31/07/2014: Schneiderlin / Rodriguez and Bertrand
Tuesday 29th July was another tumultuous day for Southampton FC. Dejan Lovren and Calum Chambers had already completed their moves away from St Marys the previous 48 hours. Several reports from reliable outlets broke the news on Monday that Jay Rodriguez and Morgan Schneiderlin were very close to following, with a double transfer to Tottenham imminent. That was followed by a dramatic turnaround the next day, when Chairman Ralph Krueger - returning to public view - claimed that Rodriguez and Schneiderlin would not be sold. Schneiderlin reacted furiously to the meeting he had with St Marys officials earlier that day by tweeting: "6 years of an amazing journey DESTROYED in 1 hour"
Naturally most fans were sceptical when Krueger made his initial statement about Schneiderlin and Rodriguez. The club hardly have the best track record when it comes to delivering on their promises so far this summer. You have to wonder whether they really want or expect to keep the pair beyond August. By declaring Schneiderlin and Rodriguez not for sale, the club put the ball back in the players' court. If they want to go now, they need to put in a transfer request, or maybe resort to even more dramatic methods. It's a common ploy to shift the blame from the club to the player, at a time when confidence in the people at the top is at an all-time low. They knew full well Schneiderlin might well respond the way he did. A written transfer request would also mean the players would forgo any 'loyalty' bonuses, thus saving the club a significant sum of money.
The natural reaction when something like this happens is to place the blame squarely at the player. Fans are conditioned to back the club in stand-offs like these, regardless of whether the employee has a legitimate gripe or not. The reports on Monday that the move was close obviously came from somewhere, however. It's not that much of a stretch to think Schneiderlin and Rodriguez were led to believe they were being allowed to leave, only for the board to go back on their decision. If that's the case and they were deliberately antagonised then you can understand why Schneiderlin reacted the way he did. At the very least fans need to see how this all plays out before directing their hate at a club legend. The Frenchman has never given the club a moment's trouble during his six year tenure, and deserves to be given the benefit of the doubt, for now at least.
The want-away players have taken a lot of flak this summer, but reports of dissatisfaction and a lack of trust and leadership from above have become far too frequent. It can't be just a coincidence that so many players of previous impeccable character are acting up. The board have seemingly created an environment where so many are unhappy or are desperate to leave. It's damming that you can't name with absolute certainty a prominent senior player who will definitely still be at the club in six weeks' time. Ultimately a lot of these situations could have been avoided or at least handled a lot more smoothly. It's all very well blaming it on 'greedy players', but we shouldn't ignore the bigger issue, that the board haven't been able to develop any sort of positive relationship with most of the squad. The lack of trust and communication is especially worrying when several players are waiting on new contracts (a question Krueger skirted around in the aforementioned interview).
It's very much in the interest of Schneiderlin and Rodriguez to keep playing to their maximum, even if they are forced to stay. Both are in the infancy of their international careers, and need to be playing regularly to remain in contention. Strike action has been mooted, but even if it did come to that, they would likely relent at some point. Saints need to remain firm and keep the pair at the club no matter what. It goes without saying both would improve our chances on the pitch, but it would also send a message that we aren't as soft a touch as many think we are. If the board are true to their word and the players are still at the club come September 2nd then they deserve some credit, but the smart money would be on them playing their football somewhere else in a few weeks.
Ryan Bertrand signs from Chelsea
It's not quite all bad news on the transfer front, with Ryan Bertrand joining on a season long loan from Chelsea. Bertrand is primarily a left-back, but has occasional filled in further up the pitch. He began his youth career at Gillingham, before being snapped up by Chelsea in 2005, as part of their aggressive youth recruitment drive. Between 2006 and 2011 he flitted around various clubs on loan, before finally making his Stamford Bridge debut on 11th April 2011 in a 3-1 win against Birmingham.
Bertrand remained at Chelsea during 2011/12, but was restricted to mostly just cup action. That was until the end of the season when he was thrown in for a few Premier League games. He impressed sufficiently to be handed a surprise start in the Champions League final. Bertrand became the first player to win the trophy on his European debut.
Bertrand won two England caps in August 2012, having previously represented his country at every level of youth football. He featured in 38 games for Chelsea during 2012/13, picking up a Europa League winners medal. Bertrand played just 3 times under Jose Mourinho last season, before being shipped off on loan to Aston Villa in January. He is familiar with at least one of his new teammates, having lined-up alongside Jack Cork at Chelsea, Bournemouth and Great Britain's 2012 Olympic side.
On the surface, Betrand appears to be a solid pickup. He comes with a reasonable pedigree, and plugs the gap at left-back. Matt Targett has been merely ok in pre-season, and hasn't done anything to suggest he's ready to be thrown in for a full season in that position yet. A new face was needed. Bertrand probably won't be able perform to the level Luke Shaw was at (who would?) but he appears to be a good fit for the style we play. It is believed that Saints have an option to buy at the end of the season, so he should be more than motivated to impress.