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New Southampton Owner Won't Be Pumping In £500 Million For Transfers
Monday, 24th Jan 2022 10:08

In an interview with the Financial Times Dragan Solak has reiterated that he won't be bringing mega money into the club for transfers and that the club will be run on the same structure as before.

Sometimes it is not what you say, but the way that you say it, when Markus Liebherr took ownership of the club in July 2009 he outlines a strategy of how the club would be run going forward and how his intention was to establish Saints as a well run club who would run as a business in it's own right.

That was pretty much the case for a year or so till after his sad death in August 2010, although the picture was blurred as with the then current CEO taking complete control, there was a period where claims about top four finishes and Champions League football gave some the impression we would take on the World.

A look back over the last 7 seasons since Katharina Liebherr had to take steps to remove the said CEO who had developed the football side of things whilst neglecting the business side, meaning that the club had overspent whilst bringing in little commercial revenue, shows that aside from the so called Big Six, only Leicester City, ourselves and last season West Ham have managed to achieve a top six finish.

Football has changed drastically over the past decade or so.

When Gao took over in 2017 there was initially a lot of optimism, he intended to invest money but almost immediately found that due to increasing tensions between China and the West he was unable to do so because of the political situation.

In an interview back in 2019 he spoke to the Shanghai Times and said:

“I am not treating Southampton as a pig to be fattened and sold”

He then went on to say:

“I am treating it as a child. But my children must believe they cannot depend on the boss. I have said to Southampton: ‘I am now your father. But I am putting you on the right track: you need to feed yourself.’”

But the damage was done in that first sentence, despite the fact that he was clearly stating that he was treating the club as he would a member of his own family and that he would not sell us down the river so to speak.

That proved to be the case and when Gao left a few weeks ago, he had left us in pretty much the same position that he had found us, but the club was now leaner and more able to take on the challenges facing it including Covid, he had not taken any money out, he had not sold us to the first bidder and he had lost money, a lot of money that he could if he had wanted to have got out of the club to a degree.

So now we have a new de facto owner in Dragan Solak, the head investor in Sport Republic the company that now own 80% of the club.

He has spoken to the Financial Times and again outlined that Sport Republic do not intend to pump millions in for big name transfers.

“I’m not the Sheikh of Abu Dhabi or the prince of Saudi Arabia. I cannot bring 500m to buy new players.”

This has been made clear from the start with Saints CEO Martin Semmens commenting

“We have a strategic plan – it’s sitting on my desk in front of me and that's what Sport Republic have bought into and we will continue on that path.

“So the transfer window, we will always do our way and you're very aware of that. But are we in a better position today than we were yesterday? Absolutely.

“It allows us to focus in on the things we're doing already potentially doing a bit quicker.”

So in the last 13 years we have had 3 owners, 4 if you count Katharina Liebherr as an owner in her own right and her involvement in the club has been just as crucial as her Father's in the way she had to step up to the plate and regain control of the club in 2014 at a time that if she had walked away could have been catastrophic.

All of the owners have said exactly the same thing, but they have said it in different ways, they know that football has changed as Solak has said he is not a Saudi Arabian prince, few clubs can compete with the money that Manchester City and now Newcastle have, money talks and as Everton have found out having spent £600 million in transfer fees over the past 6 years, it doesn't guarantee you anything, in fact it is still not enough to make you truly competitive.

I try and read past the headline quotes, I did so with Gao, his only crime was that he was unable to pour large amounts of money into the club in the eyes of the fans, but as I said he has done us no harm.

Now under Sport Republic we will move forward, but the competition will get harder, there are now 7 clubs in town with the addition of Newcastle, the rest of us will struggle to get into the top 10.

For the moment the way forward is to build the foundations and slowly improve every season, but we should set our goals realistically, in season 2020/21 Everton spent just shy of £100 million, they received nothing from outgoing transfers, we spent around £35 million, but with outgoings of £26 million we had a net spend of £9 million.

