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EvilDave

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  1. “How do you feel you coped with the pressure of a league debut?” It was a stupid question given that we’d won, but I had to answer nevertheless. “I don’t think today was particularly about me, but the team did what I asked of them and we got the result. There’s plenty to work on, we’ll face difficult games over the rest of the season, but we got it done in the end.” “Lucio Escalada looks like a great signing if today is anything to go by - why do think nobody has brought him to Europe before now?” “I can’t possibly speak for the rest of the continent, but their loss is definitely our gain. Lucio showed today how good a player he is, and we’re looking forward to more of the same in the future.” “Do you feel any sympathy for Darren Ferguson on days like today? A newly-promoted side, away on the opening day of the season, and they got sucker-punched in the last five minutes.” “I spoke to Darren after the match, and told him they hadn’t deserved to lose - and I believe that. On the other hand, there will be games when we’ll concede last-minute goals, or switch off at a crucial moment. It’s part of the game, it happens to everyone, and so you can’t get too emotionally involved with other managers.” “Finally Owain, you’re in Europa League action on Thursday - will you be rotating the side for Asteras?” “There will be one or two changes, but we don’t want to take our visitors too lightly. There are plenty of managers, and I think it’s a very English approach, who don’t treat the Europa League with a great deal of respect, but it’s a competition I’d very much like to win and we’ll select a squad that I believe is capable of that.” I never did understand managers that passed up on a chance for European glory. I didn’t understand the press, who either applauded or chastised then on nothing more than a whim. I also had no worries whatsoever that Asteras Tripolis would cause us any great problems.
  2. St Mary’s was full, and my arrival was greeted raucously by the Southampton faithful. I was well aware that I was yet to fully convince everyone in red and white stripes of my suitability for the role - I was still, after all, an outsider - I had yet to do anything majorly wrong, and so for the time being they were right behind me. I had to channel that, because Everton were going to scrap for every chance at a point. We got underway in my preferred midfield box formation, and immediately set about putting the visitors under pressure. Escalada in particular looked right at home in the rough and tumble of the Premier League, utilising his technical ability to buy the extra half-yard of space he needed to pick his passes and show off his skills. On the right side of our defence, I quickly saw why Kenan Kus was regarded as one of the finest full-backs in the world. Every time Everton attempted to switch the ball to his flank he was there with a timely interception or crunching challenge, and going forward he was one of our biggest threats. His first cross was a deep one, narrowly evading the head of Boyd Clarke, and his second connected with Gidon Cohen, our Israeli international forcing a save from the visiting goalkeeper. We were on top, one we needed to make it count. Our opponents, on the other hand, were yet to really get going. It was just as well then, that we took the lead with our very next attack. This time we flew down the left, Luke Shaw making his first Premier League appearance for the club in the best part of a decade and wanting to show the fans what they had been missing. He shaped to cross, instead slipped a perfect pass between full-back and centre-half for Clarke to latch onto, and in turn the square ball across goal was tucked in calmly by Escalada in support. Just 10 minutes later the half-time whistle blew, and I had a very simple message to convey to my new charges. Keep up the pressure and make sure you hit the target - nothing that the average fan in the stand couldn’t have said, but I needed to make sure my men believed it. Perhaps I should have asked one of our supporters to give the pep-talk, because 10 minutes after the interval Everton levelled with their first shot on target of the match. Carlos Henrique was a split-second too slow with his challenge to stop a switch out to the visitors’ right, Hamish Jack didn’t know whether to stay or go as the cross was whipped in, and Slovenian international Petar Zikar stooped ahead of his man to head into the net and tie the game at 1-1. St Mary’s was not a happy place, and we needed to do it all over again. Unsurprisingly however, Everton grew in confidence with the goal, and I could only watch as Ferguson waved his side forward at every opportunity. Jack made one or two more saves to keep us level - neither particularly spectacular - and while we enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, we were not doing anything with it. With 20 minutes to go, I gambled - Kenan Kus was a superb player but was flagging after his raids down the right, while Boyd Clarke had not had his finest hour up front. On came new boy Davide Canini and Nestor Mina to take their respective places, and we had a quarter of the match less to get off to the start we needed. Those 20 minutes quickly became 10, and in the blink of an eye it was down to five, much to the frustration of the 32,000 in the stands. Frustration, that was, which suddenly turned to jubilation as, out of nowhere, we worked a rugby-style overlap on the right, and substitute Canini made a memorable league debut by smashing into the top corner from 12 yards out. Four minutes later, as the clock ticked into injury time, Escalada swivelled on a loose ball in the box to fire low beyond the goalkeeper’s dive, and out of nowhere the scoreline looked relatively comfortable. At the referee’s whistle I consoled my opposite number - Darren Ferguson had not really deserved to lose - and headed into the dressing room to congratulate my team. It was not the prettiest, not the most comfortable, but we had three points to start the season. That was all I had asked for - the rest would follow.
