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.”

CCL wrap: Stoppage-time GK goal saves Tigres; Henry’s Montreal grinds it out

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Wednesday’s CONCACAF Champions League nearly featured an upset for the ages.

It will have to be content with a finish for all time.

El Salvador’s Alianza came back from a 4-2 aggregate deficit to nearly knock UANL Tigres out of the CCL, but Tigres goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman provided a stoppage time goal to eliminate the upstarts.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Tigres will now meet Ronny Delia’s New York City FC, who had little trouble holding up its first-leg lead over San Carlos.

Thierry Henry’s Montreal had to sweat out a scoreless draw with Saprissa, but rode its two away goals to a date with either Seattle or Olimpia.

Guatemala’s Comunicaciones and Club America are the final match of Wednesday, kicking off at 10 a.m. ET.

UANL Tigres 4-2 (5-4 agg.) Alianza

What a match. Down 2-1 after one leg, Tigres scored thrice in the first 23 minutes. Ex-West Ham man Enner Valencia struck first before Andre-Pierre Gignac score in the 17th and 23rd.

But Juan Carlos Portillo scored twice in nine minutes before halftime to put the away goals advantage in the Salvadorans’ corner.

Tigres out-attempted Alianza 19-6 but couldn’t get it done, and my goodness did it need shot No. 19 from its Argentine international backstop.

Great header for a goalie.

Montreal Impact 0-0 (2-2 agg.) Deportivo Saprissa

This was a dreadful match, but it won’t bother Titi too much; Henry’s men had just 31 percent of the ball and nearly scored anyway through Shamit Shome.

The Impact showed a lot of guts and discipline in frustrating the Costa Ricans, who were disappointed when Clement Diop made an incredible save in the 89th minute.

NYCFC 1-0 (6-3 agg.) San Carlos

Alexander Callens scored the lone goal of the contest, the damage done in Costa Rica last week.

Speaking of damage done, Delia had a “Welcome to CONCACAF officiating” moment.

 

Rankings the comeback potential of Champions League sides

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Maybe Group H of the UEFA Champions League was very soft.

Chelsea and Valencia are in massive holes after 90 minutes of the Round of 16, and third-place Ajax is a 2-0 hole in its Europa League tie.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The other six teams’ disadvantages after one leg range from tricky to barely existent.

Let’s rate which teams have the best chances to climb back and earn a spot in the quarterfinals.

8. Chelsea (down 3-0 to Bayern Munich after home leg)

Robert Lewandowski’s injury hurts the Bavarians, but not three goals worth of hurt. And Serge Gnabry has been the one sounding death knells for London clubs.

7. Valencia (down 4-1 to Atalanta after away leg)

The away goal combined with the Serie A side’s relative inexperience in the competition gives Valencia a bit more hope than Chelsea.

6. Napoli (level at 1 with Barcelona after home leg)

On the plus side, Gennaro Gattuso’s men are level. That said, they allowed an away goal to Barca and have to go to the Camp Nou against a side yearning to make better UCL memories.

5. Real Madrid (down 2-1 to Man City after home leg)

Who knows what Pep Guardiola will launch at the Etihad Stadium, but giving him two away goals and a lead opens up his playbook? As for Zinedine Zidane, it was all so one dimensional at the Bernabeu. What’s he have cooking?

4. Tottenham Hotspur (down 1-0 to RB Leipzig after home leg)

Spurs have better UEL experience than their second leg hosts, though the striker problems looms over Jose Mourinho’s plans.

3. Liverpool (down 1-0 to Atletico Madrid after away leg)

It’s easy to imagine the Reds’ rebounding, and even Atleti will doubt its potential to keep Liverpool off the scoreboard at Anfield.

2. Paris Saint-Germain (down 2-1 to Borussia Dortmund after away leg)

Dortmund’s allowed plenty of goals this season, and PSG’s attack is stacked.

1. Juventus (down 1-0 to Lyon after away leg)

It’s difficult to imagine Juve playing as poor as they did Wednesday when they head back to Turin. The Old Lady knew something was wrong in warm-ups. They’ll address it, but can they keep Lyon off the board?

 

Europa League preview: Arsenal, Wolves, Man Utd look to advance

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Fifteen places remain up for grabs in the Europa League’s Round of 16 after Steven Gerrard’s Rangers handled Braga in Wednesday’s lone second leg.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Notable names Porto, Benfica, and Ajax enter their second legs with hills to climb, while the three Premier League teams have varying degrees of advantage.

