Southampton prove they’re just fine without Koeman

Leave a comment

SOUTHAMPTON — Ronald Koeman‘s departure from Southampton this summer was meant to signal a lack of ambition.

It was supposed to be a sign that Saints would not be marching on any further and their fans were furious that Koeman, who had previously signaled his intent on multiple occasions that he would stay for one more season at least, left them for Everton.

[ MORE: Saints dominate Everton ]

On his first return to St Mary’s there were boos and jeers for Koeman, with Saints’ fans eager to point out his u-turn in their chants but there was soon a lack of intensity in the animosity after Charlie Austin‘s goal after 41 seconds set Saints on their way to a first Premier League win in five games and moved them on to 17 points, just two behind Everton.

After Southampton’s convincing 1-0 win on Sunday at St Mary’s, — don’t let the scoreline deceive you, despite recent up and down displays, Saints deserved this win — they proved that under new manager Claude Puel they’ve moved on and they’ll be just fine without Koeman at the helm. Of course, one win against a former manager doesn’t mean Saints will continue to march on.

[ MORE: How Koeman’s time at Saints unraveled ]

But getting one over their former boss certainly helped. One fan screamed “redemption!” as he walked out of St Mary’s and past the press conference room during Puel’s interview.

Speaking after the game, Koeman was reflective when asked about the home fans’ overall reaction to his return.

“Everybody is free. We live in a social life. Anybody can give his reactions,” Koeman said. “I know from the players of Southampton, how they react today, the staff, in general, of Southampton appreciate a lot what we did together. That is for me the most important. The rest… okay, that’s football. That is life.”

There were no special mentions or thanks for Koeman in the matchday magazine from Southampton. Simply an acknowledgement from both the new manager Puel and captain Jose Fonte that Koeman would be coming back. That was it.

When the Dutchman left in the summer, it was seen as a major letdown by fans, players and many behind-the-scenes. With a two-year  contract extension all but agreed, Koeman then changed is agent and soon he was demanding to leave for Everton. He was handed a reported $7.5 million per season deal with the Toffees.

Some Saints fans understand that if that kind of money is being offered up, it must be taken. Koeman led them to the UEFA Europa League and a seventh and sixth place finish in each of the last two seasons, their best-ever finishes in the Premier League. They’ve been on the up for seven-straight seasons since being in the third-tier in 2009 and they have always planned ahead with their own philosophy in mind.

Now is no different.

Plus, it’s not like Southampton hasn’t lost players (Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Sadio Mane, Dejan Lovren, Morgan Schneiderlin, Nathaniel Clyne) or managers (Mauricio Pochettino) to so-called “bigger clubs” before in the past. They are used to waving goodbye to people and spending the huge profits they’ve made wisely.

Yet, it was the way Koeman went about it which really irked a lot of Southampton supporters. They let Koeman know how they felt but didn’t go overboard. Southampton’s dominance over Koeman’s new side Everton probably helped.

Midway through the first half Koeman sat in his seat with his head slumped downwards and his hands held together. He did that a lot on Sunday.

Then after Everton’s full backs were once again carved apart by Southampton’s wingers, he walked back to his seat shaking his head. The first half was not what he hoped for. At all. It didn’t get much better in the second half either. His team were outplayed and even though they had two or three good chances to score, Saints had many more.

There was also an added layer on his return, which perhaps shed a light on why Saints’ executive director of football Les Reed was finally okay to let Koeman leave in the summer.

Southampton is a club which is proud of its youth academy and bringing players through. Shaw, Lallana, Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are the main names to make it big.

19-year-old Josh Sims is the latest to come through. He made his Premier League debut on Sunday and put in a man of the match display, getting a standing ovation as he was subbed out late on. Koeman spoke scathingly about Saints’ academy and about some of the players not being good enough last January when he was still in charge at St Mary’s. That upset many.

Sims spoke about his debut and his display and he’s proof, along with the man who replaced him, Sam McQueen, that there’s plenty more to look forward to from Saints’ famed academy. No matter what Koeman said.

“I’m delighted for how I performed today. I found out I was in the squad just before kick off and as soon as I knew, the lads were just giving me advice, telling me to just do what I do best – the whole thing was a great experience,” Sims said. “It was a mixture of nerves and excitement before starting but It’s everything you wish for as a kid. I’ve come through the academy here so having the fans sing my name and give me a standing ovation on my debut is a dream come true.”

Even some Everton fans at St Mary’s understood why Koeman’s departure from St Mary’s was met with such animosity but agreed that ultimately it was all about one thing: money.

“It is the nature of the beast.  Money talks,” said Everton fan Gareth Hughes from Porthmadog, who also rated Southampton’s current squad and manager highly. He thinks they will do just fine without Koeman.

But how would Everton’s fans feel if Koeman left them for a bigger team, say his beloved Barcelona, if things went well at Goodison Park over the next few years?

“Nobody is bigger than the club,” Hughes said.

Alex James, also an Evertonian, agreed with that sentiment.

“The club will always be there. Players and managers come and go. In a few weeks after a few wins, everyone will forget about him,” Hughes added.