  3. Three days later, having calmed down a little, I gambled. Peio Salinas had scored two of the four goals against Brondby, but I still had my doubts about the Spaniard. He had been at the club for seven seasons, netting 50 goals in 208 league appearances, but only once had he hit double figures in the Premier League - an 18-goal season four years ago. He was at the wrong end of his career at 30 years old, and Russian club Krasnodar were interested in his signature. With £8m on the table, I decided to bite. The move disappointed the fans as news leaked out onto social media, with one or two of the more vocal online voices wondered what I was planning to do for goals. By midday - the Russian time difference meaning we were all but done with the deal by lunch - some of those calls had even turned into demands for my sacking, but just hours later those same fans were hailing a transfer masterstroke. Replacing Salinas, an aging Spaniard with a dubious goalscoring record at the highest level who had endeared himself to the fans with his loyalty and personality rather than his performances, was Boyd Clarke, an England international who had proven himself at this level in a lesser team. The difference in the fees meant we were paying just £1m for a significant upgrade, and I was delighted. Clarke would cost us more than Salinas in the long run, primarily because of his wage demands - he would be the latest member of the £100,000 per week club - but to snap up a striker of his quality for less than eight figures was an opportunity I could not pass up. Aston Villa had suffered their third relegation in eight years in the previous season, and after years of battling away at the wrong end of the Premier League, Clarke had had enough. Their loss was our gain, and I was more than happy to make the swoop for the 26-year-old. Not only was I keen for a strong British core to my Saints side - something I had hopefully proved with my signings of Ifan and Hodge - but I was also convinced that Clarke’s power up front would work well with the more delicate precision of fellow new boy Escalada. As a front two, I was very happy with them. His first game in a Southampton shirt would, all being well, come at home against newly-promoted Everton. Darren Ferguson had finally made it to the top flight in charge of the Toffees, but would be expecting a difficult season as his side scrapped to keep their seat at the top table. We would be expected to win, but I was not expecting it to be easy. Following that, we would host Asteras in the Europa League, travel to Reading three days later for our second game of the league season, and then fly out to Greece for the second leg of our European tie. We would then round out the month back at home to Swansea, before finally earning a break - the staff at least - for the season’s first international fixtures. It promised to be a manic fortnight, and I couldn’t wait to get my teeth into it.
  4. It had been a while since I had sampled a European away game. The last time I had led a side into one of UEFA’s competitions, it had also been in Scandinavia, watching on on the balmy Baltic coast as my Prestatyn side were brushed aside by three goals to nil by IFK Goteborg. I had always enjoyed my jaunts onto the continent with the Welsh club - progress was a dream, and we enjoyed the sights and sounds of our rivals’ hometowns as much as the football on offer. With Southampton however, things were different - we were not simply there to make up the numbers, hoping to be given one of the weaker sides and spring a surprise. No, we were there to win - we were expected to, in fact, and anything less would have earned me a dressing down from my new employers. Limping out of the Europa League before the group stages was simply not an option, and with a 1-0 lead to protect from the first leg, would be unthinkable. In the opening game against Brondby, we had come up against some inspired goalkeeping and superb last-ditch defending, but had seen little of the Danish club’s attacking threat. On the outskirts of Copenhagen and with a home crowd behind them, I expected that to change. The plan was a simple one - hit them early and hit them hard. An away goal would mean the Danes needed three to win the tie, and I was confident enough in my side’s defensive capability to hold out better than that. So, when a slide-rule ball ball from Ross Ifan was clipped beyond the goalkeeper by Peio Salinas inside two minutes, I was absolutely delighted. As far as I was concerned, we were home and hosed. If there were still any doubts among the small band of travelling fans - Denmark is by no means a cheap trip, even if the flights themselves are easy on the wallet - they were quickly eliminated by another one of our Welsh contingent. Salinas saw a header tipped wide of the post by the keeper, but Ifan’s corner was thundered home by the leaping Leighton Hodge, and after just 12 minutes of the second leg we were through. Four minutes later Ifan picked up his third assist of the day, this time a free-kick from out wide glanced home by Hodge’s centre-back partner Aswad Payne, and we had a 4-0 aggregate lead before we were even a quarter of the way through the match. Brondby’s players knew the game was up, even their hardcore fans couldn’t muster up the pretence of hope, and we were able to take a foot off the gas and cruise through the half-time break. In the second half, they changed their approach. Instead of simply resigning themselves, they decided a better plan would be to simply kick us off the park, trying to do as much damage to the visiting Englishmen as possible. It took just 10 minutes for their tactics to pay dividends, a late challenge on Kenan Kus leaving our flying full-back with a twisted knee and facing six weeks on the sidelines. If I was not impressed then, I was even less impressed when, 10 minutes later and with his number seconds away from coming up on the substitute’s board, Adam Bright went down and went down hard. Not only that, but he wasn’t getting up any time soon. Mads Jorgensen was the guilty party, and offered little in the way of remorse or remonstration as the referee flashed the red card. It was a horrendous tackle, the ball long gone and Bright unaware of the Dane charging in from behind, his studs clattering into our playmaker and dropping him to the turf like heavyweight’s right hand. On came the stretcher, and off went one of our most talented players. When physio Emma Gimpel met me after the match, my mood switched from outraged to apoplectic. Bright had not been able to walk off the pitch because Jorgensen’s sorry excuse for a tackle had ruptured his achilles tendon. As such, he would not just miss the next couple of games, but as long as three months. One of England’s finest young talents sidelined by an angry Danish hatchet man, and all because his side had conceded three earlier goals in a European qualifier. Our victory confirmed that we would play-off against Greek outfit Asteras Tripolis for a spot in the group stages, but at that precise it was the last thing on my mind. My post-match press conference made the headlines the next morning as I tore into the Brondby boss, Jorgensen, and their entire team. I would not be a popular man in Copenhagen the next time we visited, but I did not care.
