We see it year after year. Sides newly promoted to the Barclays Premier League have one goal - safety. Just to survive in their first year seems to be the holy grail and is at the forefront of most teams' minds. The quest to become an established Premier League side is a great one, fraught with danger, but there are several shining examples of how it can be done.
One just needs to take a look at Portsmouth FC to see how not to go about things. After promotion to the top flight in 2003, Pompey spent a few seasons hovering above the relegation zone before a 9th place finish in the 2006/07 campaign, and then came the "money". Alexandre Gaydamak rocked up at Fratton Park and was labelled the 'new Abramovich', but it transpired that the only thing the men had in common was being Russian (or part-Russian). When you give Harry Redknapp a tonne of money, it usually doesn't end up being spent too well and this was no exception. In came Jermain Defoe, Niko Kranjcar, Lassana Diarra, Papa Bouba Diop, Glen Johnson, Sylvain Distin, David Nugent, Sulley Muntari and John Utaka - all on inflated transfer fees and ludicrous wage deals. Utaka was famously paid more than Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas, earning over £80,000 a week despite being an incredibly poor player.
After the big signings, things looked to be getting better for the south coast side. An 8th place finish was followed up with an FA Cup triumph over Cardiff at Wembley and qualification to the Europa League, but that was as good as it got. Despite their relative success, it was painfully obvious that the manager and board had been too ambitious. Rome wasn't built in a day after all, and if you're not PSG style super-rich, then it's always going to be tough. Redknapp abandoned ship and left for Tottenham. The hugely under-qualified Tony Adams and Paul Hart were both hired and fired and Gaydamak sold his stake at the end of the 2009 season.
Since 2009, the club suffered one winding up order, two administrative periods, three relegations and four different owners. Now languishing in League Two, they are effectively starting again as a new club with the Supporters Trust now in charge. There are numerous reasons why things went wrong at Fratton Park. Portsmouth didn't have the income to fund their big signings as they weren't bringing in enough from attendances, sponsorship or television revenue. Gaydamak funded the club with loans from the bank who asked for it back after the credit crunch hit and he couldn't afford it. Redknapp brought in players who weren't good enough at ridiculous wages that matched sides like Arsenal and Liverpool, but didn't get anywhere near Champions League football.
So, that's how not to build a legacy, but just down the road is the perfect example of how to do it well. Pompey's biggest rivals, Southampton, are putting in place the foundations that should see them remain in the top flight for years to come. Nicola Cortese is investing his money wisely in the red half of the south coast and it's already beginning to pay dividends.
It has only been a year since the Saints were promoted to the Premier League and they now currently sit seventh going in to the Christmas run in. So, where has it all gone right?
Let's start with the manager. There was an absolute outcry from fans and the media when Nigel Adkins, the man who had won Southampton back-to-back promotions, was fired. The general consensus was that Adkins had reached his limit and a new man was needed to push the team further forward. A man whose teams played the right style of football for Southampton's players, who knows the importance of home grown players and most importantly, someone whose impact would change the club and make 'the Southampton Way' as famous as Barcelona or Arsenal's globally revered styles. Step forward Mauricio Pochettino.
Pochettino hasn't radically changed the starting XI and gone crazy bringing in his own players like many of his contemporaries. He has improved the squad by combining new signings with promoted academy players. The players he has brought in are not gambles either. Take centre back Dejan Lovren for example.
After being alerted to the Croat's possible availability, head of recruitment Paul Mitchell ran an incredibly detailed background check, looking at disciplinary history, injury history, personality tests, scouting reports from multiple members of staff and full information from a football analysis company before finally getting the green light from the manager and grabbing Lovren for just £7 million. The defender is now valued at least £20m plus for any prospective buyer and is credited with the Saints' excellent defensive record. The same processes were carried out for the acquisitions of Victor Wanyama and Dani Osvaldo, who have both strengthened the side (Osvaldo needs to find his goal-scoring touch though).
These players, combined with the hard working core of Clyne, Shaw, Lallana, Rodriguez, Schneiderlin and Fonte, have gelled superbly, lifting Southampton up the league and becoming everyone's second team. It's also highly encouraging to see a foreign manager trust and use the academy as much as he has. James Ward-Prowse, Calum Chambers, Lloyd Isgrove and Harrison Reed have all been involved with the squad. It's a great time to be a young player in Southampton's youth setup.
But off the pitch is where the real revolution is happening. Cortese is overseeing a monster re-build of the offices, training pitches and academy in order to create one of the best and most technologically advanced bases in world football. £30million is being plunged in to completely revamp the hub and turn it into a football factory for the best young players in the country.
There will be 12 practice pitches, all with the different combinations of grass and turf the other teams in the league use, so before Southampton play at Manchester United for example, they will train on a pitch that is identical to that of Old Trafford.
The changing rooms are set to be completely overhauled, with a whole new building put in its place for all the age groups to use. Inside the new building will be the 'black box', a room where every game, every team and every player from the seven best leagues in Europe will be analysed by Southampton's team of 26 technical staff. In time, they will have the capacity to monitor leagues all over the world. The refinement means they will never sign a player in a panic on transfer deadline day or splurge unnecessary cash to shore up their defence.
The overall attention to detail is staggering. All players' cars are fitted with winter tires, specially designed beds and mattresses are brought to hotels to ensure players are well rested, each hotel room is individually cleaned using high powered vacuums and equipment, every member of staff and their wives receive birthday cards hand signed by Cortese himself, all staff are encouraged to mix in break rooms rather than stay in their own offices and every computer desktop screen has the fixture list as a background. Before training each player undergoes a saliva test and mental wellness Q&A, junior players receive iPad's with videos of their performance, fitness stats and notes from their coach, and the young sides travel in the first team's huge Starliner coach that dwarfs the ones used by David Moyes and Arsene Wenger on weekends.
It's all these small things adding up together that are already driving Southampton in the direction of becoming a threat for the European places and a beacon of what English football should be like. They are truly an inspiration for how newly promoted clubs should want to be like if they intend to stick around in the Premier League. Instead of wasting money on a brand new squad, improve the infrastructure of the whole club, don't spend money you don't have and make sure your plan is stable and beneficial in the long term rather than just the immediate future.
I'll end this with a quote from Pochettino himself:
'We haven't put a limit on where we can get to. The human mind always thinks that we need to limit our expectations. Why put limits on yourself? You have to strive to work hard and reach the maximum you can achieve.'
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