'We're aiming for Europe' - full interview with Saints chairman Ralph Krueger (From Basingstoke Gazette)
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Southampton chairman Ralph Krueger talks about the departure of Mauricio Pochettino, the search for a new manager, and plans for the summer transfer window
It’s been a rollercoaster few weeks for the new Saints chairman Ralph Krueger.
In the short time since the end of the season the man only appointed in March has seen massive bids come in for his star players, manager Mauricio Pochettino quit the club for Tottenham and come in for a bit of flack for keeping fans in the dark.
However, despite the trying times, Krueger fronted up and gave the Daily Echo’s chief sports writer, Adam Leitch, a one-on-one interview at St Mary’s.
No topic was banned from discussion as Krueger answered all the burning questions at Saints.
Here we bring the uncensored and unabridged transcript direct to you:
Q: It’s been a tough few days, what are your emotions and reflections at the moment?
A: I have to say we have moved forward very quickly with our management team after the decision from Pochettino. We have been clear in our communication that we are already working towards a solution so I am actually full of adrenaline right now. It’s a challenge we are taking head on and we wake up today actually excited about the future.
Q: Can you outline what has happened to lead to Mauricio leaving and what attempts you made to keep him here?
A: I have to underline that we did everything possible for a long period of time to keep Pochettino here. Clearly a contract was offered. At the same time we didn’t colour code anything, we were very honest in the process and he made his decision and we respect that and move on.
The importance of finding a new manager that is completely in line with our vision, our plan, where we want to go and how we want to get there is now our focus.
We feel we did what we could and that the process from our side was extremely transparent.
Q: Do you feel a bit let down by Mauricio?
A: I’m not going to speak for the others on the board but I have been in sports much too long to take anything personally. The only thing that interests us is the further development of the Saints, continuing to drive our vision to take this club into European football, continuing to grow this club. There is not time to feel sorry or feel disappointed or feel anything but excitement about where the club is right now – the strongest position we have ever been in as a club in its history. The work that still needs to be done to build on that is what’s driving us right now.
Q: Les Reed said he was comfortable and happy to wait until the summer to discuss a new contract with Mauricio and he left very soon after the end of the season. Was that tactic a mistake in hindsight?
A: You make your decisions all the time on the information that you have at that point in time. The focus on bringing the product on the field to the fan base, to our followers, was the dominant fact until the end of the Man United game. When we came in as a board we didn’t want to disrupt anything going on around the most important thing in the club, and that’s the football.
We stayed away from the football as much as we needed to and when it was asked we did for the quality of the product on the field. I believe we retained the quality of the product.
We found it extremely important to get the eighth place, we found it extremely important to play right until the finish line, which the club did, and then we began the next process. No, we don’t feel we made any mistakes because that was our focus and so we made all the other decisions connected to that. What was the main focus? football. But on May 12 that focus changed.
We will be eighth place all summer long but now we need to defend that, we need to build on it, so I don’t feel from a timing perspective if we remixed the cards we would do it any different.
Q: When did it become inevitable that Mauricio was going to leave?
A: It’s been a process and I have to say that pretty quickly it was clear and then the negotiations and the legalities of the whole situation consumed us and did drag on the final product.
It was pretty complex, of course, it wasn’t a simple cut.
I realise that now we are communicating and we were not able to in the process. At times we will not be able to communicate in the interests of the club and that’s what happened here but we are ready and well positioned for what is coming now.
Q: If you realised Mauricio was leaving, presumably you started the search for a new manager a while ago?
A: I think all the fans know that I am in a position of learning and growth. I didn’t come in here pretending that I would understand what the chairman role would entail. I have found every day fascinating and exciting and one of the things I have learnt in the last few days is how strong our recruitment and scouting department is. It’s amazing.
The same group, right now 20 people – seven domestic, seven all over Europe and another six plus or minus in the office – in charge of recruitment, analysis and scouting.
What I wasn’t aware of was that they are not actually only doing this for players and building stats and profiles and video footage and data on players, they are doing the same on managers as part of their job.
Without emotion they are continually analysing potential candidates to work here in Southampton.
The interesting thing about that is that they are the same exact group that found Mauricio Pochettino, and at that time I have done some research and realise some people said ‘who? What? Where did he come from?’.
It’s the recruitment process here that is running non-stop that brought him here. This same group has been able to pull out a prospective long list and Les Reed has been inundated by high calibre requests from managers.
He has been bombarded and he needs to process it but at the same time it confirms how Southampton is positioned not only in England but in European football. We are in a really good place, people want to be here, people want to work here.
Players want to play here and we’ve got agents contacting him and not only for managers but for players.
It’s become a destination. People see you can grow and develop here.
So that’s a long answer, but you need to know the same people that found Pochettino have given us information and we are scanning that list right now.
We realise we need to be quick but not hasty...
Q: What is the time frame?
A: There is no date, but we would like to have a long list together as quickly as is healthily possible. The reason is that we would like the new manager to be involved in our player decisions.