So for their extra outlay of £91 million what did Everton achieve that was better than us, well in finishing 10th and 5 places above us in 15th, they would have received around £12 million extra in prize money, we got to an FA Cup semi final so we got a lot nearer to glory than they did.

So what is good business in football these days ?

For the fans that is easy, spend out big money in transfers, it shows you want to compete, but what do you compete for ? The truth is at best 7th and even that will push out to 8th next season if Newcastle stay up.

For the clubs themselves outside of that big 7 it is about survival, if we had spent £100 million on transfers last season and finished 10th it would have bankrupted us, in fact if we had finished 4th it would have still bankrupted us, it has left Everton struggling themselves as we see this season.

A look at this seasons table shows that only West Ham are competing with that big 6 , Manchester united are in disarray, but they are still in 4th.

So I welcome the words of Dragan Solak, I have high hopes for Sport Republic as our owner, they are realistic in what they can achieve, they don't have a "Build it and they will come" attitude, they know what can be done and what is pie in the sky.

We are not alone, West Ham have built their squad carefully over the past couple of years, they have shipped out the deadwood and bought well, they have the ability to spend more than us because they have a stadium twice as big and can milk the tourist trade in London, why do you think they subtly changed their badge to include London in the text.

But take out what will be a big 7 next season and the rest of us are pretty much in the same boat, yes Aston Villa and Everton will spend more, but it will guarantee them nothing and they will almost certainly not get any higher than 8th perhaps 7th at a push.

I say it a lot but there needs to be a radical overhaul of the Premier League, it needs the big clubs to join a European Super league, they have outgrown us, as rewarding as our draw was against Manchester City, it also highlighted the future and to be blunt the last decade or so, very few clubs outside of that big 6 have actually won anything be it the Premier League, The FA or League cups.

Is the future of football truly going to a game to celebrate a draw against the Champions as if we had won the League itself ?

Hopefully it isn't and if football is to survive then it has to change and when it does,, then Saints could truly compete in a revamped Premier league.

Photo: Action Images

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Centurion added 10:38 - Jan 24
A very considered article Nick.
TBH, I am very proud to support a Saints side that retains its Premier status without simply throwing money at big transfers.
In many ways we can only wait and see what the future holds for the Premier League. It is important however, to remain a viable and well run business and to be ale to respond to changes in the future.

PaleRider added 10:41 - Jan 24
"When Gao took over in 2017 there was initially a lot of optimism, he intended to invest money but almost immediately found that due to increasing tensions between China and the West he was unable to do so because of the political situation."

Nick, please provide proof for this comment, which you frequently repeat. If you can't, please can you stop repeating this - as far as I can see there is no evidence that Gao ever wanted to put any money into the club.

I do welcome Sport Republic as they have set out their stall in a sensible way. Everton, as an example, are not sustainable (Moshiri announced another £100 million last week) and I'm not convinced that Newcastle will achieve that much.

highfield49 added 10:41 - Jan 24
If I'm not mistaken, and I could be because it confuses me, the financial fair play regulations don't allow us to spend big even with a benevolent owner in place. So, if I'm correct in that understanding, where would we be in the pecking order should the wealthy clubs form their own league? Can we, theoretically, spend more on players if the club attracts increased revenue from marketing or sponsorship? Do we need to have a bigger stadium like West Ham and pretend the ground is full for every home match, in the manner of Arsenal or Spurs? Why for that matter are debt ridden clubs like Spurs, who "borrowed" from the government when grounds were closed, allowed to splash out on new players? I can't help thinking that the playing field will still be heavily biased against the smaller city clubs no matter which teams might join a super league. I'm not convinced that finishing below the likes of Leicester, Wolves, West Ham, Everton and Villa in the future is better than the situation at present.