Manchester United v. Club Brugge

United enters the second leg at Old Trafford with an away goal advantage after the 1-1 draw in Belgium.

Luke Shaw says the Red Devils are driven by a desire to play for silverware, and the UEL joins the FA Cup as their lone opportunities to claim trophies this year.

“It is a massive ambition for me,” said Shaw, via The Manchester Evening News. “I was there for the Europa League final, and the feeling, even though I wasn’t on the pitch, was a feeling I have not felt and I wanted more of. I wasn’t involved and that is what is pushing me on even more to get into this final, and others. We should be in finals and we should be in all competitions until the end. We are very confident at the moment.”

Arsenal v. Olympiacos

The Gunners claimed a 1-0 result in Greece, and know a draw will be enough to bring Mikel Arteta‘s men to the Round of 16.

The manager was asked what’s different about his Gunners, now back in contention to qualify for Europe via the Premier League table.

“I think the team is progressing well, the club is in a better place,” Arteta said, via Football.London. “We are getting much more unity on the sections of the club and as well a great energy back from the fans every time we play at the Emirates and away from the Emirates. There are a lot of positive things but there are still things to improve individually, collectively and as a club and we are in that process at the moment.”

Espanyol v. Wolves

Wolves rang up a four-goal advantage at the Molineux, and that may give Nuno Espirito Santo a chance to use his depth for a rare time this season.

The boss has counted on players like Conor Coady, Rui Patricio, and Raul Jimenez in all tournaments, and he admits that it’s worn on the squad.

“I wouldn’t say we’ve not suffered,” said Espirito Santo via Wolves’ site. “It’s been tough with a tight schedule, very demanding on the players and I think the credit is on them – the way they compete, the way they prepare themselves to compete, but it’s tough, very tough. … The credit is for the players, it’s for the staff, but the players buying, believing and working very hard, is what makes things go well.”

Look out for Diogo Jota if he plays; The Wolves star has five goals in his past two matches.

Thursday’s second legs

12:55 p.m. ET kickoffs
Istanbul Basaksehir (1-3) v. Sporting Lisbon
Gent (0-1) v. Roma
Malmo (1-2) v. Wolfsburg
LASK (1-1) v. AZ Alkmaar
Porto (1-2) v. Bayer Leverkusen
Espanyol (0-4) v. Wolves
Basel (3-0) v. APOEL Nicosia

3 p.m. ET
Manchester United (1-1) v. Club Brugge
Celtic (1-1) v. Copenhagen
Benfica (1-2) v. Shakhtar Donetsk
Red Bull Salzburg (1-4) v. Eintracht Frankfurt
Inter Milan (2-0) v. Ludogorets Razgrad
Ajax (0-2) v. Getafe
Sevilla (1-1) v. CFR Cluj
Arsenal (1-0) v. Olympiacos

Juventus ‘could tell something wasn’t switched on’ in Lyon

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Juventus’ obsession with winning another European Cup has the club on edge after a 1-0 first leg loss to Lyon on Wednesday in the first leg of the Round of 16.

Stalwart defender Leonardo Bonucci, defender Danilo, and manager Maurizio Sarri were less than pleased with the performance.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Bonucci was spotted yelling at substitute midfielder Blaise Matuidi in warm-ups, and that was a prelude to a poor performance from most of the team.

“I didn’t tell Matuidi off, I told him the team includes those who are on the bench and we must all be ready to contribute,” Bonucci said, via Football-Italia. “I could tell something wasn’t switched on with the XI starters either. We’ve got to sort this out, as these are the things that make the difference.”

Sarri, the system man, is quite upset with his players after what he said was a lightning-fast training session on Tuesday.

“I don’t know why, I cannot get the players to understand the importance of moving the ball quickly,” said the flummoxed ex-Chelsea man. “This is fundamental, we’ll keep working on it and sooner or later this concept will get into their heads.”

Sarri was happier with the ball movement in the second half, and will expect Juve to do the same in its home second leg.

Danilo had a decent day in the loss. He didn’t sugar coat the performance.

“We cannot just gift the first half to the opposition in such an important tournament. We are aware that we did that and need to work harder,” Danilo said.