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English Premier League

Others’ nightmare, Southampton’s dreams 



I like to remain neutral whilst watching football matches that don’t feature my beloved Southampton but when Theo Walcott thumped the ball into the back of the net in the 40th minute of the FA Cup final, I couldn’t help myself but let out a loud shriek. In all fairness, it wasn’t as loud as the one that woke up my hungover flatmate when Sadio Mane netted his third goal to complete the leagues fastest ever hat trick against Aston Villa a couple of weeks prior. The reason I let out that shriek wasn’t because it was a decent finish but because it meant that Southampton were one step closer to securing Europa League football.

When the final whistle blew, I hope I was just like every other Southampton fan celebrating the club’s qualification into the Europa League, a competition that is usually greeted with groans and comments like ‘why do you want that?’. Well, I’ll tell you why we want it and I’ll also tell you why I think we have a pretty good chance of doing well in it.

Ronald Koeman’s side finished the season in seventh on 60 points, their highest every points tally and finish in the Premier League. This past season marked the fifth consecutive season that the Saints have improved on the previous season, a remarkable journey for a club that didn’t know if it was going to have a future six years ago. What Southampton have done is not down to luck. What they have done is down to meticulous planning, a drive to be the best they can be in every single area and hard work. That’s why Saints fans are celebrating qualifying for the Europa League rather than complaining about it. We know that participating in the Europa League is the natural next step in the ongoing development of our club.

Qualification into the Europa League is also credit to the club’s longer serving players who have been integral to the club’s revival. Players like captain Jose Fonte who took a risk to drop down into League One from the Championship and club captain Kelvin Davis who turned down playing for West Ham in the Premier League to stick with Saints in League One. Even though seeing Morgan Schneiderlin competing for Southampton next season is a fantasy rather than an actuality, Saints fans can’t begrudge him when, as is looking increasingly likely, he does move. His professionalism and attitude was outstanding last season after the summer fiasco and has done more than his bit to get Saints to where they are today.

But behind the players, there’s a huge network of unsung heroes that have helped steer the club away from uncertainty and towards security. Most notably, Executive Director of Football Les Reed. Even under intense criticism last summer, Reed and his team handled the situation expertly. He oversaw the shrewd recruitment, development of the new, unrivalled training complex and managed the continued focus on youth to help guide the club to such an impressive finish against the odds. Qualification into Europe is a reward to Les’ constant commitment to the club.

It is partly under the stewardship of Reed that Southampton has become such a forward thinking club that are always willing to push the boundaries. In-depth planning for the forthcoming season will have commenced long ago and the club will be exploring every opportunity to ensure the club maintain league form whilst succeeding in the Europa League. This is a club that transport the players’ mattresses from home to the team hotel on an away day and fit winter tyres to their cars when temperatures decline. The club will leave no stone unturned in the quest to enhance performances in all competitions and buck the trend of the Europa League hampering domestic displays.

Also, let’s not forget the experience in the Saints dressing room. Fraser Forster and Victor Wanyama starred in Celtic’s heroic Champions League win against Barcelona in 2012. Ryan Bertrand is a Champions League winner whilst new signings Maarten Stekelenberg and Cedric Soares have played in Europe. There is European experience throughout the Southampton squad and that knowledge coupled with the youth and exuberance of youth players that will get a chance to play in the competition could stand in good stead for Ronald Koeman, who himself has played and managed in Europe.

In the space of five years, Saints have swapped midweek coach journeys to the likes of Hartlepool and Walsall with midweek flights across Europe. That’s why the club and the supporters are embracing the competition. As much as I hope and don’t think it will hamper our league form, it’s important to have perspective. The journey from the foot of League One to trying to shatter the Premier League’s top six glass ceiling has been a short one, but it’s been one that has been methodically mapped out. The past five hugely successful seasons have been memorable and qualification into the Europa League leaves Southampton in a good position to continue their rise over the next five years. 

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Dan is a Journalism student at UWE and is an aspiring football journalist. His first ever football match was Southampton's 3-2 win over Leeds in 2003 and he has been a Saints fan ever since.


Jack Wilshere’s injury shows why Arsenal shouldn’t renew his contract

The 26-year-old has been struck down by yet another injury.

Jake Jackman



Photo: Getty Images

Jack Wilshere will be pleased with the progress that he has made since returning to Arsenal from his loan spell at Bournemouth.

He was initially nothing more than a squad player that was out in the cold at international level too, but the midfielder worked hard to gain more game-time in North London.

Across all competitions, he has played more than 30 matches and his form earned him a call-up to the England squad.

It looked like he was getting a once-promising career back on track, but almost like clockwork, he has suffered an injury to set him back once again.

Gareth Southgate confirmed that he wouldn’t be travelling to the Netherlands for Friday’s match and the quotes were reported by Sky Sports.

“It is not a specific injury and over time they flare up and they need to settle down over a couple of days.

“We are hopeful it will settle down pretty quickly. It’s an ongoing problem and it’s not something new for him. He’s very disappointed not to be involved in the game.

“He’s trained well though but if you think about the journey he’s had in the last two years and his big injuries then he’s progressing really well.”

Although it is encouraging that it isn’t a serious injury, it is a reminder that Jack Wilshere remains a risk for both club and country.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

It is difficult to build a team around a player that is susceptible to miss matches and the quote from Southgate is a worry as he refers to an ongoing problem.

Arsenal have had a difficult campaign and they will be planning a rebuild over the next 48 months as they transition away from the Arsene Wenger era.