  5. Our centre-back, a loyal servant to Southampton after almost 250 league games for the club, was not happy. His agent had got wind of interest from Benfica, and had gone running to his client to tell him that we had turned down a £9m bid - which I had. I did not particularly want to sell, and if we were to let him go, we would be looking for at least eight figures. I explained this to him, and received a written transfer request in return without even a hint of compromise. Thankfully for him, the Portuguese club came back to me with a bid of £11m, which I quickly accepted - otherwise Jovanovski would have spent the rest of the season playing with our reserve squad. I would not be held to ransom by any agent, let alone one with ideas above their station. As far as I was concerned, Jovanovski was dead to us now - he would never play again, regardless of how the negotiations went with Benfica. As it happened, two days later he was off, but by then I had bigger and more important fish to fry - namely putting together a strikeforce. Lucio Escalada would, I hoped, provide the solution to many of those problems, but his agent was also causing me problems, claiming that unless his client was paid a certain amount per week, he would cancel the deal and arrange a move to another European club. I called his bluff. I knew that we were the only side in for the Estudiantes man, and I was glad of it. At 26, he was never likely to break out of his home league unless we were the first step, and I laboured the point. What I didn’t mention was the fact that at £6.5m, Escalada would be a real bargain. His clinical finishing and ability to bring others into play by dropping deep had my scouts in South America raving about him, and I had few doubts that he would go straight into the starting line-up. Luckily for Lucio, his man saw sense, agreeing to the £44k per week take-it-or-leave-it contract that I thrust before him. I was delighted - he would provide the perfect foil for someone like Nestor Mina and, given a little time to acclimatise, would be a star on the South Coast. Sadly, because he wasn’t a household name, some parts of the media disagreed. “For a team looking to Europe, signing someone who has never played outside of Argentina hardly reeks of ambition. What would you say to those fans who would like to have seen a more established player?” “Of course I’d like to be able to go out and sign Mirko Gramaglia, but he’s at Manchester City earning £250,000 a week, and we can’t compete in those sort of markets. As such, we look elsewhere, and of the players available to us Lucio is one of the very best. I think he’ll become a favourite at St Mary’s, I’m more than confident in his ability.” “Will his lack of English not make things tricky for him?” “I’m not sure that’s particularly relevant. Football is a global game, Lucio has already been given a personal tutor, and we’ve got others who speak Spanish in the dressing room. I don’t think it’ll be long at all before we see Lucio at his best in a Southampton shirt, there’s no negativity on my part at all.” I endured similar questions about whether letting Jovanovski go - another player who didn’t speak English when he arrived, not that it was picked up at the time - was a mistake, but I reiterated my faith in our centre-backs - we had Hodge and Payne, new man Bouillot as well as the versatility of both Carlos Henrique and Emad Hossam to play in the middle of defence - and suggested that other areas of the team had my attention more urgently. Finally, that shut them up, and I could get on with my job.
