Hardman's Thoughts

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Ramble #16

The Derby

I wonder what it must be like to wake up on derby day morning and actually feel like your team has a chance of winning?

Everton have not won one since 2010, we’ve only won four in this millennium and the last victory at Anfield saw Francis Jeffers sent off. Our last three performances at Anfield are amongst the worst I’ve ever watched (Jagielka’s last minute leveller two years ago was brilliant but lucky). 

So I’m not excited for today. I’m not even expecting a draw. We will lose, there’s no doubt about that. Especially without Seamus Coleman and Morgan Schneiderlin. 

But BBC Breakfast’s coverage has annoyed me. They started the segment on the derby by talking about how Liverpool have lost two key players, therefore making today harder for them. But they didn’t mention in the same breath how Everton have also lost two key players (and, for the record, Funes Mori and James McCarthy as well). 

They ended it by finally talking about Coleman, except they even got that wrong. They said Koeman had an argument with Martin O’Neill over the Irish managers treatment of Seamus. I mean, did the writers ever stop to ask themselves if that made sense? The argument was about the Irish treatment of James McCarthy who they selected even though he wasn’t 100% fit. For all of O’Neill’s faults, he couldn’t predict Coleman’s leg break! 

I don’t mind that we’ll lose the derby, I’m honestly used to that. I mind when the coverage is biased and wrong. Both clubs have pretty big histories, both clubs are in the top half of the biggest league in the country. Neither have ever won the Premier League, so give both the same level of detail and fairness to your coverage. 

If organisations like BBC can’t give fair coverage, then we have to get all our news about our club from local sources and the club itself, which is far from ideal.


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Joel Robles

Whisper it quietly, but Everton have been performing quite well recently. We sit pretty atop of the form table over the last five games and fourth in the table concerning the last ten.

There’s a mixture of reasons for the fact we’ve only lost one game in those ten. Firstly, our central midfield has become a pillar of strength, with Koeman spoiled for choice amongst new signing Morgan Schneiderlin, young star Tom Davies, the ever-consistent Idrissa Gana Gueye, improving Ross Barkley, livewire James McCarthy and the experienced Gareth Barry. We found success while Gueye was on international duty using a 5-3-2 system, but the Senegalese rock’s return has seen an indifferent return to the 4-3-3 with Barkley on the wings rather than in the centre. Hopefully the, by all accounts, lacklustre draw away at Boro is the end of that.

Secondly, and what I want to focus this blog on is the improvement at the back. Mason Holgate and Ramiro Funes Mori have come in to replace Phil Jagielka, and Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman appear more at home as wing-backs rather than full-backs but neither of those changes have made the biggest difference.

That, instead, lies with the goalkeeper. First choice at the start of the season, Marteen Steklenburg got injured in the Merseyside Derby, and was replaced by Joel Robles. Many Everton fans, myself included, as harsh as this sounds, were relieved because, quite frankly, Stek is a liability and Robles is something of a rock.

In his ten matches this season, nine in this current run, one against West Ham earlier, Joel has kept six clean sheets. He’s conceded seven goals. Ok, so seven goals in four games isn’t a great record but looking individually at the goals it’s hard to pinpoint any of the blame on Joel.

In 16 matches earlier this year, Stekenlenberg conceded 20 goals and only kept two clean sheets. He became a little bit of a hero against Manchester City with two penalty saves, but that was more of the exception than the rule.

With Joel between the sticks, our defenders look much more solid. And that allows our attacks to be more fluid. Which, unsurprisingly, has led to better results. Joel makes an average of 3 saves per match, Steklenberg only 2.1. Joel’s seven goals conceded in ten matches is the fewest of any goalkeeper to have reached double figures for appearances this season. There’s no question that Joel deserves to be, and should be for a very long time, Everton’s number one.

Personally, I’m a massive fan of the Spaniard. When Everton were collapsing last term, he was conceding three or four goals every time we played away. And yet he was consistently our best player. Without him, our goal difference last season would have been negatively astronomical. That went unnoticed by most, so I’m glad he’s now starting to prove himself with a decent defence who actually want to play for the manager.

And just to top it all off, his celebrations are boss.

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The Return of Jose Baxter

If you gave me a million years to think of things that could happen to Everton in this transfer window, I would never even have considered the possibility of a return for Jose Baxter.

