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Southampton ‘not a pig to be fattened’

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Southampton’s majority owner Gao Jisheng has rarely talked about purchasing the Premier League club. If ever.

However, the Chinese real estate tycoon has now been talking and it doesn’t seem like he’s willing to pump much, if any, of his own money into Saints in the coming years.

In a rare interview with the Financial Times in Shanghai, Gao revealed some of his plans for the future of the South Coast club.

“I am not treating Southampton as a pig to be fattened and sold,” Gao said. “I am treating it as a child. But my children must believe they cannot depend on the boss. I have said to Southampton: ‘I am now your father. But I am putting you on the right track: you need to feed yourself.’”

He added: “The club’s financial situation is good this year and it doesn’t require more investment.”

Southampton’s fans will not be too shocked to hear these words from Gao, but will be intrigued to have had heard anything at all from him.

The Chinese businessman often attends games but has never spoken publicly about his reasons and motivations for buying an 80 percent stake in the club from the Liebherr family back in 2017.

With his property company Lander Sports buying the club, Gao recently sold a large chunk of his stake in Lander to the Chinese government which led to the Premier League requesting information from Southampton about whether or not they were now owned by the state of China.

Gao has brushed off those suggestions, saying he has given the PL the information they need and they are satisfied. Lander Sports, who own the 80 percent stake in Saints, are based in Hong Kong due to strict laws about risky foreign investments in mainland China.

All of this is a little confusing for Southampton fans, but the main thing to come from Gao’s comments is that they shouldn’t expect a huge flurry of big money signings as long as he’s the owner but they could spend some money this summer without selling anybody.

Gao wants the club to be self-sustaining and that is pretty admirable in this day and age when fans demand huge money spent on new players, and will then slam the club when relegation could see it spiral into financial meltdown.

Southampton have always been a club which produces young talent and then sells players on for a huge profit. That won’t change anytime soon.

But after two close shaves with relegation over the past two seasons, it is clear Southampton’s squad needs a large rebuild under Ralph Hasenhuttl this summer. If they can sell on a plethora of players who have been out of the picture and out on loan last season, then they will be able to reinvest that cash in new players.

How successful Saints are at doing that this offseason will determine if Hasenhuttl’s side can kick on and push for a top 10 finish next season. The coach has worked wonders with one of the youngest squads in the PL since he arrived last December and there is plenty of promise that a full season of Hasenhuttl-ball will see Saints not embroiled in yet another relegation scrap.

Gao’s comments underline the fact he will not spend big like Wolves’ Chinese owners Fosun, but given how much Saints have spent over the past few years (they are one of the few PL clubs to make a profit in transfer business year in, year out) this wasn’t a huge surprise.

With Southampton playing a game in China again this offseason, their new sponsorship deal with LD Sports (a company yet to launch in China) has seen them double their revenue in terms of sponsorship in a club-record deal.

Gao’s connections in China are helping the club financially in certain aspects, but it appears they will not pump money in to try and challenge the PL’s elite like they did in years gone by under Ronald Koeman. In truth, their success under Koeman was fuelled by selling a host of star names such as Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw, Dejan Lovren and Morgan Schneiderlin, which allowed them to buy Sadio Made, Dusan Tadic, Graziano Pelle and Virgil Van Dijk among others.

Saints must unearth a few more gems in the transfer window this summer to keep their model rolling along and bring about another push into the top half of the table. They have a great manager, some talented youngsters and a sensible owner.

The latter will hamper any progress their fans have of making another push for European qualification in the years to come.

Nations League: English, Dutch battle for place in final

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GUIMARAES, Portugal (AP) England is aiming to translate the recent European dominance of its clubs to the international stage when it meets the Netherlands on Thursday in UEFA’s inaugural Nations League tournament.

England is looking for its first international trophy since winning the 1966 World Cup, but a resurgent Dutch squad stands in its path to Sunday’s final.

[ MORE: Premier League VAR details ]

“We want to be in the habit of starting to win things,” England coach Gareth Southgate said on the eve of the Nations League semifinal.

England is in high spirits after reaching the semifinals of the World Cup last year. Also, the Premier League provided all four clubs in the recent Champions League and Europa league finals – an unprecedented feat.

“We’ve got players who are capable and hungry,” Southgate said in Guimaraes in northern Portugal. “We’ve shown incredible adaptability and resilience in the team.”