  6. Sent and claimed, cheers Mark!
  7. “Owain, just the single goal for Southampton tonight despite an awful lot of shots. Do you think playing such poor teams in pre-season has made your strikers complacent?” It was a ridiculous line of questioning, but on the evidence of our first leg against Brondby, the man from the Mirror had a point. The stats would show that over the course of the 90 minutes we had rained no fewer than 30 shots on the Danes’ goal, and so netting just once seemed highly profligate. However, with exactly half of those on target, we could not be accused of losing our shooting boots. “I’m not sure you can link the two at all to be honest. We’ve been in good scoring form over the last few weeks, and I think that showed tonight with the chances we created. Brondby defended well, their goalkeeper was named man of the match, and even so we managed to get the win.” “Will you approach the away leg in the same fashion, or will you set up to protect the lead you have?” “With all due respect to our opponents, I think we have the more talented squad and so we have to look to impose ourselves on them, rather than worry about how they might hurt us. Salinas has given us a good start tonight, but if we scrape through 1-0 I’ll be a little disappointed. We won’t be going there to defend.” “Can we expect any changes for the second game?” “We’ve got a whole week before we go to Denmark, so it’s hard for me to say who will and won’t play - we might have two or three new players by then. Whoever we put on the pitch, we’ll be confident of getting the result we need.” The truth was that even if we only played half as well in the second leg, Brondby simply didn’t have the weapons to trouble us. They had only managed two shots at goal in the first 90 minutes, and even on home soil would not pose a significant threat. Hamish Jack, I expected, would have another quiet evening. Speaking of which, the following night allowed Rachel and I that rarest of gifts, a free night together. After playing with the girls and putting them to bed - later than usual now the school holidays were in full flow - we opened a bottle of wine, turned on the TV, and simply enjoyed the opportunity to kick back, relax and share each other’s company. It was always the little things that I had missed thanks to my chosen profession, and it made the small moments all the more enjoyable. Particularly when, the following morning, I had to deal with a disgruntled Macedonian and an Argentine striker who wanted more money than we were prepared to offer him. Having that kind of thought circulating in my mind before going to bed does not often make for a good night’s sleep, but at least on this occasion I had a couple of glasses of wine to give slumber the advantage. Mile Jovanovski could wait.
  8. I smiled as I pulled my phone out of my pocket. It was Terry McPhillips, reporting back on the latest friendly - his first in complete control - away at Romsey Town, the tiny amateur outfit from the village Bethan and Rebecca went to school in. I’d asked him to send me a summary of events, and the fact that his message contained just four characters told me everything I needed to know. ‘11-0’ was all Terry had to tell me, and I was more than satisfied that even my mixed-up squads were more than enough to overcome local Sunday league clubs. But we had far more work to do if we wanted to make progress in both Europe and the Premier League, and I had been working through the day to bring in backup. It arrived too - in the form of Marc Holland and John Ruane, a double English signing currying favour with the press as well as improving our depth. Marc was a goalkeeper, itching to get his chance after an entire career waiting for Thibaut Courtois to get injured at Chelsea. Now 24 and with just a handful of senior appearances to his name, he was available on a free transfer and would fulfil a mostly similar role at St Mary’s. I had every faith in Hamish Jack to remain our number one between the sticks, but Holland was told he would be given the cup games, and he was happy simply to be assured of some first-team action. Similarly, John Ruane. He had cost us a fee - roughly £6m from champions Manchester City, where he had never made it near the starting line-up - but would again have to be happy with taking up a largely back-up role at first. Still, at just 21 he had time on his side, and my scouts had seen in Ruane the potential to be something special if the stars aligned. He would not solve our striking problems, nor would his signing particularly excite the fans, but he would do a job for now and a more important in the future. Both men went straight into the line-up for Terry’s next friendly, and John got himself on the scoresheet twice in a 7-0 crushing of another amateur outfit in Totton & Eling. Linked to Marc’s arrival, gameday also saw my first transfer request - now third-choice goalkeeper Jason Taylor suggesting that he would be unhappy sitting so low down the pecking order. It was a fair request to make - I had no desire to ruin the man’s career - and so I accepted his wishes, offering him around to a number of clubs I was led to believe might be looking for a goalkeeper. Two days later, his bags were packed for Yeovil, and we had £700k more in the kitty and were a goalkeeper lighter. Just a week out from our first leg against Brondby, there was still plenty of work to be done, but I was at least feeling confident that we would have enough for the Danish side. “How disappointed will you be if you don’t make it to the groups?” As ever, my wife was both optimistic and confident in my ability to take a hit. “I’ll be disappointed - I won’t pretend otherwise darling. But I think the board would be more concerned than me, it’s always tricky when you’ve just taken over a club to make a system work.” “So it’s the league that’s most important?” “Oh definitely. There’ll only be trouble if we mess up over the year, Krueger seems like a man who knows how things work and he’s not one of these owners who changes manager every year. As long as we’re in the right area at Christmas, I’ll get a new contract.” “Is that the aim?” “Until it arrives, yes. When it does - that’s when we start planning for the long haul.”
