Southampton’s tremendous transformation has formed one of the most admirable and astounding stories in English football. The saints have gone from being on the brink of vanishing to competing in Europe in just eight seasons and they continue to rise and march on.
Rewind to April 2009, Southampton were placed into administration and they were facing the prospect of playing in the third division for the first time in 50 years. Parts of the stadium were closed off and star players such as Gareth Bale and Kenwyne Jones departed to reduce costs.
It was an extreme mess at the St Marys’ Stadium and one of England’s high-profile clubs were on the brink of turning to dust. It was unimaginable baring in mind the likes of Alan Shearer and Matt Le Tissier had worn the famous red and white stripped jerseys.
There was an initial proposal for club legend Matt Le Tissier to rescue the club from extinction but famous business owner Markus Liebherr proved to be the hero. Southampton cleared their financial debts and planned for the future by making various key signings and several important decisions to benefit the club in the long term.
One of the biggest names in Southampton’s journey back into the top flight was English striker Rickie Lambert. The former Southampton striker had played for various clubs in the lower divisions but he finally received the opportunity to perform on the biggest stage, it was just a matter of earning it.
Under the management of Alan Pardew, Southampton climbed into seventh place despite starting the season with a 10-point deduction. Tragedy struck at the beginning of the following season when Liebherr tragically died in August 2010.
Fortunately, plans were put in place prior to Liebherr’s death to assure the club’s future. His daughter Katharina Liebherr continued to the role of her late father and Nicola Cortese remained in his position of dealing with business matters.
On 30 August 2010, Alan Pardew was sacked by Southampton and Nigel Adkins moved from Scunthorpe United to subsequently succeed him. Under Adkins they earned back-to-back promotions to return to the Premier League at the beginning of the 2012/13 season.
The team has been renowned for selling their top talents in recent seasons but due to their shrewd signings in the transfer market and highly credited youth academy, the saints have continued to rise.
The Story of Southampton
Southampton were one of the founder members of the Premier League and preserved their status until relegation to the Championship in 2005. They were gradually falling down the league table season-by-season and their fate was settled under the management of former Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp.
The rumours surrounding their financial difficulties began to arise during the 2006/07 season. Although Nigel Pearson avoided relegation on two occasions, the club were unable to renew his contract due to financial constraints.
The problems were becoming more evident when they were forced to sell their biggest talents. Gareth Bale and Kenwyne Jones left the club and parts of the stadium were closed off to reduce costs.
In April 2009, Southampton were placed into administration and had already suffered relegation to the third division. They were dealt a double-whammy when they were forced to begin the following season on -10 points.
This made their pursuit for promotion ever more difficult and subsequently led to them missing out on the opportunity to return to the Championship immediately. A buyer was required immediately and Matt Le Tissier looked to form a bid to rescue his beloved saints.
Unfortunately the deal never materialised but famous business owner Markus Liebherr emerged the new buyer of Southampton Football Club. He immediately sacked first team manager Mark Wotte and replaced him with Alan Pardew.
Rickie Lambert joined from Bristol Rovers, Jason Puncheon signed from Plymouth Argyle and Portuguese defender Jose Fonte swapped Crystal Palace for Southampton at the beginning of their first season in League One.
Liebherr had changed things at Southampton and their originally bleak future was beginning to look extremely bright. Their owner also appointed Italian businessman Nicola Cortese to deal with business matters.
Saints finished in seventh place in League One and only seven points outside the play-off places. Although they were unable to secure promotion, Southampton beat Carlisle United in the Johnstone Paint Trophy at Wembley to win their first trophy since 1976.
The tragic news emerged of owner Markus Liebherr’s death at the beginning of the following season and the role of their hero was handed down to his daughter Katharina. Alan Pardew was relieved of his duties and Nigel Adkins joined from Scunthorpe to succeed him.
Southampton won promotion back to the Championship, finishing second and three points behind leaders Brighton and Hove Albion. Young stars Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Morgan Schneiderlin were impressing at the St Marys’ Stadium during the 2010/11 season.
On their return to the Championship, Southampton were beaten to the league title by Reading. The saints confirmed their promotion with a 4-0 win at home to Coventry City. which attracted the highest recorded attendance for the club that season.
Players such as Jay Rodriguez, Nathaniel Clyne, Steven Davis, Gaston Ramirez and Maya Yoshida joined in the summer. Nigel Adkins was sacked in January 2013 with the team sitting in 15th place and embroiled in a relegation battle.
Former Espanyol manager Mauricio Pochettino replaced him and guided them to a 14th place finish. They also enjoyed memorable home wins against Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City in the 2012/13 season.
The team progressed immensely during the 2013/14 season and Pochettino led them to an 8th place finish in the league table. Things changed heavily at the end of the season with Pochettino leaving for Tottenham Hotspur and former Feyenoord manager Ronald Koeman replacing him.
Ronald Koeman made some very effective signings during the summer transfer window bringing in Graziano Pelle, Dusan Tadic, Shane Long, Ryan Bertrand, Fraser Forster, Toby Alderweireld and Sadio Mane.
It was a record breaking season for Southampton, who recorded their highest ever league finish when they climbed into 7th place. Saints also won 8-0 against Sunderland to record highest ever win in the Premier League and Sadio Mane scored the quickest hat-trick in Premier League history in 176 seconds against Aston Villa.
Mid-way into Koeman’s first season at the club, Nicola Cortese left his role as club chairman. The owner originally took charge of the role but gave the role to Ralph Krueger after a short spell in charge.
Southampton qualified for the Europa League but were subsequently knocked out in the play-off round against FC Midtylland. More departures occurred with Nathaniel Clyne and Morgan Schneiderlin leaving St Marys’. Toby Alderweireld also decided not to extend his season-long loan deal and left Atletico Madrid for Premier League rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
Koeman continued to improvise in the transfer market and pulled off another master class with the signings of Cedric, Virgil Van Dijk and Oriol Romeu. Southampton went onto break their record for the highest league finish to finish sixth place and automatically qualify for the Europa League.
The club have continued to sell players, Victor Wanyama and Sadio Mane departed at the beginning of the current season. Ronald Koeman also swapped Southampton for Everton and they appointed former OGC Nice manager Claude Puel.
Nathan Redmond, Sofiane Boufal, Manolo Gabbiadini, Charlie Austin and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg were signed before and during Puel’s reign. Southampton exited the Europa League at the group stages but advanced to the EFL Cup final.
They are set to achieve another top half finish and were unfortunate to suffer defeat to Manchester United in the EFL Cup final at Wembley. They continue to prove their critics wrong and the club’s foundations help assure a very bright future.