Yet that is what is being claimed in many newspapers this morning. That the 24-year-old will, at the end of the year, receive a 12-month contract with the Blues. It’s a genuine report, as the articles contain quotes from U23 manager David Unsworth, the man behind the deal.

The deal isn’t, according to Unsworth, a first team contract – Baxter will link up with the U23s, and is free to move to a league club during or following the contract. It follows a stint where the young striker has been working with our charity, Everton in the Community. Baxter’s career highlights include becoming the youngest player to ever play for Everton, fading into obscurity with Oldham and later Sheffield United (interestingly, signed by Unsworth there too) before two drug bans have left him outside of football.

It’s fair to say that the twitter reaction to the news hasn’t been 100% positive. I’ve seen a few people following my stance, but most people are claiming that this is a bad deal for Everton. I don’t see why.

They say that he’ll hold back the development of a proper prospect, yet I doubt that’s the case. Unsworth’s U23 are doing incredibly well and we’re talking about a man who in the one game he managed with Everton’s first team started Pennington, Dowell and Davies and brought Kenny off the bench. I think it’s incredibly harsh to accuse Unsworth of potentially holding players back – after all, he’s the one actively pushing for further opportunities for his squad.

Secondly, they say it’ll block first team players getting back to fitness with the U23s (due to the quotas on the number of players over 23 allowed to play). That would be the case if there was a limit on the number allowed in the squad, rather than on matchdays. It’s simple, if we have a rare time where more than 3 over 23-year-olds are unfit, then Baxter won’t be involved. That’s a non-issue.

The benefits of those are both for the club and the player himself, admittedly mainly the latter. But what I find most amusing is that the fans who are moaning the loudest tend to be the same fans who berate clubs for not showing loyalty to fans, managers and players.

This is a fine example of loyalty. Here is a player who has become lost, returning home to regain fitness, get regular playing time and have an opportunity to decide what he wants to do with his life. Let’s be clear here: there’s no future for Baxter in Everton’s first team. I see this deal as a free pass, the perfect chance for Jose to reboot his career, or change it completely.

There are many rumors flying around, one suggests he has been studying accountancy. If that’s true, is this not then going to give him the financial support he needs to complete that and find a job elsewhere? If that doesn’t go well, this will allow him to get a more permanent contract with lower league clubs. I severely doubt Unsworth will allow him to rot in the U23s for much longer than a year.

But above all that, this deal is exactly what I want Everton to be doing. Looking after their own, helping young people who have strayed from where they should be and offering a comfortable and familiar surrounding for rehabilitation and reignition.

It was strange news to wake up to, but I see it as a positive step and I’m fairly proud of my club for doing it.

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Ramble #14

Why Koeman was wrong

Rather surprisingly, I wasn’t that upset by Monday’s predictable loss to Liverpool. From the moment the second half started, we looked devoid of energy, dropped back and welcomed pressure on. Holding out until the 95th minute was impressive.

Honestly, I thought Mane had a great game and thoroughly deserved to score the winner. Does that make it any easier? Of course not! 

I don’t buy into the blame culture. A loss is a loss at the end of the day, and a loss in the Premier League only means you don’t gain any points but have opportunities to do so pretty soon after. We build football up to the point where every moment seems to somehow matter when, in reality, very little of it counts. A 95th-minute winner in a World Cup Final matters, in a league Merseyside derby? Not so much! 

However, I think the finger of blame has to point squarely at Ronald Koeman for Monday’s defeat. 

When we beat Arsenal last Tuesday, Gareth Barry required a rest and Koeman placed Gueye and McCarthy together. It worked a treat. McCarthy’s energy allowed Gueye to clean up at the back while the Irishman bombed up and down the middle. Gueye is a holding midfielder (and a very good one at that), McCarthy is box-to-box, which allows him to link up with Barkley, Lukaku and our wingers. It’s no surprise that, against Arsenal, Barkley and Valencia had their best games this season.

And for the first half against Liverpool, it was working again. Barkley wasn’t as good as he was before, but McCarthy was better. And then he got injured. Barry replaced him at half-time, and as Barry is also a holding player, it was why we dropped back. It’s a shame because Gareth Barry has been a wonderful player for us, but he can no longer play with Gueye – the space between the midfield and the front four becomes too large. 

