Fans Forum Notes
You can still watch this on ONLINE FANS’ FORUM | Watch our latest Southampton supporters event with Ralph Hasenhüttl – YouTube
Notes from the fans forum
(Content may be paraphrased as it comes from the author’s memory and notes)
Ralph: We’ve learned how we need to play. We have shown that we can take points against the big teams. We must do a good job if we want to win games.
Armstrong: We had no pre-season but we still started well. As the season developed we were unfortunate with injuries and big moments; there were lots of fixtures. Sometimes you need a bit of luck and we didn’t have it. The heaviness of the schedule didn’t help at times.
KWP: Obviously we’re disappointed with the second half of the season but we have 5 games left, let’s see how we end.
Ralph: We always want to continue to improve – I want to invest all my knowledge in the SFC playbook and continuously develop it. We want it to last over decades so that new managers can come in and build on it in the future. It’s about the philosophy of the club, not the manager. It’s getting harder to
Ralph: We will work on different shapes in the summer – we want to be harder to read.
This summer we will redevelop Pitch 2 at Staplewood into a pitch identical to St. Mary’s. We’re also building a high performance gym for the team – the current one is a bit small and focussed on rehab. We need the best facilities so there are no excuses for not being at optimal physical level.
Matt Crocker: Youth development is really important to us. Having a strong academy helps us survive as a club. It will always be at the forefront of our thinking but we can’t shy away from the fact that we aren’t winning enough. We have not been competitive in all games. We have very young sides as most B team players train with the first team, the under 18s step up to the B team etc etc. Some aren’t ready and aren’t good enough for the step up yet. We need to address the depth here. We are going to put this right if we can. It’s a challenge and is not going to be fixed overnight. We have had some successes but remember – Prowsey made his debut in the Championship, Lallana came through in League 1. Now we’re in the Premier League it’s more difficult as the players have to compete with the best teams in the world. Worth saying we had 8 academy players on the pitch when we beat Liverpool at home and the Liverpool staff couldn’t understand it. Also for large parts of the last year in covid, academy players have been sent home to their families and haven’t trained. To take someone from U23 league and then to put them against Chelsea and 32,000 fans, requires a high level of physical and mental robustness and resilience.
Matt Crocker: Since I joined, we’ve had a shake up in the academy recruitment team, which needed to happen. We now have exceptional recruiters, strategically covering a wider range of areas and targeting markets where we can be successful. We also spent £1m in covid on academy facilities. When we bring kids and their parents to the training ground they are impressed.
Matt Crocker: We have made changes to the B team and u18s and no longer have a team coach. Instead, the focus is on individual development. We have a Game Coach who delivers the SFC playbook and the club’s philosophy and we have an Individual Development Coach, who ensures that the players have a clear plan and identify their strengths and development points. The individual development focus is important – we can’t just rely on our reputation of a strong academy system.
Matt Crocker: The results and performances of the u18 and B team have been very mixed – they had a good first half of the season but it tailed off. We have high quality players but not depth of quality. Mentality, resilience and desire are so important, but in the modern game things come too easy to players in our academy; we need to challenge them more as well as support them.
Ralph: It’s getting more and more difficult because all the bigger clubs scout at such a young age now. We aim to give 1-2 youth players 1-2 chances to play in the first team each year. For example Nathan Tella – he’s a shiny diamond we can polish.
Ralph: We like to take academy players to the first team, but as you can see, the B team is not going in the way we want to see. It’s a big step to be part of the first team and that’s why it’s important that we have restructured the whole structure for youth. This is why we have been implementing the playbook; so they know how to play in the first team. It’s easier when the first team is playing well and so much harder to play youth at Man Utd when you’re down to 10 men, for example. Also, Phil Foden is so good but how long did it take for Pep to play him more? Pep knows it’s necessary to sit youth players out enough too – otherwise you can destroy them if you use them too much and expect too much. You need the experienced people who know what to do and can handle the pressure better, both physically and mentally.
Matt Crocker: We have invested a lot in the training and youth training ground, and trying to get all the youth teams to play the same way. We are confident we are setting ourselves up to be a sustainable successful premier league club
Future planning and finances
Martin Semmens: We always need to reflect on the plan. The plan is to consistently finish the league between 7th to 12th every year. Then we invest in the best quality young players (like Salisy, Diallo, Walker-Peters), whilst retaining our established players like Prowsey, Armstrong and Romeu, with new contracts. The next part is to aim to be in the top 6. We pushed into it last year but of course then went backwards. Hopefully that’s temporary. Matt and Ralph are doing everything we ask them to do, even though Jon Moss ruined a few games for us. Every penny we make, we spend on players. Mr Gao has never taken a penny out of the club but we are honest about the fact that he doesn’t put much in. We have to generate our income ourselves. It’s not fair to say we can’t compete with the teams around us financially – Crystal Palace and Burnley do not have more money than us. It’s the group above them, like Everton, Leeds, Aston Villa, those are the ones that are financially out of our league. What we want to try and do is compete with them every year on a smaller budget. We are still buying players and renewing contracts. Don’t worry about our losses – the financial loss we make isn’t relevant to the transfer budget. We have to invest this summer and we will, but we have to invest within our limits. That’s why we buy great younger players to come and contribute, alongside the established players like Armstrong and Prowsey. .
