Ronald Koeman should be prepared for hostile return to Southampton

Leave a comment

Ronald Koeman will be readying himself for a bevvy of abuse, boos and jeers at St Mary’s this Sunday from supporters who adored him just a few months ago.

Koeman left Southampton in the summer to manage Everton in a move which angered the vast majority of Saints fans.

When Everton and Koeman come to town on Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET CNBC and online via NBCSports.com) the home fans are ready to show their former manager how they really feel as Koeman returns for the first time since leaving.

There’s a pub not far from St Mary’s called the “Flying Dutchman” and in the aftermath of Koeman’s departure the name of the bar was photo-shopped to become the “Lying Dutchman” with Koeman’s face on the outside of the pub.

That image has stuck and most Saints fans have had this Sunday’s clash against Everton circled on their calendar since the schedule was released.

[ MORE: How Koeman left Saints ]

Why exactly did Koeman’s departure hurt Saints fans so much?

After all, with the constant sales of star players, plus managers like Mauricio Pochettino choosing to move on to larger clubs in recent years, Saints’ fans should be used to seeing quality depart St Mary’s and then welcoming the new wave of faces arriving as their rapid ascension from the third-tier to the top six of the Premier League in the past six years has shown.

When it comes to Koeman, though, it’s personal. For the second half of last season Koeman was asked constantly by the media about his contract situation at Saints and for many fans he went back on his words.

He had a deal at Southampton which ended in the summer of 2017 and he repeated time and time again that he wanted to remain at Southampton until at least 2017 and hopefully beyond that.

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - MAY 15: Southampton players and Ronald Koeman manager of Southampton celebrate their team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Crystal Palace at St Mary's Stadium on May 15, 2016 in Southampton, England. (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)

He literally said he would stay multiple times to journalists when asked and this is what he said after Southampton’s 4-1 win against Crystal Palace on the final day of the 2015-16 season which sealed sixth place in the Premier League and a Europa League berth.

“I still have a one-year contract,” Koeman said. “I spoke to the board and we had the meeting and it’s always my wish to stay because I like the club, fans and players.”

Yet, just a few weeks later he was gone.

Talks with the club were going well, everyone behind-the-scenes at Southampton thought Koeman would sign a new extension which had been offered to him (as we detailed in this piece at ProSoccerTalk) but then he changed his agent and his mind at the last minute and wanted to move to managerless Everton. He got his wish and has a reported $8.5 million per year deal at Goodison Park.

Saints’ fans were livid. They have since been further angered and confused by comments from Koeman stating he was handed an ultimatum by Saints’ board about signing a new deal and that Les Reed, the executive director of football, basically ushered him out of the club. Yet, that’s something those behind-the-scenes at Saints refute as they claim Koeman simply wanted to move to Everton.

It’s all a bit messy.

However, when he’s becoming one of the best paid managers in the Premier League thanks to the billions of Everton’s new owner Farhad Moshiri, can you criticize Koeman for making the leap and trying to be ambitious and lead a team clearly ready to invest heavily?

Southampton’s fans do. The main issue is more about how the situation was handled. The disdain from that remains and the fans will let him know what they truly think this weekend even though his replacement Claude Puel has called for respect for the work Koeman has done at the club.

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 15: Southampton fans celebrate during the UEFA Europa League Group K match between Southampton FC and AC Sparta Praha at St Mary's Stadium on September 15, 2016 in Southampton, England. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)
(Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

Ahead of their UEFA Europa League defeat at Sparta Prague on Thursday, Saints’ fans congregated in Prague’s Old Town square to eat, drink and sing as the Christmas market was in full flow around them in the capital of the Czech Republic.

In that idyllic setting ahead of one of the most memorable games in club history, there were plenty of songs about Koeman, all of which I cannot print here. The animosity is real.

Yet, it’s not as straightforward as saying every home fans at St Mary’s on Sunday will hurl abuse at Koeman.

Many, whether they like to admit it or not, will applaud Koeman for what he managed to do in his two seasons in charge at Southampton.

The Dutchman transformed Saints into a top six team by the end of his time on the south coast and that was despite the likes of Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw, Rickie Lambert, Dejan Lovren being sold just before he arrived and then Morgan Schneiderlin and Nathaniel Clyne being sold in the summer of 2015. This summer Graziano Pelle and Sadio Mane followed Koeman out of the door and their departures, couple with Koeman’s, leave Saints in a slightly more precarious position than they’d wish for after the opening third of the season under new manager Puel who is still finding his feet in his first-ever season in England.

Both Southampton and Everton need the points on Sunday and the former could be just one point off the relegation zone before kick off if results go against them earlier in the weekend. That fact is adding something extra to the plot too, because Saints’ fans feel like the club would’ve kicked on again and challenged for a top four spot if Koeman had stayed and more money was spent.

For the fans, Koeman was a likeable figure. He spoke the truth. He interacted on Twitter and was seen in bars and restaurants in the south coast city embracing their lifestyle. He seemed genuine. He really was one of the nice guys in the eyes of Southampton’s fans. Together, they believed he could lead them into they unknown to challenge the perennial big boys in the Premier League.

Abruptly, Koeman didn’t want to be a part of that any more.

He is hoping for respect this weekend but he knows that isn’t likely.

