampton manager Ronald Koeman might find himself in the same sort of situation.
The Dutchman worked miracles last season. Put in charge of a club that was selling anybody who wasn’t nailed to the dressing room benches, he seemed to be staring at relegation.
Instead he moulded together the players who were left, inspired the likes of Nathaniel Clyne and Ryan Bertrand to performances that turned them into England stars, and for a long time threatened to end up with a Champions League place. Saints finished up seventh, and did so well that they are as short as [1.46] for a top ten finish this year.
Sorry, but I can’t help feeling that’s one to lay. Big time. However good a coach Koeman is, how can he every summer lose half a team – and the best half at that – and end up doing better?
The signs are that Southampton will complete the £25m sale of Morgan Schneiderlin to Manchester United in the next few days. Clyne has already gone to Liverpool. Toby Alderweireld managed to dodge a contract clause that was due to turn his loan from Atletico Madrid into a permanent deal and went to Tottenham instead.
Meanwhile Fraser Forster, whose brilliance in goal played a key part in the early season success, isn’t expected to be fit until March at the earliest.
I know Koeman is trying to bring in Feyenoord’s Jordy Clasie as a replacement, and Southampton have other targets to rebuild their squad. And I’m not suggesting for a moment that he’s not an excellent coach and man manager.
But there are only so many times that anybody can work miracles if they don’t have the players. And only so many times that you can build a team, rip it apart for a profit, and then build another one that’s as good.
Last season was great, but all its done is added a layer of expectation that will put even more pressure on if Southampton don’t get off to the same sort of flying start they managed last year.
I don’t know if Koeman went tp any LMA classes this summer. But if he did, he maybe should have listened to the bit about an “exit strategy”.