Nicola Cortese is the former Executive Chairman at Southampton Football Club. Cortese was born on 7th August 1968. Previous to his role at Saints, Cortese was educated in Switzerland and England in business communication and finance. He was involved for 10 years in successful sports business practice as head of the sports and entertainment desk at top Swiss banks, providing global services to sports and entertainment professionals and principals. He was also involved in a number of transactions in European football.
Cortese convinced billionaire Markus Liebherr to purchase cash strapped Southampton in July 2009. Liebherr stated he would only go through with the deal to buy the club if Cortese agreed to join him. While Liebherr provided the cash, Cortese was given complete control of the decision making at the club. One of his first acts was to replace manager Mark Wotte with Alan Pardew, who had been sacked by Charlton months earlier. Cortese sanctioned a number of transfers in his first two months in the job, including the £1,000,000 plus deal for Rickie Lambert. It was believed Cortese's links in Italy helped him to secure the loan deal for Papa Waigo, who joined from Fiorentina.
In January 2010 Cortese was subject to interest from Italian giants AC Milan. The Rossoneri wanted Cortese to join the club's board, but the Southampton chairman pledged his future to the south coast club, saying "Southampton is my baby I'm not going to abandon it". That month also saw Cortese secure the transfers of Jose Fonte, Dan Seaborne, Jon Otsemobor, Lee Barnard and Jason Puncheon. The club also pulled out of a deal to sign Elliot Ward from Coventry at the last moment.
In February 2010, Cortese told BBC Radio Solent he was unhappy with the first team's league performances. Cortese explained that manager Alan Pardew had been handed a very generous transfer kitty on the promise that the team would reach the play-offs. Pardew's men were on their way to winning the Johnstone's Paint Trophy, but League form wasn't quite so impressive, with Saints in mid table. In spite of the 10 point deduction, Cortese expected the team to be higher than they were, having spent significantly more money on new players than the two sides who were relegated with Saints from the Championship the previous season, Norwich and Charlton. The Canaries and The Addicks were fighting it out for automatic promotion, while Saints looked a long shot for the play-offs at the time of Cortese's comments.
Cortese conducted another extended interview with Radio Solent in March 2010. He answered a number of different questions from fans, reiterating his intention to remain at the club for the long term. Cortese said he would consider bringing in a sporting director in the future, but didn't require one at the moment. He talked about the club's transfer policy, explaining that a number of different people are involved in the recruitment of players, including the manager, the scouts and the chairman himself. Cortese told the BBC that it's a myth that only managers handle transfers, stating he has final say over any deal because he's the one signing the cheques.
In same interview Cortese announced plans to completely restructure the academy, which had been neglected somewhat since the very successful class of 2005. In April 2010 Les Reed was appointed as head of the club's new football development and support centre. Reed's job was to oversee the academy and scouting. Martin Hunter was hired in July 2010 as the clubs new under 21 coach. The U21s replaced the old reserve team.
With Saints' play-off hopes all but gone following a 0-0 draw against Oldham in April 2010, Alan Pardew's managerial job was rumoured to be in jeopardy. On the final day of the season, the match day programme for the home clash against Southend was pulled, apparently because Pardew was on the verge of the sack. A few weeks later though, Cortese released a statement saying Pardew would remain in charge.
The summer of 2010 was a relatively quiet one when it came to transfers at St Marys. Only full backs Ryan Dickson, Danny Butterfield and Frazer Richardson arrived, while a host of unwanted players were released. The club was involved in a tour of Switzerland in July that was organised by Cortese and Liebherr. Pre season turned into a bit of a farce, with a number of players suffering injury as a result of poor preparation. Saints were unconvincing in most of their warm up matches and even struggled to a draw at Sutton. The bad form continued into the first game of the season when Southampton lost 1-0 at home to Plymouth. Things got even worse days later on August 10th, when club owner Marcus Liebherr tragically and suddenly passed away. Cortese admitted he struggled for motivation immediately after Liebherr's death. He later explained in a BBC interview that the Liebherr family remained committed to the club and would continue to invest, despite many newspaper reports to the contrary.
On 30th August 2010 Cortese finally sacked Alan Pardew and two members of his coaching staff. Pardew's team had made a poor start to the season, although they had won his last match in charge 4-0 at Bristol Rovers two days prior to his dismissal. There was much speculation over why the decision to ditch Pardew was made, but no explanation was ever given. Over the next few weeks Cortese stepped up his search for a new manager. Fans reacted angrily to Pardew's firing on August 31st in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy clash against Swindon, believing former Portsmouth boss Paul Hart was set to be appointed. That turned out to be a completely bogus story however. Rumours spread that Cortese was looking to appoint a big name, with the likes of Martin O Neill and Alan Curbishley being mentioned as possible targets. Eventually he turned his attentions to Scunthorpe's Nigel Adkins. Cortese decided the former physio was his man in early September, although the move nearly collapsed at one point due to a dispute over compensation. Bournemouth Chairman Eddie Mitchell also claimed his manager Eddie Howe had held talks at St Marys, only to turn down the job, although Southampton later issued a statement saying Adkins was the only one offered the job. Eventually Scunthorpe and Southampton came to terms over the release of Adkins, and he became manager of Southampton on September 12th 2010.