Quite reasonably, you’re probably thinking: “it’s not Koeman’s fault that McCarthy got injured”. Yes, you’re right. It’s not. But it is his fault for putting Barry on the bench and not Tom Davies, or not having both there. Tom Davies isn’t as energetic as McCarthy, but is more so than Barry. Davies, for those who don’t know him, is a young centre-midfielder who has made a handful of appearances over the past six months and has excelled in all of them. He’s composed on the ball, he doesn’t look lost on the field or with the pace of play and can pick a pass better than most. Before he made his Everton debut, Roy Hodgson invited him to train with the England senior side. It baffled me at the time, but I completely understand now. I’d be very surprised if Davies doesn’t become a regular England international in the next five years. 

Koeman seems reluctant to use our young players. We have a particularly good crop of them at the moment. Davies is alongside Keiran Dowell, Mason Holgate, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Brendon Galloway (on loan at WBA), Callum Connoly, Matthew Pennington and Jonjoe Kenny as academy players who have made their Premier League debuts in 2016. We finished third in the U21 league last season, but are leading the U23 one this. This crop of youngsters should all have Premier League careers.

And the fans have been restless about their lack of game time. So Koeman responds by bringing DCL on against Arsenal. The tall striker did well on the wing and had a decent opportunity to score. It worked once, so Koeman tried it again against Liverpool. Except, it was clearly the wrong tactic.

DCL did ok. His heading ability is clear, he batted away a corner with more authority than either of Williams or Funes Mori had all night. But apart from that, he can’t defend, and yet was utilised on the wing. Which seemed odd given that Kevin Mirallas was on the bench. 

Koeman got it badly wrong. When he could have had fresh legs and someone who ran at the opposition, he instead prioritised a long ball strategy which only invited pressure. And, this is very cynical of me, but it smacks of a manager trying to prove to his fans that the youngsters aren’t ready yet. 

Given what I’ve seen of our current crop, I really hope I’m wrong. His use of Davies, DCL, and the rest over the next few months is going to be very interesting.

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5 Best, 5 Worst: Everton Deadline Day Acquisitions

Another deadline day is upon us. As we await news on who Everton will bring in (and lose), I cast my eye upon years past to pick out the great signings from the mediocre and, in some cases, downright awful ones.

Below are details on the striker who scored with his first touch, the defender who didn’t play, the fox in the box who wasn’t a fox and the expensive flop.

Everton transfer deadline days are never dull.

Mikel Arteta (loan – February 2005)


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At the halfway stage, the 2004/05 season had been surprisingly successful. Despite losing the likes of Wayne Rooney, David Unsworth and Thomas Radzinski, Everton sat third as the second window commenced. James Beattie joined to boost the attack, and Everton looked set to kick on. But what followed was the sale of another key player – this time Thomas Gravesen, to Real Madrid.

Everton needed another lift, as their season threatened to unravel. On deadline day, Moyes swooped for out of favour Real Sociedad midfielder Mikel Arteta. An initial loan deal allowed Everton to qualify for the Champions League, and over the next 7 seasons, the Spaniard would go on to become a fans favourite.

Francis Jeffers (loan – September 2003)


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Francis Jeffers had burst onto the scene at Everton, looking good with his strike partner Kevin Campbell. He left for Arsenal in 2001, labelled as a “fox in the box” by Arsene Wenger. However, in truth, his time with the Gunners was awful – he only scored 4 goals in 22 appearances. A change of scene was needed, and Everton seemed the most logical solution.

Unfortunately, however, Everton wasn’t the best fit. A loan deal meant there was no risk, however 2 goals in 22 appearances and an argument with David Moyes underlined the old adage that you should never go back.

Marouane Fellaini (September 2008)


Notice the lack of ‘fro when he signed … (Picture link)

At the time, the £15million pounds spent to land the Belgian was a record both for his country and the club. After one season, it was labelled as a panic buy, and was called one of the worst deals of the year (yet he was still good enough to win Everton’s young player of the year). Fellaini took time to properly adjust to English football, but once he did he became feared all over the country (disclaimer: this may be an exaggeration).

At his best, he would change any game from any position. Moyes could play him up front, behind the striker or deeper, and he would have the same devastating effect. Great with his feet and useful in the air, he added the ability to mix up our attacks, and it was no surprise Moyes took him to United with him.