  9. The players who had already returned from the World Cup were called into Staplewood to watch the final. Not just because I felt the need to actually meet with some of the players I had yet to introduce myself to, but because Southampton had a representative in the biggest match in world football. Michael Faure had missed out on the French squad to go to the States, but would be cheering on his team-mates from the South Coast as they headed out at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. For everybody else in the training, their support would be firmly with the underdog in what was one of the biggest stories in the modern era. Against all the odds, despite being faced with Turkey, Russia and Italy in the knock-out rounds, Saphir Taider’s Algeria had reached the World Cup final. Of course, Taider was officially no longer a Saint after the mutual termination of his contract, but after a decade at the club he was very much part of the family, and the very fact it was Algeria that had made it to the final made it easy for us to give him our support. There were plenty of plotlines to keep the journalists writing - not least the colonial history between the two sides - but an Algerian victory would be one of the biggest upsets in sporting history. Sadly, it was not to be, and Faure was the one celebrating at the full-time whistle after a comprehensive 3-0 drubbing of the North African side. A day later - and in a completely unrelated development - the same man would find himself out of the club and indeed the country, Milan placing a simply bid we simply could not reject for a player who fitted into our system only in his secondary position. For £20m plus clauses, he was very welcome to discuss terms. The following day, by search for funds was over - as well as Faure’s fee hitting our bank account, we collecting another £10m with the sales of Chris Alexander - an unimpressive young winger who managed to draw interest from Nottingham Forest - and Constantino Moretti, who was bound for to join Cho Jin-Ho at Napoli. Neither would be a huge miss to use, and the money was very welcome. It also meant that I had a significant amount remaining in the transfer kitty, and so my scouts were now given specific instructions to be more demanding in their assessments. We could afford to be a bit more picky, a little more exacting in our search for new players. If we wanted to be competing at the top end of the Premier League, we needed the best. Now, we had the money to go out and get them. As if to prove that point, we were informed by UEFA - at such an early stage club dignitaries are not even invited to the draw - that our opponents for the third round of Europa League qualifying had been decided. Instead of the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Juventus - the sides some of our departing players would be facing this season - we would be bidding to battle our way past Danish side Brondby and reach the play-off for the group stages. It was not glamorous, and we would need to work to make it to the top.
  10. “It’s an awful lot of money for two teenagers, isn’t it Owain? I don’t want to stand in your way, but you need to be sure of these two.” Ralph Krueger was understandably concerned given the numbers involved. At the end of the first week in July, I was asked him to sign off on the best part of £10m to sign two teenagers who between them had made just six senior appearances. Yet, I was convinced they would be worth it. The bulk of the cash would be spent on Welsh 16-year-old Lloyd Collins, who had come through the system at Blackburn. Oozing with talent at such a young age, he was already perfectly happy either behind the strikers or leading the line, and his vision alone made him a very exciting prospect. The fact that he would add to our Welsh contingent did him no harm in my eyes either. The remaining £3m would be spent on the slightly older Lilian Bouillot of Monaco, who was both fed up of waiting to break into the first team in the principality and seeking to increase the size of his paycheck. A strong centre-back, physically imposing and happy with the ball at the his feet, I expected he would develop into a top-level defender. My reassurances meant that the chairman was happy to sign the deals off, and although both deals would be staggered to soften the immediate blow, they would take a decent chunk out of my budget. The need for further reinforcement was emphasised when another mixed line-up struggled past non-league Barnet in my second game in charge, and I was left waiting to see how else I would be able to raise funds for further moves. Before anyone else joined us however, we would wave a temporary goodbye to three more of our young talents. Alisan Toc, Danny Wilson and Matthew Piggott also made their way away on loan for the season, setting up camp in Huddersfield, Hull and Hillsborough respectively for the upcoming Championship season. I wished them all well, and had genuine high hopes for the first two of the three. Piggott, I believed, was at his natural level with Wednesday. Away from the club, Rachel had already found a teaching course to enrol on, bypassing the local college route and finding a private tutor who promised to qualify her as a TESOL teacher within a month. There were only four others in her class, and if she took to it in the same way she had to the MBA, I had no doubt that it would not be long before she was discussing verb conjugations and conditional clauses with people from all over the world. She seemed genuinely excited about the prospect of giving something back to the local community, and while there weren’t too many in the Chilworth area that I could imagine being pleased with visiting asylum seeker, Rachel had visions of developing close friendships and introducing some of her students to the family if things worked out. Thankfully, she took my joke about me having work permit problems in good heart - it seemed she was putting a lot of mental energy into her latest venture. The timing worked too - the girls were a week away from the school holidays, which seemed strange given that we had only just landed in Southampton, and with pre-season kicking in, Rachel would have her hands full. I would try and do my part, in part by sending Terry McPhillips away with the team to some of the smaller friendlies, but I would be a very busy man, and my wife knew it. She was happy with it too, which meant a lot.
