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Southampton Ownership Structure Could Change Says Saints CEO
Tuesday, 12th Oct 2021 09:42

Saints CEO Martin Semmens has admitted that there are "things could happen" in regard to the ownership of Gao Jisheng, but has stressed that it has to be the right change and not change for change's sake.

Football fans not surprisingly equate an owner throwing money around as being ambitious, but ambition has to be quantified and gone are the days when a local man made good such as Jack Walker at Blackburn could buy their way to the Premier League title.

Indeed such is now the state of the Premier League that you now have a big four of Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool & Chelsea who have enough money to win the Premier League, whilst Tottenham Hotspur & Arsenal have been dropped back into the pack of also rans.

A new owner spending money does not equal success, nor does it signal realistic ambition, Everton in 2016 with new owner Farhad Moshiri proclaiming that he was going to make them a top four club etc etc have now spent in excess of £500 million over the past 5 seasons on transfer fees, yet the highest they have managed to reach is 7th and last season 10th, only one place above where they finished in the two seasons before Moshiri took over.

These days you have to have mega bucks either through rich owners who are willing to put money in however they can or like Liverpool & Manchester United who have global fanbases so large they don't need much financial input from the owners other than in exceptional circumstances.

The takeover at Newcastle United by the Saudi Arabians is a game changer though, they could potentially put the money needed in to get them into the top four or at least create a big five, but as I have said money does not equal success.

But at the other end of the scale we have Burnley who were taken over by American group ALK Capital for an estimated £200 million cost.

"This marks a new era for Burnley as we become stewards of this historic football club" they proclaimed shortly before leveraging the debt onto the football club itself, meaning they now owned a football club without having to actually use their own money and Burnley FC has a big debt against it where previously it was debt free.

They now plan to run the club as a business, just as Saints are now run, the only difference is that we don't have a massive debt against our name.

Now some have said recently that I have an agenda whereas once I criticised the way the club is run, that now I stick up for it.

That is far from the case, I just see the reality of the situation and the fact that just getting a new owner will change little unless they are Middle Eastern Oil sheiks and in fact lit could actually be a far worse thing than the situation we are now in.

Football is littered with clubs who have been bought by owners that have promised much but delivered little, at the moment Gao Jisheng may not have been able to put in the money and run the club as he had hoped, but so far at least he hasn't sold us down the river, either by leveraging the club or taking money out when we have sold players.

This is not me sticking up for Gao, it is just quoting fact.

I have known for some time that the club has been looking for a re structuring of ownership ( Posh term for new owner) I have also known we have come close at times to that happening, but both Gao and Katharina Liebherr seem to actually want what is best for the club and will sell only when they feel they have the right buyer.

That should be music to the ears of Saints fans, at the moment we are running as a business, we have come through some tough times where financially we have paid the price for some poor signings and also high wages for players no longer in the squad, that is starting to free up and we can now move forward a little a step at a time.

Yes this season hasn't gone quite as well as some would have hoped, but money does not guarantee success, you can spend it and still find yourself in the bottom half.

So at the moment we have a period where we can't compete with the truly big boys, but we can punch around our weight and that is anywhere between about 8th and 17th with a par score of around 13th if we judge clubs by their size and financial spending power.

As we have seen at Everton they have spend a lot of money but haven't got above 8th in the last four seasons.

Saints CEO Martin Semmens has been speaking to Total Saints Podcast about the current situation at the club and has this to say.

"I saw the Newcastle situation and that does create some more focus on it again," he said.

"I think first things first, we have been through the most extraordinary Covid environment and the fact that we are ok and stable is tribute to how we are set up to be able to deal with that.

"We are ok, we are in a good position, we don't have the funds to go and buy certain players like other clubs are doing, and that is a frustration to us, as it is to everybody, but that is where we have been for a long time and we have to work within that environment.

"I think we have been open in that we all would like to have a different investment structure than we have now, Mr Gao has been fully accepting of that.

"As I have said before, they have done nothing but provide us with moral support, they create no harm, they create no confusion or distraction, which is pretty unique in the Premier League.

"Our ownership group is incredibly supportive of me and the people that run the club, so there are no problems there.

"But at the end of the day, we want to find a reorganised structure, whether that be a complete change, or a partial change and we've been pretty close to doing it a few times, as I have insinuated, but they haven't quite happened and we are now kind of at the same place, which is that things are on the table, things could happen."