Andy van der Meyde (August 2005)


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I have a lot of sympathy for Shandy, but his time on Merseyside has to be the worst any player has ever had at Goodison. And it wasn’t just limited to his poor on-field performances. He was never truly fit, so it may be a little harsh to judge the time he did spend on the pitch. And, even then, he ended on a positive note – setting up Dan Gosling for that derby winner.

However, what happened to him off the pitch was just typical for a man who never settles. He suffered breathing problems, had multiple break ins (including one while playing in which his dog was taken) and then his daughter suffered an illness from birth meaning she had to spend the majority of the beginning of her life in hospital. His career never recovered from his English hell.

Nikica Jelavic (January 2012)


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Signing from Rangers, Croat Jelavic scored 9 goals in his first 13 appearances, propelling Everton to half way to an FA Cup final in the process. With a likeable personality and a ruthless nature in front of goal, he gained a reputation for scoring with his first touch.

Admittedly, it did go downhill and Jelavic isn’t remembered favourably by all corners of Goodison Park however he arrived after an awful first half of the season and drastically changed the mood around the club.

Anthony Gardner (Loan – January 2008)


Gardner is the guy on the left, playing for Tottenham here (picture link)

I don’t really have much to say for this one. Signing on loan from Tottenham until the end of the season in January 2008, the Englishman didn’t make a single appearance for Everton.

John Stones (January 2013)


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David Moyes’ last signing as Everton manager was arguably his best. Initially, it was met by a lot of anger from Everton fans who wanted a marquee player to spur the team up the league, not a young right back from Barnsley. He didn’t play at all under Moyes, but became a key player with Roberto Martinez.

Last summer, Everton rejected the advances from Chelsea for the now-capped centre-back, however they were unable to do the same as Manchester City and Pep Guardiola came calling in 2016. If he can reach his potential, he will go down as one of the greatest English defenders of all time.

Oumar Niasse (February 2016)


Realistically his best action in a blue shirt (link)

Everton’s third highest signing played just 152 competitive minutes for Everton. Oumar Niasse cost Roberto Martinez £13.5 million, which resulted in a staggering £88 grand per minute played. Ronald Koeman didn’t give the Senegalese striker a squad number, and that was that (although he’s yet to officially leave – watch out for that today).

Romelu Lukaku (Loan – September 2013)


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Everton’s most expensive signing initially joined on loan on deadline day of the summer 2013 window. It was a wonderful day for Everton fans, losing Victor Anichebe and Marouane Fellaini but replacing both immediately with James McCarthy, Gareth Barry (both who just missed out on this list) and Romelu Lukaku.

Lukaku’s first season brought 15 goals, his second 10 and his third 18. He’s Everton’s highest scorer in European competitions and scored more goals than any other Everton striker in a single Premier League season in 2015-16. Whatever happens in the next windows, he’s made a huge impact in an Everton shirt.

Royston Drenthe (Loan – August 2011)


And he certainly wasn’t … (picture link)

The worst aspect of the Drenthe signing was the disappointment of it. On loan from Real Madrid, hours after we had let Arteta go to Arsenal, he was meant to be the man to inspire Everton to a half-decent season. And his first appearances were promising, prompting talk of a permanent deal at the end of the season.

Sadly, it all went downhill – with missed training sessions, reports of a fall-out with Moyes and being told to stay away from the club. Steven Pienaar re-joined in January in his position, and Magaye Gueye started the FA Cup semi-final ahead of Drenthe. By the time he left, we were begging him to go.

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What happened to the Everton side that lost 1-0 to BATE?

The 2009-10 season was the first edition of the Europa League, a much needed revamp of the UEFA Cup. David Moyes’ Everton had finished 5th in the Premier League the season before, and thus entered at the play-off stage. Winning their way through to the group stage, Everton had qualified for the knock-outs when they went into their final group game against Belarusian side BATE Borisov.

In the midst of an injury crisis threatening to curtail a mediocre season (Everton had only won four league matches all season in December), David Moyes did something very unusual for the Scot and fielded a side almost full of reserve players, the vast majority of whom were youngsters.

