If the departure of former executive chairman Nicola Cortese truly does augur a thrifty future for Southampton, Katharina Liebherr could hardly find a better man to his place than John Williams. According to the BBC, the well-respected former Blackburn chairman is expected to be named Saints’ new chief, though it is unclear whether the 64-year-old business will be announced on Monday.
That’s when Liebherr, the club’s owner, will meet with team staff in Southampton, making her first trip to the south coast since assuming Cortese’s responsibilities. Liebherr’s late father Markus appointed Cortese chairman in 2009, with the Italian eventually guiding the Saints out of administration and back up the English league ladder. Working their way out of the third tier, Southamptom rejoined the Premier League in 2012, ending a seven-year absence from the top-flight.
With aspirations of guiding Southampton into Champions League, Cortese was thought to be seeking continued support from ownership. Liebherr, however, may be seeking a more stable financial model, one that was at odds with Cortese’s ambitions. The Italian left the club on Wednesday.
If Liebherr’s set on a more modest approach, Williams’ appointment should be an encouraging one to Southampton supporters. From the time of Jack Walker’s death in 200o until Venky’s took over the club in 2010, Williams was able to maintain competitive teams at Blackburn despite the loss of his chief benefactor. In 2010, shortly after being forced to dismiss manager Sam Allardyce, Williams left Blackburn, with Rovers’ new owners taking them into the second division. The club has yet to return to the top-tier.
After spending time at Manchester City and leading Professional Game Match Officials Limited (England’s referees’ union), Williams looks set for another chairmanship – a job that could become similar to the one he held in Lancashire. While at Rovers, Williams put together a club that was occasionally competed for Europe despite its financial limitations.
Perhaps Southampton will show more ambition, but should Williams be appointed, Katharina Liebherr will reinforce the idea she intends to follow the Blackburn approach.