  11. Eight to One - A trip into the unknown

    Can I resign now with a shred of dignity intact, or do I have to go through the formality of relegation?..
  12. Kenilworth Road is perhaps not the venue every football manager dreams of visiting, nor is it necessarily the place you would expect to begin life as a Premier League boss, but for me it was certainly the latter. The first friendly match of a long pre-season would be round the top of the M25 in Bedfordshire, in a town many regard as one of the UK’s least attractive. Short of being the gateway to Eastern Europe courtesy of Ryanair, Luton does not have an awful lot going for it. Nevertheless, as I took my place in the dugout for my first game as Saints manager, I felt nervous. Not necessarily nervous at the prospect of losing to a League Two side - embarrassing though it would be, we were fielding a team with an average age of 22 - but simply nervous at stepping up, at owning the position I had been entrusted with. Of living up to Krueger’s faith. Those nerves were settled as early as the sixth minute, a decent crowd in the stadium watching on as Alisan Toc floated a cross from the right onto the head of Nestor Mina, who made no mistake with the finish from 10 yards out. The handful of travelling away fans applauded enthusiastically as our Ecuadorian striker trotted back to the halfway line for kick-off, and in a 120-year-old stadium in the shadow of the UK’s fifth-busiest airport, the Owain Williams era at Southampton was underway. Mina’s goal remained the difference at the break as my side adapted to the midfield box formation, and a raft of half-time substitutions - allowing me to get a closer look at some of the youth players I had inherited - meant the second period was a little more disjointed. It was one of the replacement, Romanian teenager Dan Cosma, who shone in the second period, supplying the passes for Mina’s second and third goals, and I made a mental note to keep an eye on him in the future. A left winger by trade, he had excelled behind the strikers, and I wondered whether his future might lie in the attacking midfield position. The score at 3-0 the final whistle blew, and I shook hands heartily with my opposite number. Steve Mildenhall’s side had given him no reason to be either angry or upset, and had put on a reasonable showing against a club three divisions higher than them. I told him as much, he wished me well for the rest of the season, and we got out of Luton as quickly as we could. The press were, of course, waiting back at St Mary’s, although this time it was a single reporter from the local Daily Echo. Ryan Taggart was the man tasked with getting a few lines for the next morning’s edition, and for once I was faced with a journalist who wasn’t determined to drag me through the mud. As such, I gave him my time. The next day’s back page led with ‘Williams: You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,’ which while a little bit over the top, was followed by an accurate write-up of our little interview. It was good to kick things off with a win, Mina and Cosma looked sharp, we’d be better once we’d bedded in the new system, and I was still working on more new signings. Nothing earth-shattering, but Ryan had done a good job and hadn’t tried to twist my words. I made a note to tell the press office to take it easy on him.
  13. The next week, mercifully, was somewhat less chaotic. There was still player movement, but nothing like the mayhem of that first day of transfer madness. I was actually able to spend some time with Rachel in the midst of all the movements, and as the summer began to arrive - June thus far had been horribly wet - we were able to enjoy the local area as a family, Bethan and Rebecca exploring our local park with some gusto. In that week, we saw four players move on from St Mary’s - two temporarily and two for good. For the next seven months, Steve Phillips and Adam Roberts would ply their trade in the Championship with Hull and Aston Villa respectively, hopefully getting a taste of first-team football and developing into young men who could do a job in our first team. The more permanent farewells, however, were harder. Neither Saphir Taider nor Nicolas Isimat-Marin had done anything wrong as such, but they were at the wrong end of their careers and were taking home a not insignificant amount home each week in wages. Ralph Krueger had given me the go-ahead to move the pair on, and when there were no takers - even on a free transfer, which surprised me - he took the step of cancelling their contracts and releasing them back into the marketplace. The reactions of the two could not have been more different. Our French defender, for the last four years little more than a backup player, was not happy. He didn’t speak to me directly, but our chairman informed me that he had been accused of ruining Nicolas’ family, of breaking his son’s heart and of ending his career. I expected a full-length revenge interview in something like L’Equipe, but it never came. Perhaps he realised he was not doing his future employment prospects any favours. On the other hand, Taider seemed almost liberated by the decision. Even at 34, he was a key part of the Algeria squad which, over in the USA, had defied the odds to not only make it out of the group stage but then upset Turkey to progress to the quarter-finals. Ever the professional, Saphir copied me in on a message to the chairman, thanking us for removing the uncertainty from his mind and allowing him to focus on his national team. He would line up against Russia in the next round and would likely see his World Cup end there, but I admired his drive to win. There would be one more deal to be done in the final week of June, with us arranging a deal with Mexican side Atlas to bring teenage holding man Jorge Romo to the club on his 18th birthday. In the climate of the day, £1.8m hardly represented a gamble on a player who looked like he had