THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Katharina Liebherr still showing support

icon cortese13 February ~ Nicola Cortese's abrupt departure from Southampton in mid January was generally expected to set off a chain reaction including the immediate resignation of Mauricio Pochettino and a fire sale of players – Jay Rodriguez to Liverpool, Adam Lallana to Manchester United, Rickie Lambert to West Ham and Luke Shaw to Manchester City or Chelsea. The club would then tumble back down through the leagues just as quickly as it had risen under Cortese's tenure. As we now know, none of these has happened and it looks rather like business as usual at St Mary's.

Saints were in administration in 2009 when banker Cortese persuaded one of his wealthy clients, Swiss industrialist Markus Liebherr, to buy the club – which he did on condition that Cortese ran it. Uncertainty abounded when Liebherr died suddenly in August 2010 and ownership of Saints passed to his daughter Katharina. Nevertheless Cortese's aim of returning Saints to the Premier League in five years was achieved in three.

Cortese had in fact resigned in the autumn of 2013 and had been working out his notice period, which expired this January. The common assumption was that Katharina Liebherr wanted to sell the club but there have been no signs that this is the case. Several newspapers portrayed the new owner as a bimbo with no interest in football who was simply looking to cash in on Saints' recent success rather than support Cortese's ambitions. But this ignored the fact that Katharina had funded not only the club's rise to the top half of the Premier League, but also the building of a state-of-the-art training ground and academy facilities.

The most likely explanation for the breakdown in the relationship between Katharina and Cortese was that the former was no longer comfortable with the latter having almost sole control over the running of the club and the way money was spent. The catalyst may have been Vegard Forren, signed from Norwegian club Molde in January 2013 for £4.5 million only to return to Molde on a free transfer eight months later without playing a first-team match. As Nigel Adkins had been dismissed as manager before the signing had been completed it is inconceivable that Forren had been his choice, while Pochettino's unwillingness to use him tells its own story. Cortese must have sanctioned the deal and Katharina will not have been impressed by such profligacy.

Add to this the discarding of Saints' traditional stripes and the fall-outs with Matt Le Tissier and Francis Benali and some Saints fans might be thinking good riddance. That would be unfortunate – Cortese took many brave decisions and most of these have been proven right. That he left the club in a stronger position than when he joined is not just indisputable - it is a massive understatement. Tim Springett

Related articles

Alan Ball: The man in the white boots by David Tossell
Hodder & Stoughton, £20Reviewed by Mark O’BrienFrom WSC 374, March 2018Buy the book Early on in this detailed and warm biography...
Mauricio Pellegrino on defensive as Southampton’s talent well dries up
Embed from Getty Images // The Saints manager seems reluctant to take the handbrake off his team despite his predecessor being sacked for...
Micky Adams: My life in football
by Micky Adams & Neil MoxleyBiteback Publishing, £20Reviewed by Neville HadsleyFrom WSC 372, February 2018Buy the book By his own...