With a head-to-head record of six wins each and nine draws, the encounter is likely to be a tight affair between two teams that are on the up. England edged the Dutch 1-0 in a friendly game last year.

The Netherlands’ trophy cupboard has had no new additions since the 1988 European Championship title, when its current coach Ronald Koeman was still playing for the national team.

After failing to qualify for the 2016 European Championship and the 2018 World Cup finals, the Dutch got back on track by knocking out World Cup-winner France and powerhouse Germany to reach the Nations League final four.

“We’re playing (against) a very good team,” Southgate said. “I think it’s going to be a really exciting game.”

Koeman said Southgate has done “a fantastic job” by putting together a squad of young, gifted players.

“They have strong players, they have technical players, they have fast players,” Koeman said.

Dutch defender Virgil Van Dijk, who won the Champions League title with Liverpool last weekend, said he expects a tough and evenly-balanced game.

“They’re definitely full of confidence, but we should be as well,” he said.

The winner plays the final on Sunday in Porto, meeting host Portugal, while the loser goes into the third-place match versus Switzerland in Guimaraes earlier the same day.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Reports: Valverde to stay on as Barcelona coach, after all

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It looks like Barcelona could be holding onto Ernesto Valverde for at least another season.

Multiple reports out of Spain state that after consulting with the club’s directors and executives, Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu has decided against pulling the trigger and firing Valverde. The Spaniard has come under fire from Barcelona fans after two epic collapses in the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds, leaving Messi and Co. Out of the Champions League final yet again.

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According to Barcelona-based publication Sport, Valverde is staying at Barca because it’s Bartomeu’s final decision, because the club didn’t want to make more than than there’s already expected to be within the squad, and because it didn’t want to cave into public pressure. However, one reason not mentioned in the piece by Sport is whether there’s another manager better suited for the role that’s available.

Roberto Martinez, Ronald Koeman and others have been linked with the job in recent days, but they’re currently under contract to the Belgian National Team and Netherlands National Team, respectively, so Barcelona will not only have to pay out the rest of Valverde’s contract but then buy-out another manager’s contract and then pay them big bucks to come to the Camp Nou. The situation would be the same should Barcelona go after Mauricio Pochettino.

Ultimately, with Frenkie de Jong coming in, France Under-20 star Jean-Clair Todibo and potentially more transfers to freshen up the Barcelona squad, there’s a chance that Valverde can still achieve ultimate club glory, leading the team to the Champions League title.

But it’s clearly a sign of fan expectations that after another tremendous season in La Liga, where Barcelona ran away with the league, fans still had rage for Valverde, in part because of the Champions League finish and also because of accusations that Valverde hasn’t played the “Barcelona way.” Valverde’s players have defended him, but he’s lost the support of the fans.

Next season should be interesting, especially come March and April, when Barcelona is presumably back in the Champions League knockout rounds.

Hasenhuttl masterminds Saints’ survival: Now it gets tough

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Southampton had one win on the board and nine points from their opening 15 games of the season.

They looked certain for relegation. Years of poor decisions in the transfer market had cost them dear. Fans took aim at the new owners and Director of Football Les Reed and Chairman Ralph Krueger (both of whom have left the club this season) for hiring and firing three managers in just over 12 months.

Then Ralph Hasenhuttl arrived for his first taste of English soccer and everything changed. Fans love his enthusiasm on the sidelines and his honesty in interviews created a Jurgen Klopp-esque bond. His first press conference set the tone perfectly. 

The talented but previously unenthused players have ran themselves into the ground and beat the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham, Wolves and Everton at home, results which were unthinkable earlier in the campaign.

Hasenhuttl’s clear vision led to gritty displays which saw Saints secure their status as a Premier League side on Saturday after their 3-3 draw with Bournemouth.

Now the really, really hard work starts if Saints are to return to being contenders for a top 10 finish rather than what they’ve now become, perennial relegation strugglers.

The former RB Leipzig head coach knows it.

“We will have a few players leaving. In every position we will try to get better next year,” Hasenhuttl said. “We had a very interesting last transfer period – no signings, just giving players away. This summer we will rebuild. We can start planning for next year tomorrow. A bit less stress would be nice [next season], sitting relaxed outside and taking the points we need. The target is to get 40 points earlier than this year.”

That planning for next season should start right now at Southampton.

The Austrian coach didn’t spend any money in the January transfer window, his only window since arriving at the club, and it is unlikely he will be able to spend that much this summer.

