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COMMENT: Ice cool Koeman impresses on first media grilling
Ronald Koeman was not to know it.
But the last time the St Mary’s press room was as packed and literally sweating under the weight of so many journalists as yesterday was for Mauricio Pochettino stating his intention to continue as Saints manager and to assure fans that players would not be sold.
How quickly things seem to have changed.
Less than six months later, some 30 or so media folk were in attendance for the debut of the Dutchman.
It was a baptism of fire for Koeman.
The press conference had been scheduled for a week previously, but was delayed at Koeman’s request.
It was quite understandable.
There are complex issues at play inside Saints at the moment.
He was going to get grilled on them and wanted time to get to grips with them himself before going public.
It paid off.
Koeman was calm, composed, articulate and hugely impressive on his first media outing as Saints boss.
If there was a desperate need for Saints fans to have something to cling onto in what has been a pretty horrible summer, then the dapper Dutchman delivered it.
We all knew about Koeman the player, a genuine great of the game, one of the best central defenders of all time.
We had heard about Koeman the manager.
What we saw firsthand was Koeman the man, and he came across brilliantly well.
It cannot have been easy for him.
To walk into a club that was teetering on crisis was a demanding ask.
Things had been allowed to drift so horribly for so long.
That the club tried to appease Pochettino for several weeks and months before the end of the season created a terrible vacuum.
So much trouble had already brewed by the time he eventually left that putting the toothpaste back in the tube was an option that had long since passed.
For all the rights and wrongs of that situation, though, Saints and Les Reed have appointed well in getting in Koeman.
And if the players cannot have respect for him after his playing career, then they will never respect anyone.
With Lambert, Lallana and Shaw all having departed, Lovren and Osvaldo causing some serious headaches – and still that nagging worry that others may pipe up and ask to leave – these are tough times indeed.
Koeman, though, seems to have as good a grip on things as he can at this early stage, and to his credit he spoke about as honestly and openly as you could have reasonably expected.
Of course, we heard the pleasantries about coming to such a wonderful league and the desire to play attractive football, but Koeman delivered more than that.
He was put under immense pressure when it came to the club’s decision to sell players, and the futures of others that are very much in the spotlight. He remained unruffled.
The afternoon kicked off with the broadcast media getting their chance.
They certainly gave Koeman a warming up for what was to come.
They were quick to ask about Lovren and Osvaldo.
But it was nothing compared to what was about to hit Koeman as the cameras were switched off and he faced the written press.
It’s always an interesting dynamic at play, as the soundbites are drilled into and picked apart.
There were a few contradictions, but in fairness to Koeman they are vagaries of football.
Mainly, they surrounded Lovren and the like.
“We are not a selling club,” insisted Koeman.
It was not an argument that stacked up well, not only over the entire history of Southampton FC, but also recently after having sold three of their best players in the past few weeks.
Saints haven’t sold anyone for ten days or so, but that probably doesn’t qualify them to be described as ‘not a selling club’.
Koeman also suggested at one point that there would be no more departures, but later had to concede that nobody was quite sure what was going to happen with Lovren.
It’s a tough situation, he is on the back foot in many ways, and it’s not his fault.
It does all prove once again what many people have been saying for so long – selling players might not be nice but if there are ones who don’t want to be here, get them gone, get the money in and let Koeman have the maximum amount of time to spend it.
What Saints fans want to hear is not about which player is the next who wants to go. They want to know who is coming in.
The one opportunity that all these problems do create is the chance for Koeman to come in and build his team straight away.
He doesn’t need to manage someone else’s squad, he can put his own stamp on things.
The way things are going, at least half the first team next season will probably be new signings anyway.
Koeman used one lovely turn of phrase about being able to smell the dressing room and what is going on with the players.
It was beautifully put.
It may have been lost on many but is a tiny insight into what Koeman brings.
That vast experience at the very top level as a player means he knows what the game is about.
As bemused as he did look that players who sign long term and lucrative contracts will do anything they need to in an attempt to get a move, he understands what happens in the world of football.
He has been a star player and other clubs have coveted him.
He has made big moves, and he knows what effect it can have on those who remain behind also.
“It’s important that the rest of the players have to keep that ambition,” he insisted.
“They are happy to be players of Southampton and I promised them and I promise the fans when we start the season we have a very good team.”
That team, he added, would have a good body of English players, and he wants to use youngsters too.
“I am a manager who likes to see my team playing good football. I think that’s important,” he said encouragingly.
“I like to play attractive. It’s one of the philosophies of Southampton Football Club and I like to bring in young players.”
They may not be the words that hit the headlines but, right now, it’s exactly what Saints fans want to hear.
Koeman stared down the barrel but rose from his seat after nearly 40 minutes looking just like he did when he sat down at the beginning.
It is a new era and the first public examination was passed with flying colours.