SaintNick added 11:19 - Jan 24
Pale Rider, why do you need proof what he was or was not going to do, the situation is finished. Whatever money he was or was not going to put into the club is irrelevant now, the only evidence is that he didn't take any out, he strengthened the club as a business and he did not sell us to the first buyer who came along, if money had been an issue then he could easily have syphoned out money, he could have leveraged St Mary's and taken money out, he could have taken the money from transfer sales

So the only evidence is that Gao did us no wrong, in 30 years time when people have forgotten about his time at the club then it will be seen as a period of stability, a period where we did not fight against relegation too much and also reached two FA Cup finals.

Gao was never going to put mega money into transfers, but what he would have done is built up the infrastructure, plans were afoot to buy the cement works opposite and open up the stadium to the waterfront, but they never got to fruition, just because it wasn't in the press doesn't mean that it was never going to happen.

But time to let things go with Gao, the future is ahead of us and the past behind us, he helped us more than most would acknowledge

PaleRider added 12:29 - Jan 24
Nick, I agree about moving on but it is you who keeps bringing up Gao's ownership and making unsubstantiated claims about non-existent investment. It's about credibility. Opinion is one thing but statements that are not supported by fact or evidence is another.

I am very optimistic about the current owners taking us in the right direction and the main thing that I have noticed since just before the takeover is the greater sense of positivity all around the club, both on and off the pitch.

I promise not to mention Gao again - if you do so as well :)

underweststand added 12:36 - Jan 24
I never thought he was suddenly going to invest BIG money in the transfer market.
However, having someone with a stable business background, does mean that there is a wealthy owner with a bit of capital available if / when we need to make a "big spend ".

We need to hit the right balance in the squad, blending in the up-and-coming talents , and the new Academy starlets who are performing well.
Only if we need to " splash the cash". (e.g a top class goalie/ CB/ extra striker) will depend on how we perform for the rest of the season and who we buy in the summer.

MY understanding is that the FPP rules allow for a % of salaries (+/- 70% in many clubs) to be balanced against income ( sponsors/ advertising / ticket sales, shirts etc, ) , and if there is a short fall then clubs can / have been ...banned from buy new players till they have " balanced their books ".
I'm sure Dragan isn't going to sit back and ignore his big investment without helping the club if we need finances for improvements in the club infrastructure /or playing staff.

Any potential investments Mr. Gao might have made (during his time as owner) were stopped by " Chinese political policies" beyond his control.


SaintNick added 12:56 - Jan 24
PaleRider I can't reply to your last line on the comment as it would mean mentioning Gao, oops just done it ! lol

PaleRider added 13:33 - Jan 24

Block8 added 16:45 - Jan 24
Hopefully when the Sport Republic group expands, we will get the advantage of being able to place our promising youngsters within the group. Also the same in reverse. That is a positive worth waiting for. Don't forget West Ham also have the financial advantage of having a stadium that is largely paid for by taxpayers. They have a 99 year lease at 2.5 million per year (their only outlay) and the cost to London Taxpayers, this season alone, is around 8 Million as they pay for virtually everything.
So we can't really be compared to West Ham.

DorsetIan added 22:23 - Jan 24
Every time Nick repeats his 'Gao wanted to invest and did us no harm' line, I think about Vic Reeves Big Night Out 'you wouldn't let it lie' catchphrase. I agree with Pale Rider, if I don't hear it again, it'll be too soon.


Monksway added 11:35 - Jan 25
Good article Nick. I wouldn't disagree with much of your analysis. I don't think the big 6/7 will be leaving anytime soon, the ESL was about securing European football annually in addition to participating in the EPL. More likely to reduce numbers of teams at the bottom. For those of us supporting Saints over decades my sadness is that outside of the big 6/7 it's no longer possible to build a competitive team over a number of seasons without losing your best players for higher wages. I think the suggested model for us is the only realistic one and in Ralph and Martin Semmens we have good leadership. Ralph also gets the need to play attractive football whenever possible, making our 1-1 against Man City so much more enjoyable than Burnley's 0-0 against Arsenal.

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