Saints have a new

Southampton’s new Canadian Chairman chats growth in North America, NHL roots, Saints’ future

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EXCLUSIVE — On Wednesday Southampton Football Club appointed former NHL coach Ralph Krueger as their new Chairman at St. Mary’s Stadium, as the Premier League club took the unorthodox step of looking to Ice Hockey for their new leader.

Saints have been looking for a new figurehead since January when former Chairman Nicola Cortese left, and owner Katharina Liebherr has pounced to bring in Krueger, 54, who has a wealth of experience in the sports and business world.

Born in Canada, Krueger spent most of his playing days in Europe with the German national team and was a top marksman with Bundesliga side Dusseldorfer EG. Krueger then coached Switzerland and Austria in the Winter Olympics, before taking over at the Edmonton Oilers during the 2012-13 NHL season and as you can probably tell, Krueger is widely respected in hockey circles.

However after recently helping Team Canada to win Olympic Gold in Sochi, Krueger has switched ice for grass, and he couldn’t be happier about it. Initially it was thought Krueger would be an aide to the club, but now he’s the leading man. I caught up with Krueger on Wednesday, as he spoke to PST about his reasons for joining Saints and his plans for the future.

“The opportunity to grow the potential of the group is exciting,” Krueger said. “To see the foundation that’s here, going inside the sports soul of the academy and first team is very strong. The same is happening off the pitch, there are so many talented and motivated people. We have so much potential commercially and we have a great base to work with.”

Southampton are on the crest of a wave, with Saints pushing for their highest ever finish in the Premier League era this season — the team are currently ninth with nine PL games to go — and manager Mauricio Pochettino cultivating his talented crop of teenage superstars superbly at the teams renowned Staplewood training ground.

(MORE: After Gold medal success at Sochi, Krueger to start role at Southampton)

One of Krueger’s main aims is to increase the commercial success of Southampton, as the man who has been part of the World Economic Forum since 2011 is keen to exploit the wealth of untapped potential the South Coast club has. One area the 54-year-old would love to help Saints’ brand grow is overseas, including North America, without neglecting the club’s primary goal of becoming bigger in England, as Krueger also spoke of his aim to give the fans a definite voice within the club.

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Saints; owner Katharina Liebherr, left, has appointed Krueger as the man to take the ambitious PL club forward.

“Our primary goal is to build the club in the area where we live,” Krueger said. “But we want to build those other opportunities in the Far East and North America. I see that as a major responsibility that I have, to build the relationships to grow those markets. There is a huge gap where the club is at commercially and where it needs to be, nobody will give us the solution. We have to go out and work for it.”

During his unveiling at St. Mary’s Krueger talked about the ‘Southampton Way’ which has seen the club continue to develop elite youngsters who are representing not only the first team but also the national teams. Luke Shaw, Calum Chambers and James Ward-Prowse are current teenagers dazzling in the first team, while captain Adam Lallana is an academy product, as are global superstars Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale. Both of those players left Saints during the dark days which saw the club plummet to English soccer’s third-tier in 2010. But now they are back in the big time it’s the youngsters, with Shaw and Lallana now representing the English national team, will be the driving force behind Saints’ global brand.

“We can build the commercial arm of the organization both in Southampton and, for example, North America,” Krueger said. “We’d like to carve ourselves out as a unique club built on the soul of young players that are English. We want to try and tap into the potential of all that. I am really excited to support our commercial arms to do that.”

(MORE: Latest Premier League standings)

But what about his lack of soccer experience? Since news broke that Saints were handing Krueger a role on the board, many skeptics in England have questioned the motive behind hiring an individual who has always worked in the hockey industry.

I asked Krueger about his switch from hockey to soccer, and he gave a refreshingly honest answer, in keeping with his forthright, yet friendly, persona.

“The most important thing is that we want to create a unique, innovative and creative environment,” Krueger said. “I see it as an advantage that I come in without any previous experience in the Premier League, because there is a danger you get ‘stuck in a box.’ We want to be an organization that works ‘outside the box.’ We want to respect the heritage and history, but we want to separate ourselves from the other PL teams.”

source: AP
After coaching the Swiss and Austrian national hockey teams, plus a one-year stint with the Oilers, Krueger has switched hockey for soccer.

One of the main reasons Krueger was appointed was because of his background in motivational speaking and his strong leadership values. Krueger told me that initially he was keen to come on board as an aide to Liebherr but when she asked him to take the lead role, Krueger had no hesitation. The smooth transition he has made over the past few months getting to know the place and Liebherr has made the aftermath of Cortese’s departure a lot less damaging than it could’ve been.

