That Shirt is Way too Big for Him
In amongst the departure of Morgan Schneiderlin and the decision of Toby Alderweireld to follow the money to Spurs, Saints managed to bring in two players and play some pre-season friendlies. In addition to Cedric Soares, Juanmi and Maarten Stekelenburg – first came Cuco Martina who plays for a country I only heard of recently, Curacao. It’s a small Caribbean Island which is ruled by the Dutch and Martina played for FC Twente and is a utility defender but mainly a right back. It appears he has been bought for cover, primarily at right back where we got pretty lucky last year with only having Nathaniel Clyne. This is not a comment on how good or bad Martina is as a player because I’ve never seen him play but I know that we have a policy at the club with having a pathway for youngsters. How does signing a foreign player as cover fit in with this? I guess it depends how much better he is than Jason McCarthy or any of the other youngsters who play at right back.
There are no question marks on the face of it however about the signing of Jordy Clasie from Feyenoord who you’d think would be as sick of the sight of us as we are of Spurs and Liverpool. For something between £7 million and £10 million, Clasie follows Koeman and Pellè down the path from De Kuip to St Mary’s but the Dutch are used to seeing their players depart for the English league and just have thanks rather than any animosity towards their former heroes. Part of this is cultural but the other factor is that their players don’t act like total pricks when they move and don’t disrespect the club in any way...Adam, Dejan, Mauricio...
Clasie will slot in where Morgan Schneiderlin was, next to Big Vic. He’s a combative midfielder with an eye for a pass and has 11 caps for Holland, playing as a defensive midfielder or slightly farther forward. His tenacity and technique makes up for the fact that he’s only 5 foot 6 and a bit so I guess the presence of Big Vic is vital as you can’t imagine Clasie and Harrison Reed being in the same midfield too often as our opponents would think they had accidentally run into a production of Gulliver’s Travels. Clasie of course credited Koeman massively for the progression in his career when Ronald was manager at Feyenoord and his first interview was class in that it of course mentioned the manager but also that he would have signed for the club regardless. So – welcome to the new midfield general.
Meanwhile, the pre-season friendlies have started as the players try to build up fitness for the Europa League campaign starting on July 30th. First up was RB Leipzig and we scored 4 goals but managed to let in 5. The good news is that all the goals came from the new guys with Juanmi, Cedric Soares and J-Rod (2). Getting the latter back on the pitch and him scoring twice as the biggest plus of the day. Next up was the Audi Quattro Cup which sadly, did not feature Gene Hunt beating up 70s gangsters but a 45 minute semi-final against Valencia, competing for the right to play a 45 minute final against either hosts Red Bull Salzburg or Wolfsburg. We played ok against Valencia with Juanmi and Jose Fonte hitting the bar and then Valencia breaking away and scoring to nick it 1-0. 3rd place playoff it is then and a game against the hosts and we were shocking. With a midfield which didn’t consist of a single defensive minded player (Steve Davis was the closest) , we attacked, lost the ball and got the ball back when Red Bull either missed or scored. Stekelenburg made a couple of decent saves but was powerless to stop either of the two goals in five minutes which sent us to another defeat. However bad we were, we were not as bad as the commentator on the official internet stream who had no idea who anyone was or what had just happened. Lloyd Isgrove was referred to as Negredo throughout as he got the teams mixed up but the two players in question didn’t have the same number on so I assume he had two lists of names and was just guessing.
The fitness building continued with a 1-0, last minute closed doors friendly at Staplewood against Brighton with a surging run by Sadio Mané ending with a tap in by Sam McQueen. Then it was off to Holland on the Koeman Nostalgia Tour, taking in many of the destinations of his career including matches against Groningen (where both Koeman brothers started their careers) and Feyenoord.
As it turns out, a trip to Holland was just what we needed as we’re going to be going back there soon in the Europa League. Cast your mind back to 2003 and the draw for the first round of what was the UEFA Cup – we got the best team we could possibly get in Steaua Bucharest. The draw was made and how bizarre was it. The teams were split into groups so we, as a seeded team, could only be drawn against one of six possible teams. The fact that these groups were drawn or allocated behind the scenes make you wonder if it’s all bent given the recent goings on at FIFA (I know this is UEFA but tarred by the same brush as far as I’m concerned and I wouldn’t trust Platini any more than Blatter). So, we could have got one of 6 teams from all sorts of far flung places like Macedonia, Norway, Ireland and also in the mix were Belgium and Holland and guess what we got? Yep – the highest ranked team we could have possibly got and a tie against Vitesse Arnhem. Vitesse are used by Chelsea as a youth team as it’s not easy for Chelsea to have 30 players out on loan all over Europe. West Ham as always, got drawn against one of the ‘where the hell are they from’ teams. Ah well, at least Holland isn’t too far to go.