Over the calendar year 2020, our points would have made us finish in the top 6. Clearly 2021 hasn’t been the same and it’s been a tough few months. We need a greater depth of squad – we want 2 or 4 strong players in each position. If you look at times when we have 5 games in 16 days, we need to be able to rotate and do it with confidence because we know the players are strong enough. We have to be honest and realistic, some youth have stepped up and done well (Tella) but others have not stepped up well – usually those who got in because of circumstances rather than opportunities. Stepping up is for those who are really pushing, really ready and can grab the opportunity
Ralph: We want to aim for Europe but in England there are 6 top clubs. If they struggle a little, they still usually finish top 6. It’s so hard to compete with the money they invest and their depth of squad. We have to grab the chance of something big if we can, like the Wembley semi – if you are doing ok in the league. We want next season to be a good season with no threat of relegation, a chance to win a cup – we can beat any team on our day. Remember that the FA cup semi finalists were three Champions League teams and us. We believe we are a team who can win, we need to remember it more consistently. It’s about your performance over 38 games, you can’t keep the level so high for so long if you don’t have the depth of squad.
Ralph: We need to strengthen in positions where we don’t have cover. We sent Yan Valery on loan as we weren’t happy with his development as a player. We need cover for Kyle though.
We have struggled with cover at left back too. We also struggled with the number 6 role until we found that Armstrong can play there – I convinced him to and he’s happy to do it. We are looking for players who are so technically smart that they can play in more positions, as our shape can be demanding tactically. We definitely need to double up on full backs.
Crocker(?): Our analytics department has helped us to be successful in the transfer market and find players who can have an impact straight away. We need to remember to always stick to our recruitment principles – finding youth talent that can have an impact and will also have a resale value down the line, and making sure they are the right characters and culture fit. Where we have gone wrong before is making decisions that don’t fit those principles.
Theo is a deviation from our usual type as he’s older and on loan, but we know his character and he brings a lot to the dressing room as well as on the pitch. For his part, he buys into the top level medical and performance facilities we have.
Our budget is reduced by covid, yes, but it’s the same for all the other clubs. If the transfer market goes down, it goes down for all players and clubs, so we aren’t too worried about the effect on the first team.
Different markets are being opened to us – South America might be an opportunity market for us due to changes in regulations, but we still need to select based on our principles.
Martin Semmens: We would love the women’s and academy teams to play at St.Mary’s more.
Matt Crocker: The women’s team had two seasons curtailed due to the pandemic. Our ambition was for us to be a championship club and then WSL. We have applied to be promoted. We have strong results, infrastructure and support – when we played Coventry in the FA cup at St. Mary’s, we had 5000-6000 fans. The women’s team is an important element of what we can do as a club.
Missing the fans
Armstrong: I miss the feeling you get when you come out before a game. Stupid things in a game too – a nice touch or bit of play, then the fans feel like something will happen, the noise builds you up, the sound and atmosphere. Fans make the experience of the game and without it it feels more like a training session. The sooner they are back the better.
Walker-Peters: I was speaking to Theo on the way to Wembley for the semi final (of course he has played in lots) and he says he misses being on the coach and seeing all the fans walking towards wembley. Those occasions aren’t as fun without the fan.s hopefully they are back soon and we can feel that emotion.
Ralph: I used to be a big fan (of VAR) but this season I haven’t had a good experience. It’s not so much about having it, it’s about the people doing it, they don’t do a good job. The only thing that works is offside because it’s clear on/off. But even then you can argue it. The most horrible decisions are about fouls or handballs. People have different opinions, intent is important and how do you tell this from a screen? Decisions should be different in the future because there have been so many mistakes, you think they must learn. Twice we have two red cards which are overturned, it kills the game and I don’t understand it.
European Super League BS
Martin Semmens: I don’t believe the clubs should get punishments. Players are seen as FIFA characters, not humans, but they’ve lost a year of having fans watch them and now have to deal with the fall out of the superleague when they did nothing wrong. This hurts the players. I don’t love all the players of those clubs but it isn’t fair to punish them. We should come together as 20 clubs to improve our league and we are working on doing that. I do think there should be consequences for the individuals stupid enough to do it though. I’m confident we will come out the other wide of this and never hear about the European Super League again.
Martin Semmens: (The reason why Gao doesn’t talk to the fans is that) He doesn’t communicate, he doesn’t speak English and it’s better that the communications come from us. He bought the club because he invests in sports, sports infrastructure, stadiums and teams. The Chinese government asked him to develop football in china, he bought Southampton and then a few months later the Chinese government told him to abandon that plan. He is a good guy and isn’t harming us. He lets us get on and run the club. It’s not been an ideal situation for him or us. We lost millions of pounds a month over the pandemic but we’re still buying players and we nobody lost their job. We want a different investment structure in the future. We don’t know what will happen but we want to ensure we get a good deal for the future.
Stuart Armstrong’s hair
Armstrong; When I got here, I asked KWP what (hair product) he used and I’ve been using it ever since.
Danny Ings Contract
Martin Semmens: I think Danny will sign the contract. He has been open and clear in his communications about what he wants to do and he is working hard for us to play and get fit. He is committed to playing for us and England. But players aren’t robots and are free to make their own choices. I do think Danny will be with us next season and I hope he will commit to the end of his career and beyond.
Improving next season
Ralph: We need a better gameplan, work on the pitch, good commitment. We need to win against teams that have more expensive players than we have. This is our goal since I have been here and for the future. We have shown that when we are in good form we can be fantastic, really dominating top teams.
Matt Crocker: We need to do the 1% differently and better and be innovative. We have strong players and leadership in the team and want that as part of our culture.
Martin Semmens: There’s two ways to the top – buy your way or get your Dad to buy your way, or working hard. I started my career by starting a business with a friend in a garage. I don’t want to be at Man Utd, waiting around expecting a win. I want to earn it. It’s different for players.