This win, and performance, will go a long way to doing that for Southampton’s fans. Koeman is now firmly a part of their past as Saints’ well-oiled machine continues to march on no matter which players or managers are at the club.

Sunday’s display from Southampton proved they have well and truly moved on from Koeman.

Totti’s loyalty one of the great soccer accomplishments ever

Getty Images
Leave a comment

During the prematch ceremony to celebrate the retirement of Roma legend Francesco Totti, there were fans crying. There were mascots crying. There were family members crying. There were players crying. The man himself was crying.

When 25 years with one club, no celebration can keep back the tears that naturally follow such a glorious career. Instead, an entire stadium paid tribute in one massive outpouring of emotion.

He was never flashy, he was never self-concerned, he never attracted the spotlight. All Francesco Totti did was give and give and give to his club. As the Italian’s career progressed, the game changed around him, with more and more money flowing through a landscape that gave players every reason to change teams as often as possible.

Through it all, Totti stayed put.

Roma’s Francesco Totti enters the field for his final salute to his fans after an Italian Serie A soccer match between Roma and Genoa at the Olympic stadium in Rome (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino).

At the end of it all, 25 years produced 618 league appearances, and 782 appearances overall. He scored 250 Serie A goals on the nose, and another 66 amid all other competitions. Those are just numbers, and Totti gave Roma far more than a laundry list of big numbers.

But for now, we focus on the bookkeeping, because even those are staggering. 250 league goals leaves Totti 2nd all-time in Italy, behind just Silvio Piola, but even the great 1938 World Cup champion never scored more than 143 league goals for a single club. Only three active players have over 100 league goals.

Totti racked up 618 Serie A appearances, his final one a 3-2 win over Genoa that earned Roma a Champions League group stage spot. That total is good for third all-time, one (for now) behind the great Gianluigi Buffon and 29 back of all-time leader Paolo Maldini. Maldini, who retired in 2009, also spent his entire career with one club in AC Milan, an equally commendable accomplishment. But in the modern game, 8 years adrift of Maldini’s playing days, the overwhelming temptations to move clubs make what Totti has done even more remarkable. Plus, he out-lasted Maldini’s career by a year (24 vs. 25 years active).

A note: only two players in the top 30 list in Serie A appearances are still active: Buffon, and 34-year-old Alberto Gilardino, who has played for 11 clubs in his career and is still 104 appearances back of Totti.

Past all the numbers stands a humble man who served one fanbase as loyally as humanly possible. Totti’s accomplishments are not only among the greatest in the history of the game, but it also may never be surpassed by anyone as long as we live.

Mascherano out 6 weeks, will miss Argentina vs. Brazil

Alex Caparros/Getty Image
Leave a comment

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says defender Javier Mascherano will be out of action for six weeks to recover from a right knee injury.

[ MORE: Luis Enrique leaves Barca with feeling of accomplishment ]

Barcelona’s season is over, but the injury will rule out Mascherano from Argentina’s friendly against Brazil on June 9.

Mascherano injured his leg early in Saturday’s final of the Copa del Rey, when Barcelona beat Alaves 3-1 to defend its title for a third straight season.

He also cut his head during the collision with an Alaves player that produced the leg injury. He returned on crutches to join the team celebration.

Argentina doesn’t play its next World Cup qualifier until it plays Uruguay on Aug. 28.

Courtois aiming at new Chelsea contract after strong season

Clive Mason/Getty Images
Leave a comment

There’s a wide range of players that were integral in Chelsea’s Premier League-winning season in 2016/17, but one of the most underrated was arguably goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

[ MORE: PL clubs may miss on Celtic’s Dembele and more transfer news ]

The Blues shot-stopper started all but two PL matches this past campaign, and now the Belgian international is seeking an extension with the London club.

“Contract talks haven’t opened but I am happy at Chelsea,” Courtois told Sky Sports after Chelsea’s loss to Arsenal at Wembley.

“I hope they reward me with a good contract, then there will be no doubt I will sign it.”

The 25-year-old keeper has been in at Stamford Bridge since arriving from Genk in 2011, but Courtois spent three seasons in Spain on a loan spell.

Courtois likened this PL campaign to his time on loan at Atletico Madrid, stating that while his side’s achievements in the league were everything Chelsea could have hoped for that there was still more the Blues could have done.

“It’s not a good feeling now,” Courtois told Chelsea’s official website. “I had the same thing in Spain when I won the league and then lost the Champions League.

“We wanted to end on a high, now we feel sad. Winning is everything so this is hard to face but we have to try to forget it.”

Francesco Totti on bench for final Roma match

Paolo Bruno/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Sunday marks Francesco Totti’s final match with Roma after a stellar 24-year career, but the striker won’t be starting at the Stadio Olimpico.

[ MORE: Reus could miss at least six months after suffering knee damage ]

The 40-year-old was named to the bench for his club’s 2016/17 Serie A finale against Cagliari, with Roma needing a victory to capture second position in Italy’s top flight.

Napoli currently sits just one point behind the Giallorossi and hold a slight two-goal edge in goal differential, which could be a decisive factor in which side finishes second.

It would be quite odd for Roma to not give Totti playing time in his final outing, after a career that featured over 300 goals across all competitions for his hometown club.