huge potential to grow into, and Romo himself had jumped at the chance to move to Europe so early in his career. Our youth coaches would take good care of him, I was sure. There were still plenty more irons in the fire, but with three days between the Romo deal and my first match in charge of the club - a low-key trip to Luton without any of our World Cup stars - there was finally an opportunity to take a day away from the office. Terry McPhillips was handed the emergency phone for the day and told to get away from the place as well, and Rachel and I even managed to find a quiet little restaurant to enjoy lunch together with the girls at school. I wasn’t even that well recognised at this stage. By the time we had finished and left for home, I had a far greater idea of Rachel’s own hopes and dreams for life in Hampshire. At 44 she still felt she was far too young to consider the life of luxury as an option - even though my first month in the new job would have set us up nicely for a long time to come. But at the same time, the idea of rushing out into the world of work again, leaving the kids to fend for themselves on occasion, simply didn’t appeal. So, she was planning on taking the most logical path in her eyes - getting more involved with the school up in Romsey, and getting herself stuck in with a local social enterprise that aimed to teach basic English to newly-arrived asylum seekers. She had made a few enquiries into entry-level teaching courses, and expected she could effectively volunteer as a part-time job, giving her the flexibility to make sure she could spend time at home and with the girls as necessary. Despite having been married some 17 years, I could not help admire the size of my wife’s heart. First and foremost, she was a mother, and Bethan and Rebecca occupied top priority whatever she was doing. And yet, despite our bank balance being able to fund the girls for their entire lives, yet alone ourselves, her sense of responsibility and determination to help people meant she couldn’t simply do nothing. She was prepared to give up her own leisure for the sake of others she hadn’t yet met and shared nothing in common with, and I couldn’t help but love her all the more for it.
  14. June 17th 2026 will forever be remembered as one of the busiest days of my life. When I arrived home at around 10pm, Rachel embraced me as a lost child. I had been in touch with her throughout the day, letting her know exactly when I was expecting to be back, but even that didn’t do anything about the fact that I was worked a ridiculous number of hours and missed my family. I would operate from home the next day. It started with a confirmation of the Terakawa deal, our Japanese winger formally moving to Valencia for £12m at the opening of the Spanish transfer window, and giving my transfer fund a handy boost ahead of silly season. Looking at his highlight reel, Terakawa had been an excellent player for the Saints, but the statistics told another story - 68 games, eight goals and just five assists for a flying winger. Perhaps he would be better off in Spain. Next came bad news - 15-year-old striker Liam Williamson, identified by my scouts as probably the most talented young forward in England, turned us down. Our bid of £1.5m had been reluctantly accepted by Crystal Palace, but so had corresponding offers from Manchester United, Chelsea and Newcastle. In the end, the teenager had plumped to stay in London, and his signature slipped from our fingers. We would have to be quicker next time. Next, a call from Ralph Krueger, and a very pleasant one. The news, straight from the early-morning board meeting, was that there had been a unanimous agreement to improve the club’s facilities, and an investment of no less than £5m would be made in both the first-team and academy set-ups. Krueger assured me that there would next to no disruption at Staplewood, and that I would simply be able to enjoy the advantage of improved facilities in just over a year. That was a long time to wait for anything, but I was not about to look such a gift horse in the mouth. Bad news followed good. Tottenham had been back in touch, and incredibly they were willing they were willing to meet my somewhat ambitious asking price on Nishikawa, meaning we faced the prospect of losing both of our Japanese internationals. Indeed, not only did we end up losing them both, we ending up losing them both on the same day. My last phonecall of the day was from Nishikawa’s agent, confirmed that the paperwork from Spurs was on its way, personal terms had been agreed, and if I could add my own signature they would take care of things with the FA. It had been very, very quick, and I wondered how much contact there had been before the green light from myself. Having received the best part of £35m in a single day, we then proceeded to go and spend almost all of it within the same 24 hours. Sky Sports News had practically send up camp outside Staplewood by the time I managed to shove a sandwich down my throat for lunch, and from what Rachel told me when I got home, the official fans’ forum online was going wild with a mixture of anger, excitement and confusion as the news filtered through. The biggest, and arguably most important of the signings, particularly given Nishikawa’s unexpected departure, was that of Leighton Hodge. Such was his importance that his agent too insisted on the six-figure salary that was quickly becoming a feature of my defensive line. At 25 years old, Hodge had been a mainstay of the Swansea side that was now firmly cemented in midtable, a rock at the heart of their notoriously-mean defence, and now he was a Saint. He had not come cheap - as well as taking home £100k each week, he would set us back a cool £21m over the next four years, with around £4m of the fee dependent on his performances, and made him one of the most expensive Welshmen of all time. My compatriot already had plenty of international caps, and