Everton lost 1-0, in front of the lowest home attendance of the season. Some of the young guns impressed, some didn’t – but the experience was said to be “vital” for all of them.

Almost 7 years later, I thought it would be interesting to check out where all of those involved have gone. I’m guessing at the formation (I can’t remember it), using my knowledge of the players involved – it looked to be a 4-3-3.

Starting XI:

8910GK: Carlo Nash
Everton appearances: 1
Current club: Retired

Moyes didn’t play a young goalkeeper, instead choosing consistent bench warmer Carlo Nash. Carlo didn’t play another match for Everton, unfortunately finding himself understudy to Howard during the American’s most consistent period at Goodison.

180216RB: Seamus Coleman
Everton appearances: 219*
Current club: Everton

Coleman wasn’t a guaranteed starter back in December 2009. In fact, this was only his fourth appearance for Everton, having had a nightmare debut away in Benfica and a man-of-the-match substitute appearance the next weekend against Tottenham. He would join Blackpool later that season, guide them to the Premier League and then establish himself amongst the Goodison faithful.

50620CB: Tony Hibbert
Everton appearances: 328
Current club: Unattached

Hibbert was one of the few first teamers risked that December evening. A one-club man, our favourite average superstar was released earlier this summer, sadly without a competitive goal to his name.

192622CB: Shane Duffy
Everton appearances: 10
Current club: Blackburn Rovers

Shane Duffy looked promising during the handful of appearances he made under Moyes. The first time I saw him, he was a better defender than World Cup finalist Jonny Heitinga. I was sad to see him leave, but he’s done well at Blackburn and started Ireland’s final two matches at Euro 2016.

196952LB: Jake Bidwell
Everton appearances: 1
Current club: QPR

At one point, Jake Bidwell was tipped to replace Leighton Baines in the Everton side. In order to aid his development, he was sent to Brentford on loan for two seasons between 2011 and 2013, after which he joined the Londoners permanently. Impressing for the Bees, he’s moved to QPR for this season.

158804CM: Leon Osman
Everton appearances: 433
Current club: Unattached

Moyes liked experience to be evident throughout all of his sides, hence why Nash, Hibbert and Osman all played against BATE. Osman had an excellent career with Everton, excelling and impressing everywhere until age and legs caught up with him. He was released at the end of last season, although there have been sightings of him at Finch Farm trying to get a new deal.

183465CM: Jack Rodwell
Everton appearances: 109
Current club: Sunderland

Jack Rodwell is a strange player. He should be better than he is, he’s always had more promise than he’s showed. One of the few youngsters to become a regular first-teamer under Moyes, until he was sold to Manchester City – he can now link up with his first boss in the North East. At 25, it might be the best thing for his stuttering career.

193910CM: Adam Forshaw
Everton appearances: 2
Current club: Middlesbrough

Forshaw was another who looked to be getting somewhere under Moyes, by which I mean he was one of the few under-21’s who got some Premier League game time. In 2012, he was named our reserve player of the year, before being shipped off to Brentford. He found his way to Middlesbrough, but is likely to leave instead of play in the Premier League once again.

182883ST: Kieran Agard
Everton appearances: 6
Current club: Bristol City

I’m staggered Agard turned out 6 times for Everton, I barely remember any. He didn’t score, that’s for sure. Since then, he’s played for a couple of lower-league sides, always playing in Leagues 1 and 2, but not good enough once they get promoted. A journeyman career, traipsing the lower tiers of English football awaits.

109693ST: Yakubu
Everton appearances: 107
Current club: Unattached – recent trial at Boreham Wood

Another experienced player in the spine of the team, Yakubu couldn’t inspire a young front line to victory. Started well for Everton, faded rapidly – which kind of sums up his career.

188164ST: Jose Baxter
Everton appearances: 15
Current club: Unattached

Sharing a name with Mourinho is probably all Baxter has ever had going for him in football. He once scored a worldy in a friendly for Everton, and was promptly hailed as the next Wayne Rooney. His career dive-bombed after that, and has since served numerous suspensions for drug abuse. Earlier this summer, Sheffield United decided enough was enough and released him.

Coming off the bench:

190504Hope Akpan
Everton appearances: 1
Current club: Blackburn Rovers

Akpan left Everton without much fanfare, dropping to League 2 with Crawley Town. To give the midfielder credit, he did get back to the Premier League – signing for Reading in 2013. Since then, he’s dropped back to the Championship and has found a home in Lancashire.