Saints are hamstrung by having expensive signings on long-term contracts who they can’t get rid of.

Similar to the likes of Aston Villa and Sunderland before them, who kept their heads just above water season after season before finally being relegated, Saints are stuck with a bloated squad who haven’t proved their worth.

Wesley Hoedt, Sofiane Boufal, Cedric and Guido Carrillo are all out on loan right now and are unlikely to return. Manolo Gabbiadini was sold to Sampdoria in January. Fraser Forster is one of their highest earners but hasn’t played since December 2017. Mohamed Elyounoussi has barely featured. The list goes on and on.

Quite simply, Hasenhuttl will have to live with the legacy of Saints getting it wrong in several transfer windows since Ronald Koeman left in the summer of 2016. Since that summer they’ve spent over $200 million in transfer fees alone, and although the sale of Virgil Van Dijk and others negate those fees, players are on very large wages for a club of Southampton’s size which is run to be sustainable. They should be in that group of teams just outside the top six, not battling against the drop.

Something drastic has to change, and Hasenhuttl is now the right man to lead these decisions as he’s rejuvenated many members of the current squad in just five months.

The best thing Saints can now do is let Hasenhuttl have the huge clear out they need. Deadwood needs to be chopped.

Whatever it costs, they need to take the financial hit and let players leave on loan or for good, and let Hasenhuttl start the 2019-20 campaign with a fresh, hungry squad. The way he has brought out the best in Nathan Redmond, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and James Ward-Prowse among others proves his skill in inspiring players he inherited.

Imagine if he could actually add a handful of players he wants…

This season has to be the wake-up call that Saints should have had last season when they survived relegation with one game to go. And that was largely down to Swansea’s slump rather than a good run of their own.

Saints’ academy is one of the best in the league and that is where a lot of their fresh talent can come from. Hasenhuttl has put faith in youth his entire managerial career and that hasn’t changed since he arrived in the Premier League, with Yan Valery, Michael Obafemi, Josh Sims and Ward-Prowse all becoming regulars under him. There are others waiting to break through too.

Hasenhuttl has been brave by cutting out more experienced players and he and Southampton have been rewarded for that.

Now Southampton, who don’t have a chairman or anyone in charge of the football side of the club long-term since Krueger left, must back Hasenhuttl. Krueger brought Hasenhuttl in, but the Austrian is happy to remain at the club and continue to push on, with a new leader or sporting director needed to get things right behind-the-scenes.

Saints can now start to focus on next season and they have Hasenhuttl to thank for that.

“We had to take a lot of points [after taking over in December]. If you told me after our first game against Cardiff, when we were five points behind them [that Southampton would stay up], it’s amazing,” Hasenhuttl said. “We deserve this. We invested a lot in this time and learned a lot. We showed how beautiful we can play. The next step must be to get more clinical in some situations. Two games before the end to be clear is fantastic for us.”

Transfer latest: Chelsea refuse to sell Hudson-Odoi, Arsenal eye signings

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For at least the next six months, it appears Callum Hudson-Odoi will remain a Chelsea player.

That’s according to reports in England and Germany, which state that Chelsea has rejected Hudson-Odoi’s transfer request amid multiple bids from Bayern Munich. German publication SportBild reported on Monday that after a discussion with Chelsea executive Marina Granovskaia, Hudson-Odoi learned he would be staying at Stamford Bridge until at least the summer. Hudson-Odoi is in the final 18 months of his contract, and has so far refused to come to the negotiating table with Chelsea for a new contract offer, as he’s unhappy with the amount of playing time he’s received.

[READ: JPW’s Premier League Picks]

Hudson-Odoi has made five Premier League appearances this season but has not started yet. He has been a regular in the cup competitions, including the Europa League, but it appears Bayern Munich are willing to spend big, upwards of $40 million in transfer fees.

With Hudson-Odoi sticking around, he’ll have to bide his time and hope that he can produce some good performances. For Chelsea, keeping him around could also increase his value, enabling them to bring in an even bigger fee if they’re ultimately unsuccessful at re-signing him.

Make sure to tune-in for our special Transfer Deadline Day show on NBCSN on Thursday, Jan. 31 from 5 p.m. ET as we focus on all of the moves across the Premier League in the January window. You can stream the show live online right here.

Here’s more stories from across the Premier League:

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