This feels like a first. A few other ‘Who are You?’ interviewees have said too much is made of diving. Some of our own readers think I should stop rattling on about it. But I am not sure anyone has ever previously said it’s just part of the game and, more or less, OK. But then our Southampton fan in this week’s hot heat, Alistair Iveson*, a journalism student, doesn’t care much about his club’s stripes or colours, thinks people from the North East have silly accents and believes a Saints hero, Matt Le Tissier, has become an ‘egotistical wash-up’, Against that he’s hardly a fair weather fan – ‘I’ve always enjoyed going to watch Southampton, even when we were flailing at the bottom of the Championship’ – and Salut! Sunderland is happy to reproduce his strident views on most matters in football …
Salut! Sunderland: It only seems five minutes since everyone was saying lunatics were in charge at St Mary’s and relegation was a racing certainty as, one after one, the cream of the squad was sold off. How wrong they were – are you surprised or were you quietly confident all would be fine?
Ali Iverson: I think talk of relegation was silly, but I certainly was concerned and I still would say that the board made a number of mistakes over the course of the summer. I’m pleasantly surprised by how we’ve started the season because I thought it might take a few games for the new signings to bed in and start to gel but most have hit the ground running. Koeman deserves a lot of credit for that.
And although you lost your last game, you remain top three as we speak. Why have you been able to make such a storming start and to what degree it can be sustained?
Without meaning to sound too pessimistic, I think the biggest reason is the fixture list. We’re third, which is obviously great, but if you swap QPR with Fulham or Norwich we’ve fewer points than we did from the corresponding fixtures last season. Third place can’t be sustained but I think we’ll have a decent season and probably finish eighth again. If you split the league into two – the teams competing for European football and then the rest – I think we’re the best of the rest. This squad may be stronger than the one we had last season, but I’m not sure the team is and it’s certainly got less potential.
You may already have mentioned Ronald Koeman, who of course is a highly respected figure in the game. But what do you make of Katharina Liebherr and Ralph Krueger as your owner/chairman duo?
It’s difficult to Liebherr as she doesn’t say much and, publicly at least, only seems to have taken a real interest in the club since January. Krueger’s also difficult to judge but it’s fair to say that I’m not his biggest fan. He’s been on a big PR offensive since arriving at the club with reintroducing the stripes, cosying up to Le Tissier and talking about increasing transparency at the club. He’s crafty in passing the buck on footballing issues like player sales too, saying he’s just “the hockey guy”, and he’s certainly set his stall out as being antithesis of his predecessor Cortese. Krueger’s a nice guy, but I’m not sure that’s a good thing for a chairman.
Two draws and two cups wins makes it look as if we did pretty well against you last season but I bet you think you were robbed in the league games …
Yeah, all those games against you last season were definitely frustrating, the last two especially. In the league game at SOL we should’ve been home and dry at half-time, but instead we weren’t and conceded to soft goals which Boruc should’ve done better with. Pochettino was pilloried after the FA Cup defeat for making six changes but I don’t think he was to blame for the loss. You took your chances and we didn’t, it was as simple as that really.
Vote for Salut! Sunderland in the Football Blogging Awards: see https://safc.blog/2014/09/football-blogging-awards-make-your-yes-vote-count-for-salut-sunderland/for details
And among the newlook squad, who should we regard as your danger men and where could you still do with some strengthening?
The attackers are obviously dangerous, but beyond them I’d also say you need to look out for both of our full backs, Clyne and Bertrand. They’re given plenty of licence to get forward and are crucial in providing width to our attacks. Both have scored already this season and they make a big difference at both ends of the pitch. Overall, I think this squad is quite nicely balanced, but at times we can lack creativity and I think we could do with another attacking midfielder who can make things happen against a team who’s sitting back. That’s what makes the decision to send Gastón Ramírez out on loan so baffling.
What have been your high points of supporting Saints?
The FA Cup run in 2003 was great, as was winning the JPT at Wembley in 2010. I’ve always enjoyed going to watch Southampton, even when we were flailing at the bottom of the Championship, but the high point has probably been the last five years. I don’t think you can beat watching your team rise through the divisions in the style Saints have done it, playing great football and using a bunch of players from our academy.
And the lows?
Seeing countless players from the academy sold. Walcott, Bale, Bridge, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Shaw, Chambers; the list is a long one and it’s so frustrating that we haven’t been able to keep these players and reap the rewards of their quality ourselves.