When it comes to leading Southampton’s charge, Krueger is well-equipped from his time as a leader and motivational guru, with his book ‘Team Life: Over Losses to Success’ a best-seller on both sides of the pond. Implementing those values, along with his time spent working with the hugely influential World Economic Forum, which he will continued to do in his role as Southampton boss. Krueger told me he will spend as much time as possible in England, but will keep his home in Switzerland and did not put a definite period of time on his role with Saints.

“There is no time frame for myself, it’s just about coming here to try and nurture the environment to its potential,” Krueger said. “I’m open ended right now. We haven’t spoken about that, it’s all about ‘let’s get this going’ and do our best for the club. This could be a long-term step for me.”

(MORE:The dramatic rise of Southampton FC and their fans)

Krueger grew up in Manitoba, attending a British boarding school from a young age, and spoke about his time playing soccer on the fields, weather permitting, and his passion for the game and all sports. When asked about potentially helping the game grow in North America, Krueger was open to helping the game in any way he could in Canada and the U.S. and praised the impact the sport has for young people, including his two children,  in North America. He also mentioned that Team Canada captain Sidney Crosby is a huge soccer fan, and Krueger said Saints will probably get ‘Sid the Kid’ over to Southampton in August.

source: Getty Images
Krueger is adamant to include Saints’ fans in the conversation, as he wants to make the people who love the club a big part of the future.

The former Edmonton Oilers head coach, who coached the team during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, left the door open for a return to NHL, but insisted his sole aim is working as hard as he can to bring success to Southampton.

“I was confronted with NHL options around the Olympics and I had to make a decision immediately after Sochi,” Kruger said. “Honestly, this was the best fit for me as a person in my life. That other world doesn’t go away, that’s the beauty of sports. Even though you throw yourself whole-heartedly into one thing, it doesn’t mean  the other world is over. But this could be my last stop as a professional in sports.”

As for Southampton’s future, Krueger remained tight-lipped despite plenty of talk of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League in the not so distant future, and insisted his only job is to squeeze every ounce of potential from the upstart PL club. His drive and determination could be exactly what Saints need to get to the next level, as their rapid rise continues.

“I don’t like to promise results, that’s cheap,” Krueger said. “I like to promise that we will create processes that enables us to reach our potential. Where that takes us, nobody knows. The sky is the limit in sports. We would like to build a model where we are striving for that potential. My sole focus is on the process. If our environment feels that we are doing the best on a daily basis, we will accept the results that come with that. Maybe we can reach those high aspirations that everyone likes to talk about… let the process decide that and let’s throw ourselves into that. That’s what I’m all about.”

CONCACAF Champions League gets reboot; MLS benefits

Seattle Sounders forward Clint Dempsey, right, clears the ball away from Club America midfielder Rubens Sambueza (14) during the first half of a CONCACAF Champions League soccer quarterfinal, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
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Changes to the CONCACAF Champions League will benefit Major League Soccer in a big way.

Long requested by MLS, the North American league will only have to send its clubs to the CCL for the final four rounds, which will be home-and-away affairs.

Previously, clubs competed in a group stage from August to October, then joined the knockout rounds in February.

[ MORE: Transfer window names to watch ]

While MLS sides may still be just starting their seasons and have to contend with clubs who have been playing meaningful games, they will also be less likely to draw successful Liga MX sides in the Round of 16.

All of the details are here, but here’s a simplified takeaway:

— The 16 teams that qualify for the CCL, which will begin in February, will include four U.S. teams, one Canadian team, and four Mexican teams.

— The next six sides will be the Caribbean Club Championship winner and the champions of Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Panama.

— The remaining side will win its spot via a new tournament which includes 13 Central American teams and three from the Caribbean.

For those of us hoping to see an MLS side in the Club World Cup, the odds will become better come the 2018 CCL. As for this year, MLS will again have to deal with the split season.

Ten names to watch in Premier League transfer window

BERGAMO, ITALY - DECEMBER 11:  Franck Kessie of Atalanta BC in action during the Serie A match between Atalanta BC and Udinese Calcio at Stadio Atleti Azzurri d'Italia on December 11, 2016 in Bergamo, Italy.  (Photo by Dino Panato/Getty Images)
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National team veterans from France, England, and Spain are in a 10-man mix of players we think could have big impacts on the fortunes of teams in the Premier League this January transfer window.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

10) Lassana Diarra, Marseille — Twice in London, the French-born midfielder is said to be interesting Manchester United and Valencia amongst others.