192227Shkodran Mustafi
Everton appearances: 1
Current club: Valencia

Ah, the World Cup winner who Moyes decided wasn’t good enough for Everton. Mustafi signed as a promising centre back in 2009, made the bench a few times, called Goodison Park “home” before being sold on a free to Sampdoria in 2012. The next most heard of him, he was appearing at the World Cup for eventual champions Germany. A penny for Moyes’ thoughts that day?

190470Nathan Craig
Everton appearances: 1
Current club: Caernarfon Town

Probably the most obscure player to get game time that night, it’s fair to say Nathan Craig won’t appear on most football fans radars. He left Everton to go back to Wales, and has since returned there following a stint with Torquay. I very much doubt he will return to England any time soon.

Warming the bench:

16254Tim Howard
Everton appearances: 414
Current club: Colorado Rapids

Is it only me who thinks Moyes was a little harsh not to put a young keeper on the bench?


192319Luke Garbutt
Everton appearances: 12*
Current club: Everton

Given what we know now, it appears strange that Garbutt sat on the bench while Bidwell started, however back in 09 Garbutt was a 16-year-old who hadn’t even trained with the first team. He wouldn’t appear for the Blues in the Premier League until Moyes left, and now faces a big season to establish himself as Everton’s second choice left back. Either that or Koeman doesn’t see Garbutt in his future plans, as the left back hasn’t got a squad number this season.

197774Conor McAleny
Everton appearances: 3*
Current club: Everton

Unfortunately, I doubt Conor will stay at Everton for much longer – towards the end of last season he found his level with Wigan, and a move to the Championship or League 1 at some point this month wouldn’t surprise me. It’s a shame as he’s shown promise at various points during his career, including almost scoring on his Premier League debut. Like Garbutt, McAleny hasn’t been given a squad number.

196953Aristote Nsiala
Everton appearances: 0
Current club: Hartlepool United

Another one of Moyes’ wonderfully average youngsters, Toto left Everton to play in Vietnam’s second tier with TDCS Dong Thap (via Accrington). He came back to England fairly quickly, however has never been anywhere near the top flight.

All pictures taken from www.futhead.com

BBC’s match report, said, about Everton, “their young side gained some vital first-team experience and showed plenty of promise.” Losing to the Belarusian champions was probably good experience, but I doubt that the likes of Agard, Akpan and Craig showed much promise!

A couple of years ago, in a similar situation, Roberto Martinez fielded a young-ish side for our last Europa League group stage match. In five years time, it will be interesting to see if Dowell, Ledson and Long have had similar careers to Nsiala, Craig and Agard or if the hype surrounding this generation of Everton youngsters is all worth it.

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Ramble #7

Twitter Wars

Everton and Southampton fans need to give it a rest on twitter. 

At the moment, supporters of the two clubs are engaged in a pointless battle of words over the (strong) possibility that Southampton’s manager Ronald Koeman is moving to Everton. 

Southampton fans are calling him a “snake”, making a “backwards” or “sideways step” while Everton fans are responding by saying “we’re the bigger club” and constantly pointing to the history books to prove it. 

In truth, it started off quite amusingly. This was a response given to “what trophies have you won?” … 

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 07.47.31

But since then, it’s become really boring, and Southampton fans seem really genuinely upset by the move. Do they really believe in loyalty in football? Are they honestly surprised by a man being drawn to extra money and the chance to build a side?

One comment piece in a local newspaper has described it as “the most depressing and disappointing moment of 14 seasons covering Saints”, while another calls it “one of the sourest moments in football”. Are they seriously that deluded? Are they seriously that naïve? 

It’s quite sad to watch. 

I’ve personally always liked Southampton. I’m a huge admirer of what they’ve done since their league 1 days and wish it will continue. I’m delighted by the Koeman rumours because he’s proved that he can hack it in the Premier League and improve an already impressive squad. 

Koeman is a step up from Martinez, and it’s not like Southampton will be getting relegated because of this! With the likes of Emery, de Boer and Howe mentioned, it’s not even like Southampton will be hiring a poor manager next. 

So, please stop this stupid twitter war. It’s lost any interest it carried.