We have held off on every single coming and going in respect that we have, and Les Reed especially has, for the new manager, that he can put his stamp on the team and influence the process.
It’s very important that we, once again I want to use the words, have controlled speed and not haste. We are going 24-7 right now and we hope to have a shortlist out there in the very near future. We are speaking days and not weeks.
Q: What can a new manager expect to find at the club with bids in for some of your star players and in terms of transfer funds?
A: First of all it’s very clear that we are in control. We are in control of all the player transfers. All the top players are under long term contracts.
Any transfers that take place will be under our terms. We will decide the terms to potential transfers in and out of the club.
We will involve the manager. That is important for everybody to know. That’s why we have been able to not agree to any transfers to date, because we have control of the situation, and anybody who is saying anything else doesn’t understand that we are in a strong position with the Saints.
Q: Do you need to sell anybody?
A: We do not need to. The fact of the matter is that there are many different factors that make people’s decisions, for instance with Pochettino.
We, after many months now, are extremely pleased with the foundation that we have here. We said from the start that we have to roll up our sleeves and work very hard and we have been doing that behind the scenes. There are some things that aren’t really sexy for the fans but are really important for the health and stability of the club.
We have an outstanding new chief commercial officer in Martin Semmens, the owner and founder of Elvis Communications in London, who’s building our commercial department.
We have Kate Terry, the new head of marketing, moving to us from Apple in London and a new chief financial officer coming.
Our executive board level has been rebuilt with Les (Reed) heading up the sports, Gareth (Rogers) as the CEO and with these two new appointments we have an unbelievable new and strong foundation built on the people we already found here. There’s a lot of good things happening in the club.
Q: People will likely understand that you couldn’t hold onto Mauricio once he told you he wanted to leave. If a senior player comes to you and there is a good offer on the table for them and they say they would like to move, despite a long contract, is it feasible to hold on to them?
A: That’s a very good question and the answer to that question is that the only person in the club who has all the information, and he is gathering it at a high pace right now, is Les Reed.
I want to say again that if transfers in either direction are in the best interest of the club, including all factors, then that’s what we have to do.
You made a good example of a difficult question but to answer that it will be in our mind as to what is best for the Saints and what is the best way for us to build a competitive team for August 16.
You need to consider all factors when you make those decisions and I’m sure Les will do that.
Q: Would a new manager, without player sales, expect to be able to recruit into the squad?
A: There will definitely be some changes to the squad and we have very exciting players tracked and, as much as we would like to give you a shortlist on managers, very soon we like to give you a shortlist on players.
We would like to underline again there is interest from all over Europe, in England and outside of England, with players who have shown interest in coming to Southampton, who want to play here, who see the opportunity of growth through the club.
In the end no one person is bigger than the club. This club is really a place to grow.
You look at the new academy and the first team facilities that are being built and the pitches and the rehab centre and the training centre and the sports science and everything happening out there in the New Forest and you can be nothing but excited about coming to this club and knowing that you will get better.
If it means that the odd player will leave as a result of the good process and the exciting situation we are in, or the manager leaves as ours did, then that is all a compliment to the work we are doing. When people want your people you are doing something right. People have an eye on the good things or the strengths of Southampton Football Club.
Q: In terms of a new manager do you have in mind a type of person – young and ambitious, older and more experienced, or are you open minded?
A: When you say ‘type of person’, this is an organisation that is working on very very deeply rooted values and principles.
They begin with the Liebherr family. Markus passed through to Katharina and they have run through the club now. We have redefined the ‘Southampton Way’ with our people – created by the people for them. As we go forward it’s a really well defined new vision, with strong values that we will eventually bring public and we need a manager who is in line with that, who wants to be an example and live these values right through the first team, into the academy, their training and coaching methods.
We will do everything in our power to find the person to fit that profile so we can’t say right now young or old, we are open to all ethnic backgrounds and all philosophies as long as they fit with the focus on youth, the focus on development, the focus on an exciting end product on the pitch for our fans.
Q: Finally then, there has been a lot of talk of the end of the initial five year plan, what is the plan going forward, the message for the fans and the ambitions you hope to see the club fulfil?
A: The plan is a permanently evolving entity. We have a plan, we are very well structured and organised and have extremely good people heading up that plan.
As we evolve we are continually strengthening and working on that plan.
Everybody needs to remember that we took over a club that had a lot of things off track and off canter, so first of all we needed to stabilise and I believe we have done that...
Q: To be clear, you mean when you took over in January?
A: Yes. It’s only been a few months. The vision has been very clear right through to the last person, and that is to take this club into European football. It is driving everything we do.
Why do we invest the money to have 20 recruiters and scouting staff? Why do we invest in a structure that costs more than £30m for first team training facility and the academy?
It’s because we want to grow, we want to develop and we want to get better and grow and compete with the top clubs in England.
We are going to have to compete our way. We are going to have to do it through youth, through our own player development, and I am going to watch four 19-year-olds from our academy play against Ukraine in the national team and that’s the way we can become a competitive team. That’s the way we can go to Europe.
That vision is driving everything else we do.
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