personally I hoped that, under my tutelage, he would be able to lead the Dragons to further success. As we parted with two Japanese stars, so we ended the day with two more Welshmen. Having already sealed the Hodge deal, just two hours later I was able to send details to the FA of a second of my countrymen. Of the three signings that June 17th brought with it, this was the one that caught the attention of most of our fans. Perhaps it was because we won the battle against Arsenal, who had made their admiration known, or perhaps it was simply because the average supporter cares far more about attacking players than defensive reinforcement. Either way, Ross Ifan, a wonderfully creative player at home behind the strikers, would be an excellent addition to our first-team squad, and at just £8m from Celtic was an absolute bargain. The 25-year-old’s wage demands were somewhat more moderate than his compatriot’s - perhaps a due to the relative poverty of the Scottish leagues compared to the English top flight - at £60k per week, and both our Welsh contingent and starting line-up was coming together. The cheapest of the three at a mere £2.8m from boyhood club Sao Paulo was holding midfielder and part-time centre-back Carlos Henrique. And, if my scout’s reports were anything to go by, we had an absolute steal on our hands. One of the fittest players I had ever seen, Henrique could run box-to-box for 90 minutes and more, had the strength to match his impressive stamina, and could time a tackle with the best of them. He would be the perfect man to shield our back four, and at just 21 years old, we may just have solved our problem for the next decade. Of all the deals done on that manic day, his was the one I was most pleased with. Three in, two out, and an upgrade to our training facilities made for an interesting day, a long day, and a shattering one. It didn’t take me long to fall asleep, but in the brief reflection I did manage, it had been a very good one.
  15. As I had both expected and hoped, the press loved the Shaw deal. It was the story they wanted - the former Galactico returning to his boyhood club - combined with the new manager making his mark on the club. Some pitched it as a move to appease the fans, some of whom had expected a higher-profile appointment, others wrote it up as a work of genius on my part, but everybody covered it. The unveiling was, despite the World Cup going on across the Atlantic, very well attended indeed. “Owain, what was it about Luke that made you move so quickly for him?” An easy one to start. “I think anyone who has ever seen Luke play can answer that - he’s one of the finest left-backs this country has ever produced. He’s a brilliant defender, offers a great deal of threat going forward, and comes with more than a decade of top level experience that he can share with the rest of the squad. He was always the ideal signing in my mind.” “Did you consider the fans’ reaction to the deal?” “Of course - I would never sign a player that the fans directly opposed. But in Luke’s case that was always secondary - I’m sure the Saints fans will welcome him back with open arms. I’m sure he won’t mind me telling you this, but one of the things that helped convince him come back was the passion he remembered from his last time at St Mary’s and the support they give the team, so in many ways they’ve helped seal this transfer.” “Why do you think Real Madrid were so willing to sell to you?” “Real Madrid are a huge club, arguably the biggest in the world, and they can buy any player they lay their eyes on. They often do, and we’ve seen that with their spending this summer. Their manager is under pressure to sign big names, and when you do that, other players get pushed out. As far as I’m concerned it says nothing about Luke’s ability.” “And can we expect to see other players coming in the days ahead?” “I can’t give you any details, but there will be others arriving over the summer, yes.” The media turned their attention to Shaw, who to this point had simply posed with the shirt and had his picture taken. “Luke, welcome back to Southampton. This must be a little strange for you, being back here?” “I’m not sure strange is the word, but it’s been a long time and I’m not sure I ever expected it. When Mr Williams here gave me the call though, I was very excited to come back.” “Do you not feel it was the easy way out for you? Faced with competition at Real, you run to a club where, in the fans’ eyes at least, you can do no wrong?” Shaw’s brows furrowed. “I’m not sure that’s fair to me or Southampton. I spent six brilliant years in Madrid, but at this point in your career you have to be looking for first-team football otherwise your body will give up. I had every opportunity to do that at Real - I started more games than not last season - but when your first club comes calling you don’t say no. Mr Williams gave me a vision of a club on the up, and that’s something I’m keen to be a part of.” “You’re the first signing of many if your manager is to be believed - does that put you off at all coming into such an uncertain environment?” “No, it doesn’t. As I’ve just said, I believe in the direction the club is going, and I trust the boss to make that happen whoever my team-mates are.” “Finally Luke, what do think your England chances are like now you’re back in the Premier League?” “That’s not at the front of my mind at the moment, but of course I’d love to keep going for England. Being in the country and in front of the management team every week will help, but there are plenty of options so it’ll be up to Neil Lennon as to who gets the nod.” Shaw had done well, and after a few more photographs I told him so. He was understandably a little frustrated at the negativity coming from the press, but I already knew him well enough to know that he wouldn’t let it get to him. I had a fine defender on the books, and it was a good feeling.
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