Back to the tour and Groningen was notable for it being Jordy Clasie’s debut but also, for the fact that we actually turned up for a friendly, running out 3-0 winners. There was a header from a corner by Captain Fonte to put us 1-0 up in about 20 minutes. Next up was a cracking team goal as we built up the right through Tadic and Cedric, with Cedric crossing low for Mané to finish. It was 3-0 with ten to go as Tadic expertly jinked round a defender before sliding a great ball through for Graziano to pass past the goalkeeper. Great stuff and nice to get a few goals and look decent.
A few goals were certainly on the agenda in the game against the vaguely amusingly named KVV Quick 20, a Dutch amateur side who we beat 10-0. There were hat-tricks for both Graziano and J-Rod and you could tell how much it meant from the goal celebrations which consisted of variations of ambling back to our own half. The other goals came from Jordan Turnbull, Juanmi and two from Steve Davis. It must have been intense if Steve Davis scored twice. Despite what Erwin Koeman said afterwards about it being worthwhile, you have to wonder if it was even worthwhile for fitness. It was 7-0 at half time and no one was really busting a gut n the second half. I guess it gave the like of Jordan Turnbull and Jack Stephens the chance to play with some first team players and of course, J-Rod to get 90 minutes in.
Onto Feyenoord for the main game of the pre-season tour and it’s a big day for Koeman, Clasie and Pellè as they return to De Kuip for the first time since leaving. The expected great receptions duly arrive for all three and Clasie in particular seems very choked up by it all. Maarten Stekelenburg, given his Ajax connections, is given dogs abuse however. The game itself wasn’t as difficult as I was expecting as we coasted to a 3-0 win. Tadic gave Pellè a goal on a plate before a Yoshida header and a nice finish from Juanmi who was teed up by fellow substitute Shane Long. The starting XI seemed to give up Ronald Koeman’s thinking for the Vitesse match in the Europa League with Stekelenburg in goal, a back 4 of Cedric, José, Maya and Matt Targett in the absence of the injured Bertrand. We then had Big Vic next to Little Jordy with Steve Davis in midfield and Tadic and Mané up front with Graziano. There was no J-Rod on the bench which says to me that he’s still being very closely monitored.
It came to light that Florin Gardos’ absence from the Dutch friendlies was down to him picking up a knee injury which is going to rule him out for ages so now there’s a potential story for the media to call a crisis. Also absent was Gaston Ramirez – what a surprise. He was offered the opportunity to play more this season and guess what – injured again – same as he always is when he has a chance to play. To think we had hopes that he’d be the new Matt le Tissier when he signed and in fact he’s the new Lee Holmes. It happens too often for it to be a coincidence. Remember when J-Rod got injured and he was next in line to play a few games – guess what happened? Yep, injured. The guy is a waste of space. If any Italian or Spanish or South American club offer more than a million then get rid… but my guess is that he’ll carry on being a drain on wages for the final year of his contract even if we hawk him out on loan somewhere. The bloke’s on course to retire with a career total of about 100 league games.
The centre half crisis was averted before it really got started as we signed Stephen Caulker on loan for the season from QPR. I saw a lot of negative reactions from Saints fans to this as he’s been relegated twice in the last two seasons but think about it. Signed for Malky McRacist to play for the basket case that was Cardiff and then signed by Harry Redknapp to play for the basket case that was QPR. Maybe he sacked his agent as he’s now ended up with us. Now, I’m not over convinced by him but this is a defender who has represented England once and was highly thought of and I remember wanting us to sign him when he left Spurs. José Fonte will make him a better player and the solid structure that we have behind the scenes will bring out the best in him…. Not to mention the manager who knows a thing or two about centre halves.
It doesn’t seem very long since we stuffed Villa 6-1 but here we go again….