Plenty to choose from (Channon, Ball, Keegan, Le Tissier, Lambert, Bale, Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain get us started) but who do you regard as the greatest players you’ve seen – or wish you’d been around to see – in Saints colours?
Schneiderlin is the best player I’ve ever seen in a Southampton shirt. He’s the complete player, offering so much with and without the ball, and for my money is the best central midfielder in the Premier League. Sadly Le Tissier and Channon were before my time, but it would’ve been great to see them in their prime. Especially Le Tissier because all I’ve seen of him is the egotistical wash-up who tweets with emoji and was in petty arguments with Cortese because he was the only chairman who wouldn’t brownnose him.
And who should have been allowed nowhere near them?
I don’t want to pick on individuals, so I’ll say a few of the 08/09 team that got relegated from the Championship. That’s not so much a dig at them – they tried their best and you can’t ask for more than that – it’s just that they weren’t ready for Championship football. There were some exciting young players in that side who I rated, like Jake Thompson, Kayne McLaggon and Matt Patterson, who are now playing non-league football. I think some promising players were plunged in at the deep end too early that season, and it harmed them.
Talking of colours, are you relieved to be back in red and white stripes? There’d have been riots if we’d abandoned ours.
I’m not that fussed about the kit issue to be honest. Stripes are nice, I guess, although I’m not a massive fan of this season’s variety. I’d happily have us playing in blue if it meant Lallana, Shaw and co were still here.
It’s a rollover Guess the Score this week: https://safc.blog/2014/10/southampton-vs-safc-guess-the-score-footballs-back-with-a-rollover/
What will be this season’s top four and bottom three, in order?
2: Man City
18: West Brom
Where will our clubs finish if not already mentioned?
Saints eighth, Sunderland just above the relegation zone, maybe 16th.
Do you ever miss the Dell, or serious competition from Pompey?
I never went to the Dell, so I don’t miss it, but I wish I had been. I’m not too fussed either way on Pompey – back in the day the derbies were good fun and a great occasion, but if we were to have a competitive rivalry in the era of Twitter I think all the pettiness would become unbearable.
Any thoughts on Sunderland – club, fans, city, region and Poyet?
Not particularly. I liked your 10/11 team with Welbeck, Bent and Gyan up front but have never really had a strong opinion either way. I’ve never been to Sunderland and the last time I was in the North East was over a decade ago, so I don’t have an opinon on the region either, beyond the accent being silly. However, like most Saints fans I don’t like Poyet. He said some classless things about us when he was Brighton boss and for all his talk about beautiful football I think his teams are pretty dirty, as shown by the number of red cards they get. If we win, I’d get a little kick out of seeing his face afterwards.
Bale has gone from the Premier but diving remains endemic. Should we just give up whingeing and stick it in the coaching manuals? Or can it, and other forms of cheating, be stamped out?
I really don’t care about diving, but all the sanctimonious whining about it gets on my nerves. I just see it as part of the game, much like cynical fouls. People – pundits especially – make out that diving is a most heinous of crimes but I’d far rather see some dive than put another player’s career in jeopardy with a bad tackle. I wrote an opinion piece about it for uni last year (http://www.centreforjournalism.co.uk/blogs/diving-really-bad) in which I explained my views further.
What single step should the club or wider football authorities take to improve the matchday experience of ordinary fans?
That’s a good question but I’m not sure I’ve got a good answer. Cheaper tickets would obviously be great, but basic economics dictate that that’s not going to happen any time soon. Better train times for fans would also be great, but that’s probably an issue beyond the control of clubs. To be honest, I think the current matchday experience is pretty good.
Will you be at our game and what will be the score?
I won’t be at the game sadly – being away at uni means I can generally only make alternate home games – but I think Saints will win, maybe 2-0.
* Alistair Iveson on himself:
I’ve supported Saints for over 13 years now, having been hooked ever since my first game, a 2-0 defeat by Chelsea, which was also the first league game at St Mary’s. Fans of all clubs probably say this but there hasn’t really been a dull period in all my time supporting Saints, with plenty of managers, players and even owners coming and going. I’m 19 – why, even Le Tissier came before my time- so haven’t known anything other than the Premier League era and ‘modern football’- and I’m certainly not one of those 90s kids who longs for a bygone era I’ve only experience in films & folktales. Away from football, I’m currently studying for a journalism degree at the University of Kent. For more of my views, check out my Twitter (@TacoAli) or my blog (saintscorner.tumblr.com).
Interview: Colin Randall
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