“I can not change opinions and feelings of the fans,” Koeman said. “I hope they will respect me. We had a great time and after my career I will look back. Of course I understand the different opinions and reactions and I am not afraid of that. It’s time to think about Everton. I chose to make the move and am happy with that. What happened in the past is the past.”

Koeman isn’t expecting to get widespread respect. In truth, he will get the complete opposite from most inside St Mary’s on Sunday.

Racist abuse delays England v. Bulgaria qualifier

Getty Images
Leave a comment

England raced out to an impressive 4-0 lead at Bulgaria by halftime, but the wonderful attacking display was marred by horrendous incidents from the crowd.

The match in the Vasil Levski Stadium in Sofia, Bulgaria was stopped on two occasions with announcements being made to ask sections of the crowd to stop their abusive language. This comes with the stadium already serving a partial stadium closure due to racist chanting from the crowd in previous qualifiers.

Below is UEFA’s protocol on how to intervene in these situations, and what transpired from lead writer Joe Prince-Wright.

Tottenham re-signs goalkeeper Vorm

Getty Images
Leave a comment

With Hugo Lloris set to miss at least another two months of action with a broken elbow, Tottenham has turned to a familiar face to provide some cover between the pipes.

Tottenham announced Monday it had re-signed goalkeeper Michel Vorm to a contract through the end of the 2019-2020 Premier League season. Vorm spent five seasons with Tottenham after signing from Swansea City in 2014. However, after playing second-fiddle to Lloris and later serving as the third backup behind current Tottenham No. 2, Paulo Gazzaniga for the past couple of seasons, Vorm was released at the end of last season.

Its certainly a boost for Tottenham that a player with a long history at the club and plenty of experience was available to help in this situation. Similar to Liverpool picking up Adrian after Alisson Becker’s injury, Tottenham know what it’s getting in Vorm and may play him a few times if Gazzaniga needs a night off in the next few months.

According to Vorm, he had been home in his native Netherlands and was watching the game when he saw Lloris get injured.

“Obviously I saw straight away that he had a bad injury and at the time I thought about how bad it was, Vorm told Tottenham’s website. “After the game I spoke with Jan (Vertonghen), he told me what was going on and I spoke also with Toni (Jimenez, our goalkeeping coach) and, yes, during the week I got the phone call to ask if I was open to come back and help out. I’ve kept in contact with a lot of the players and also with Toni. We were speaking quite regularly and on Thursday he called me, we had the conversation and from there on, it went very quickly.”

In his five seasons with Tottenham, Vorm made a total of 47 appearances in all competitions. He saw plenty of time in the League Cup, FA Cup, UEFA Europa League and Champions League during his stay at White Hart Lane.

In-form striker Duvan Zapata injured on international duty

Getty Images
Leave a comment

This international break has been particularly brutal to clubs who have seen a host of key players go down with injuries, and there’s still a few days of matches remaining.

The latest player to succumb to injury is Atalanta striker Duvan Zapata who returned from Colombia duty with an adductor strain and will miss at least three weeks, according to Sky Sports Italia (via FootballItalia). Zapata went down 23 minutes into Colombia’s 0-0 friendly draw with Chile on Friday and was sent back to Italy for tests at his club.

Those tests have reportedly confirmed the initial fears. The loss of Zapata is a massive one for Atalanta, as the 28-year-old has been steadily building for years and is having a breakout start to this campaign, scoring six Serie A goals in seven matches plus one more in Champions League play, currently on a run of four consecutive games with a goal across all competitions. With Zapata’s help, Atalanta sits third in the Serie A table, having bagged the most goals of any team with 18 through seven games.

Zapata becomes the latest high-profile injury from this international break, joining Colombia teammate Alexis Sanchez who went down late in the same match and is reportedly out until 2020 with a serious ankle injury. Chelsea has been hit the hardest, with Andreas Christensen, Mateo Kovacic, and Reese James all pulling up while N’Golo Kante was injured in France warmups but he is expected to be fit for the weekend. Luka Modric may miss time after going down in a Euro qualifier against Wales, while Gareth Bale also picked up a knock in that match. Neymar went down in Brazil’s match against against Nigeria, which forced manager Tite to explain his reasoning for the selection in a friendly. Sergio Aguero is apparently struggling to train with Argentina thanks to a mystery injury confirmed by Lionel Scaloni. Arsenal’s Dani Ceballos withdrew from Spain training earlier in the week with “hamstring overload.” Atlanta United defender Miles Robinson left USMNT camp with a hamstring problem with the MLS playoffs on the horizon.

Ex-England midfielder Gascoigne on trial for sexual assault

Getty Images
Leave a comment

LONDON (AP) — A prosecutor has alleged that former England midfielder Paul Gascoigne sexually assaulted a woman on a train by “forcibly and sloppily” planting an unwanted kiss on her lips.

Prosecutor William Mousley’s comments Monday came as Gascoigne, who has struggled with alcohol and mental-health problems, went on trial at Teesside Crown Court charged with sexual assault of the female passenger.

Mousley said the former England star “put his hands on her cheeks and kissed her forcibly and sloppily on the lips.”

The 52-year-old Gascoigne denies the charge.

The alleged victim has told the court that she froze when the man, who appeared drunk, kissed her in August 2018. She says she did not realize it was Gascoigne until after the alleged incident.