Premier League: Southampton’s battle to keep Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw

It promises to be a tough few weeks for Southampton FC chairman Ralph Krueger, as he tries to keep hold of his star players and his manager after a successful Premier League season.

Krueger is better known across the pond in North America as the man who led Team Canada to the gold medal in ice hockey at the Sochi 2014 Olympics.

But in March the Canadian-born German hockey international took his place on the board at Southampton, following the departure of former executive chairman Nicola Cortese.

Cortese, an Italian banker, was tasked with developing the long term strategy for the football club and the business that is running a professional soccer team.

And he did very well at it, helping broker the deal which saw Markus Liebherr purchase the South Coast side in 2009, bringing them out of administration in the process.

The club had been through several years of turmoil after a financial meltdown, similar to that of Leeds United in the mid 2000s, and more recently of Southampton’s arch rivals Portsmouth.

Saints, as the club is known to their fans, dropped from the Premier League to League One in the space of four years, losing many of their best home-grown players in the process.

But together, Liebherr and Cortese began to transform the club, bringing in little-known striker Rickie Lambert for less than £1m, who has gone on to score 106 goals in 206 games for Saints, and is in England’s 2014 World Cup squad.

Alongside the established names that were brought in, the new owners did what so few foreign investors do these days – developed young talent and gave them regular chances in the first team.

The Southampton FC Academy has a long list of famous alumni, including the Premier League’s record goalscorer Alan Shearer and Real Madrid’s newest superstar Gareth Bale.

Southampton’s position in the lower leagues of English soccer allowed them to nurture this young talent in a reasonably painless environment.

Indeed Bale got his first taste of competitive football in the Championship at the age of 16, impressing so much in his first season that Tottenham Hotspur paid £10m for him in 2007.

Unlike in previous years under former chairman Rupert Lowe, Cortese not only made a point of developing this talent, but he also managed to keep hold of it – spurning the chance to earn millions of pounds in transfer fees.

With Cortese’s departure, and Southampton’s excellent 8th-place finish in the Premier League, they may struggle to keep hold of their star names this summer.

It was Cortese who took the decision to sack manager Nigel Adkins in 2012, despite having led them to two promotions in as many years, replacing him with unproven Argentinean Mauricio Pochettino.

It proved to be an inspired move, but Cortese’s acrimonious exit nearly saw Pochettino hand in his resignation at the same time.

Now the Pochettino is the favourite to take over from Tim Sherwood as the manager of Tottenham Hotspur, who finished two places above Southampton this season.

And it’s not just the manager who could be on his way out – the current hottest-properties in English soccer are both Southampton players and are targets for the big clubs.

Midfielder Adam Lallana was named in the Premier League team of the year for his consistently high performances this season, and was rewarded with a seat on the plane to Brazil.

Luke Shaw

Luke Shaw

As has 18-year-old left back Luke Shaw, who has taken to Premier League football like the proverbial duck to water, displacing the legendary Ashley Cole from the England squad.

Both players have been the speculation of big-money transfers to one of the big five teams in the Premier League, and it will be hard to see how Southampton will be able to say no when the offers come in.

Liverpool are already favourites for Lallana’s signature, potentially as the long-term successor to Steven Gerrard, with a £30m bid reportedly already tabled by the Premier League runners-up.

And there could be a host of sides in the running for Shaw, including Manchester United, who need to replace the ageing Patrice Evra, as well as Liverpool again.

Strong showings by the pair in Brazil this summer could render it impossible for Southampton to keep hold of them, but on the plus side for Krueger the players price-tags will allow him to recruit ready-made successors.

But don’t be fooled. Southampton will not turn into a club like Manchester City or Chelsea, who will spend millions recruiting high-profile stars.

Youth will continue to be their focus and with players like James Ward-Prowse, Harrison Reed and Sam Gallagher all being given Premier League experience this year the famous production line will continue to operate.

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