They will have to make tough decisions on many players at the club and Wilshere’s future will be brought into focus over the next few weeks as his contract expires at the end of the season.

There have been numerous reports regarding contract talks between the two parties and there is hesitancy on both sides.

This latest injury suffered by Wilshere and the comments from Southgate referring to an ongoing problem show why it is Arsenal who need to end this association.

Wilshere can’t be relied on to stay fit and to feature prominently in a busy schedule. Arsenal will have ambitions of challenging at the very top of the game and will likely be involved in European competition every season. They need to have a squad of players that are reliable and the 26-year-old isn’t that.

Aside from that, Wilshere represents what Arsenal have become over the last decade. He is a player that had a lot of potential, but he has failed to fulfil it and been very inconsistent at the highest level. Of course, he isn’t to blame for the club’s problems, but he is also unlikely to offer the solutions.

This season has been a nice farewell campaign for him. It would have been sad if his Gunners’ career had ended after being shipped out on loan to Bournemouth.

He has returned to earn some of his credibility back, but the club need to move on and progress if they are to get back to the top of the English game.

A lot of contentious decisions will need to be made and the first should be the release of Jack Wilshere this summer.

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Manchester United

Why Jose Mourinho’s treatment of Luke Shaw has crossed the line

The Portuguese manager has been highly critical of Luke Shaw this season.

Rob Meech



Luke Shaw
Photo: Getty Images

The fractious relationship between Jose Mourinho and Luke Shaw plumbed new depths when the left-back was substituted at half-time in Manchester United’s FA Cup victory over Brighton & Hove Albion. The 22-year-old had been handed a rare opportunity to impress at Old Trafford but lasted only 45 minutes.

Speaking about Shaw in his post-match interview, Mourinho said: “Luke, in the first half, every time they came in his corridor, the cross came in and a dangerous situation was coming. I was not happy with his performance.”

The differences between the pair now appear to be irreconcilable. Shaw, who was signed by Louis van Gaal in the summer of 2014, has been used sparingly by Mourinho. The former Southampton starlet has made just 18 Premier League appearances under the Portuguese in a career that has been blighted by injuries.

Being substituted at half-time is almost as embarrassing as it gets for a player and Shaw’s mood will not have improved after being publicly criticised by his manager. It’s certainly not the first time Mourinho has chosen to talk candidly to the media about his concerns with the 22-year-old.

(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Some players require an arm around the shoulder to perform at their peak, while for others it takes a kick up the backside. Mourinho, opting for the latter, does nothing without reason and has clearly tried to spark a reaction from Shaw, without success.

From being one of English football’s brightest prospects after making his World Cup debut aged just 18, Shaw, who has seven England caps to his name, is in danger of not fulfilling the potential that convinced United to spend what was then a world-record fee for a teenager.

Mourinho’s tactic of singling out individuals who have not met his standards is in stark contrast to Sir Alex Ferguson, who never blamed his players in public. It has divided opinion among pundits, with Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier claiming the United manager is ‘destroying’ Shaw.

Mourinho is an expert at using smokescreens to distract from his side’s unconvincing performances. And this latest controversy has moved the narrative on from United’s shock Champions League exit at the hands of Sevilla.

(Photo by Lindsey Parnaby/Getty Images)

Tough love is one thing, but the sustained, public attack on Shaw is unacceptable. If Mourinho genuinely believes he is not good enough to represent United, then fair enough. But to continually vilify the youngster’s performances is a step too far and one that could irreparably damage Shaw’s confidence.

This is not to say that Shaw is a completely innocent bystander. Mourinho’s predecessor, Louis van Gaal, also questioned his desire and general conditioning when he joined United four years ago. Indeed, the Dutchman signed Shaw up to a tailored exercise regime in an effort to improve his fitness.

But while van Gaal’s treatment had the desired effect, Mourinho’s has done the opposite. Being publicly humiliated on a routine basis does neither party any favours.

In all likelihood, Shaw’s disappointing United career will come to an end this summer. A fresh start away from the toxicity under Mourinho is exactly what he needs.

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English Premier League

Keanan Bennetts has perfect opportunity to impress Mauricio Pochettino this week

The left-sided star has a chance to impress in first-team training during the international break.



Photo: Getty Images

With the international week in full flow, plenty of teams in the Premier League have seen their squads diminished by call-ups to national teams.

Tottenham Hotspur are one such side. Nonetheless, with most of the first-team squad away with their respective nations, work continues at Hotspur Way.

In order for Spurs to have a full complement in training, plenty of young talent needs to be pulled in to the ranks.

Mauricio Pochettino will, therefore,e get a chance to see some of his young players training with regular first-team players such as Fernando Llorente, Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

One player who will be training with the first-team this week is talented wide-man Keanan Bennetts, according to London Live.

The 19-year-old left-winger has been catching the eye for the club’s youth team in recent weeks, making the news after scoring a fantastic goal for the under-19s against Monaco in the UEFA Youth League last month.

Bennetts has also been attracting interest for his positional dexterity. The wide-man has played at left-back in recent times and it could be that is his future best position.

This week he will be up against some excellent players such as Lamela and Moura, who did not receive selection to the Argentina and Brazil national teams, respectively.

If he can prove himself with this calibre of player, Pochettino will have to take notice.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

It is coming to a point in his Tottenham career when Bennetts has to make such an impact. The teenager is out of contract at Spurs in the summer and needs to ensure he is kept on for at least one more season.

Tottenham fans who follow the youth teams are certain he is deserving of such a chance. If he can show Pochettino what he is capable of this week, then a new deal will surely be in the pipeline for the talented wide-man.

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