With the club in 15th place at the time, having picked up just five wins all season, the innocent bystander could’ve been forgiven for shrugging off the Italian businessman’s proposition as completely over-ambitious, but those quick to jump to such a conclusion should perhaps rethink their stance before making their opinion known.
Historically, Southampton have only ever been close to breaking into the English elite on a few occasions, with a 1984 top-flight second-place finish looking lonely amongst only two other top-six finishes, both in the 80s, when the club boasted such megastars as Kevin Keegan and Peter Shilton.
Recently they’ve been through some tough times though, before the achievement of consecutive promotions in 2011 and 2012 to return back to the Premier League after seven years out brought the fans back to life. They’re currently contained in a relegation dogfight, just as everyone expected them to be, but that’s not to say that fans and critics aren’t starting to take notice of little old Southampton.
Take a look at the facts – as of the 2011/12 season end, the estate of deceased former owner Markus Liebherr was worth £3 billion, behind just four other Premier League club owners; the club’s academy is notorious for producing world-class players almost every year (look no further than Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale for recent examples); and the team under new manager Mauricio Pochettino constantly plays attractive high-tempo football which has seen the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool, and Man City fall in recent weeks.
With so many emerging young players, too, the future looks bright for the undisputed biggest club on the south coast, just so long as Cortese and co. can fight off the unavoidable interest in players from giants like Man United and Arsenal when presented with such challenges.
Recent long-term contract completions are promising, but the club needs to ensure progress is made towards their stated ambitions in order to keep hotly tipped youngsters like Luke Shaw and Nathaniel Clyne on their books, and not at one of the big London clubs they so often feed.
Looking further into the statistics, no one can avoid the media frenzy over French midfield maestro Morgan Schneiderlin as one of the top ball-winners and passers in Europe, and the cries of “Lambert for England” are increasing weekly as the striker pulls further away from names like Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney on the top scorers list.
If you don’t like to play the statistics game, look no further than the team’s tenacious performances against most of the top teams in recent weeks and months for proof that Southampton are certainly willing to fight for their status, although their displays against sides they perhaps ‘should’ be beating leaves something to be desired.
The entry into the top quarter of the table is not so much of a daunting task as it perhaps used to be. Gone are the times of the United-Chelsea-Liverpool-Arsenal ‘big four’ dominance – now teams like Everton, Spurs, and even West Brom and Swansea are in for a shout of the European places, and there’s no reason why Southampton can’t be among this fighting group.
The key for them, it seems, is to place a strong foundation upon which to build with inspired imports and consistent performances, not off-the-cuff signings of unproven Zambian strikers or dropped points against fellow strugglers.
Cortese seems to know what he’s doing, and he’s not put a foot wrong yet in the Hampshire club’s domination of the Football League in recent years, so who are we to question his claims of a top-six finish?
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