"My comments before were that we don't just want anybody, we want the right person for our future, and I think it is important to reiterate that now"

"So my role is to make sure the club is winning now, but also in the future and way after I've gone, having the right owner and the right custodian for our city and our club, so making sure we have the right person is the most important thing, but also some speed now in getting it done and allowing us to develop for the future is also a factor."

So in essence Semmens has re iterated what I have been saying for a long time now, that although Gao has not turned out to be the owner that we all hoped for and indeed he wanted to be himself, he is a good owner in that he is doing us no harm.

Many fly into the air when I have stated this and accuse me of being in the pay of the club etc etc, that is absolute rubbish, I am merely stating fact, I am looking at the status of the club in the football world and assessing the situation, Gao might not be a great owner, but he is not a bad one either.

Perhaps he might turn out to be, he had the chance over the summer when we sold Danny Ings, he could have just pocketed the money, he could leverage the club up with debt, then let us get on with things and look at his bank account and see the club plummet, but he hasn't done that, although I suspect that most of those who glibly use the phrase "Gao Out" and hurl online abuse at him would do just that if they were being abused.

Hopefully one of the offers on the table might turn out to be the right one, but we have to be careful what we wish for, Saudi Arabian sheiks are few and far between, most offers on the table are of the likes of Burnley's new owners, they will buy the club and then leverage it to get their money back, then we will be in a worse position than we are now.

Gone are the days of the 1990's when fans could protest in the car park at the Dell and demand that local businessman Guy Askham resign, owners of football clubs have invested hundreds of millions, they want that back.

If you want to buy Burnley now the new owners will quote you the £200 million that they paid, but unlike them you will buy a club with massive debt, we truly do not want that at Southampton FC.

Photo: Action Images

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IanRC added 10:27 - Oct 12
Agree entirely Nick.

Centurion added 11:36 - Oct 12
Good article Nick. I think you are right. If the worst happens and we get relegated, I would hope that we are stable enough to at least thrive in the Championship and even get promoted.
Norwich have done this in a fashion. Derby haven't.

Colburn added 11:47 - Oct 12
Can't disagree with much in the article, things could be better and maybe should be, but they could be a lot worse!
As an overall feeling, the more clubs bought by the elite, the more the managers, players etc will become puppets for the business and political elite, as seen during the Euros and still now each week on the pitch. At least the Leicester owner has tried to improve the city but sadly most of them don't really care about the clubs they have bought, more a case of getting their foot in the door of the Sports Industrial Complex..
We won't be bought by someone who loves the club, or cares about the fans. That's the sad truth, the game is losing its soul.

SusanBellew added 13:13 - Oct 12
Well said. I agree completely with your comments.

Ali_Diarea added 15:56 - Oct 12
Please don’t let it be Mike Ashley 😂

davidargyll added 20:31 - Oct 12
I dis notice this comment from Martin Semmens in Hampshire live last week:
“ The reason why it is taking so long is that we are not selling the club to the first person that comes through the door. If I wanted to find a shareholder or an investor with the money, I could find it tomorrow - but you would not like them.”
Much the same as he said on the radio but it now sounds like things are moving forward a bit faster than anyone thought…
For the whole interview see:

ElijahK added 00:39 - Oct 13
I do agree with you Nick, but with GAO and investment, yes investment doesn’t guarantee success, or us getting anywhere, but at the same time these days to even have a chance of getting anywhere you need investment. And with Gao, yeah he’s not sold us off to some really bad owners, but it’s not like he goes to all the games and is consistently helping out at saints charity fundraisers etc, as he’s just someone that could certainly be better, but still could be worse

saintmark1976 added 08:25 - Oct 13
In my opinion Martin Semmens is beginning to take on the persona of a previous chairman ( his photo is at the top of Nick’s post ) in that he talks a lot but actually says nothing. People less charitable than myself might just describe his utterances as Blah,Blah,Blah,Blah Blah.

barry_sanchez added 07:42 - Oct 15
He says what we want to hear, what he doesn't say is the fact is if we were that attractive to buy we would have been bought a long time ago.
This situation isn't unique, its the majority of clubs and a result of the have and have not's so the fundamental thing to remember is this won't go away until football changes, the only time we're big boys or bigger boys is when we're a division below and competing.

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