9) Leonardo Ulloa, Leicester City — The pressure doesn’t get to the Foxes’ 30-year-old striker, who has scored plenty of big goals for Leicester City. Might he be the perfect bench piece to push a team into the second half of the season? Spanish side Alaves have reportedly had a $2 million bid rejected by Leicester.

8) Phil Jagielka, Everton — Older, yes, but the English national team veteran could be just what the doctor-ordered for relegation candidates and lower-half sides looking for a PL-experienced CB.

7) Victor Lindelof, Benfica — His arrival at Old Trafford went from Tomorrowland to Lost in recent weeks, but Jose Mourinho could still act to bring in the center back before the summer.

6) Scott Hogan, Brentford — The Championship striker isn’t quite as prominent in the rumor mill as Jordan Rhodes was last season, but the 24-year-old could be a promising buy for a PL side. West Ham is said to have the inside track.

5) Goncalo Guedes, Benfica — As for Lindelof’s teammate, Guedes was tipped to join Manchester United with his center back. Will another side jump into the fray before Guedes joins Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford? Paris Saint-Germain is said to be interested.

4) Franck Kessie, Atalanta — The defensive midfielder has chipped in six goals for his Serie A side, and has been the major reason for Atalanta’s run into the top half.

3) Robert Snodgrass, Hull City — The Scottish wizard has been a big part of what little success has come the Tigers way this season, but West Ham and several other Premier League sides are tempting Hull.

2) Alvaro Morata, Real Madrid — He starred for Juventus last season and triggered a Real Madrid return. Slowed by an Achilles injury for much of this season, he’s been tipped for a summer move to Chelsea. If it can happen then… why not now? The Blues could order the title confetti if they landed the Spanish striker.

1) Dimitri Payet, West Ham United — Yes, we’re tired of his act — and reading about it — but Payet is a game-changer who could inject excitement into any offense in the world. If Marseille wants him, it had better pay up.

Transfer rumor roundup: Man City after two backs; Zelalem to Holland?

NAPLES, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 17: Napolis player Faouzi Ghoulam vies with Bologna FC player Simone Verdi during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and Bologna FC at Stadio San Paolo on September 17, 2016 in Naples, Italy.  (Photo by Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images)
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Here are your transfer rumor headlines on a day when Gerard Deulofeu moves to AC Milan and Lazar Markovic heads to Hull City on loan.

[ MORE: Three players leave USMNT camp ]

Two Premier Leaguers could be heading down to help the Championship leaders. Newcastle United is said to be close to bringing Andros Townsend back from Crystal Palace after just a half-season, while Swansea City’s Mo Barrow is also on Rafa Benitez‘s radar.

An Arsenal blog says USMNT prospect Gedion Zelalem may have found his loan destination. The 19-year-old could be leaving the Emirates Stadium for a loan stint at VVV Venlo, with the Dutch side sitting first in the second tier and in a promotion push.

The Manchester Evening News brings reports of two backs on the radar of Manchester City. Rai Sport is the source for Man City’s interest in Napoli left back Faouzi Ghoulam, who has six assists in 21 appearances for Partenopei between Serie A and the UEFA Champions League. Pep Guardiola may also want to be reunited with Juan Bernat, though that story comes from the wild swings of The Daily Mirror.

Sunderland is going to lose one of its two brightest lights in a dark, dismal season. The Black Cats have taken a lot of calls on Jermain Defoe, but it’s Patrick Van Aanholt who is on the move to rejoin Sam Allardyce at Crystal Palace. The Dutch standout is said to be purchased for $15 million, and would be the equivalent of a transfer six-pointer in the Premier League’s relegation race.

Report: West Ham turns down another Payet bid

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 14:  The Dimitri Payet of West Ham United sign is seen outside the stadium prior to the Premier League match between West Ham United and Crystal Palace at London Stadium on January 14, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
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West Ham United has rejected a third bid for wantaway midfielder Dimitri Payet, according to Sky Sports.

Marseille upped the ante to $28 million when it comes to the French midfielder, who has said he wants to go back to the club for “family reasons“.

[ MORE: Three players leave USMNT camp ]

Payet was given a $1.2 million loyalty bonus from West Ham earlier this season, but has continually tempted the rumor mill. He’s also winked at Arsenal.

He has 15 goals in parts of two seasons with the Irons, the same figure he boasted in two full years with Marseille. Payet has also played Lille, Saint-Etienne, Nantes, and AS Excelsior.

It’s been a rocky month for Payet, who could be doomed to purgatory at West Ham. Will any Premier League suitors come calling at the Irons’ $38 million asking price.