Cortese's popularity grew as the season went on, as fans realised he was correct to make the managerial change earlier in the campaign. In a BBC interview in late 2010 he promised that stars like Adam Lallana and Alex Chamberlain wouldn't be sold in January. He also spoke of the promising youth academy, and explained how he believed the club now had one of the best U18 teams in the country. In January Cortese agreed new long term deals for Lallana and manager Nigel Adkins. He also sanctioned the transfers of Richard Chaplow, Guly and Jonathan Forte. On February 5th 2011 Saints fans sang Cortese's name in the stands at Peterborough for the first time. They continued to do so until the club won promotion to the Championship in May 2011.
In June 2011 Cortese announced the creation of the Marcus Liebherr Memorial Cup in honour of the club's former owner. The tournament consisted of three 45 minute matches between Saints, Werder Bremen and Athletic Bilbao. Bilbao took the trophy after winning both of their games. The Marcus Liebherr Lounge at St Mary's was also opened in July 2011.
In July 2011 Cortese fined Alex Chamberlain for giving interviews to two national newspapers stating his desire to leave the club. The Saints Chairman had broken off negotiations with Arsenal back in January 2011 when Gunners manager Arsene Wenger spoke publicly about his interest in the youngster. Cortese had also reportedly wanted £10,000,000 up front as well as a substantial sell on clause and a loan back until the end of the season. A deal was eventually agreed for Chamberlain to move to Ashburton Grove for £12,000,000 up front, plus add ons. Cortese also sanctioned the transfers of Jack Cork, Steve De Ridder and Danny Fox, and handed new contracts to Rickie Lambert, Lee Barnard, Morgan Schneiderlin, Kelvin Davis, Dan Harding, Dean Hammond, David Connolly, Radhi Jaidi and Aaron Martin.
In September 2011 Cortese gave an interview with The Sun, talking about a number of different subjects. He spoke about his difficult relationship with former players and managers like Lawrie McMenemy and Matt Le Tissier, saying “nobody is bigger than the club”. Cortese also said he doesn’t just expect Saints to be promoted during 2011/12 claiming “I want us to be Champions”. He explained that he didn’t want the club to be immediate relegation candidates after winning promotion to the Premier League, stating his ambition to become a top-six Premier League club in a 50,000 capacity redeveloped stadium.
Cortese oversaw Saints' 2012 promotion to the Premier League. That summer was dominated by speculation that he had plans to replace Nigel Adkins with a big name manager. Cortese thrashed out a number of big transfer deals during that time. Saints signed Jay Rodriguez, Nathaniel Clyne, Paulo Gazzaniga, Emmanuel Mayuka, Maya Yoshida and Gaston Ramirez. The Ramirez transfer was the most ambitious and also the most complicated. Saints paid less in agent fees than anyone else during 2012/13 (£646,106). When Saints started the 2012/13 season badly speculation continued to mount regarding Adkins' future. Cortese shipped in Artur Boruc against the wishes of the Saints manager. After the 2-0 defeat at West Brom in early November Adkins appeared to be on the brink. He survived a bit longer however as results and performances started to improve.
On January 18th 2013 Cortese made the brave decision to replace Adkins with Mauricio Pochettino. The sacking of Adkins was condemned by press and fans alike. While many supporters were upset, the positive reaction in Pochettino's first game against Everton suggested most were willing to give the new man a chance. Not long after the sacking Cortese gave an interview to Sky defending his decision. He said "Nigel and I had a good relationship up until the last second, but ultimately for the team it was the right timing". The Saints Chairman also added that if the move makes him unpopular than that's a sacrifice that he's willing to make. Cortese said Pochettino shared his ambition and drive. The interview also touched on his demanding management style and relationship with Matt Le Tissier. Cortese said Le Tissier doesn't even know him and doesn't believe he is in a position to judge him. The Italian also added that fans should learn not to get particularly attached to certain individuals, be that managers, players or chairmen. Cortese encouraged fans to back the club instead. He finished by saying that anyone who has the club's interests at heart has a place at Southampton. Cortese and Le Tissier arranged a meeting which was later cancelled when Le Tissier childishly went to the Echo to put the boot in even further.
The outrage at Adkins' sacking soon died down as performances improved under Pochettino. The early displays against Everton, Man United and Man City were extremely encouraging. When Saints won three consecutive games against Liverpool, Chelsea and Adkins' Reading most agreed that Cortese's decision to bring in Pochettino had been vindicated. Fans began to chant the Chairman's name again. During this time Cortese also agreed new long-term contracts for a number of players, including Morgan Schneiderlin, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert.
During the last week of the 2012/13 season it was reported in the BBC and The Times that Cortese was considering his future with the club, with rumours of a dispute between the Liebherr Trust. A deal was eventually agreed for The Chairman to continue in his role. Commenting on the agreement Cortese said "We are now in a position to move forward with our ambitious plans for the Club and I would like to thank Katharina Liebherr for the very helpful manner in which she approached our talks about long term strategy. I am pleased that this matter is now resolved."