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 Posted by Chris Rann
Jul 28, 2014

Who is to blame for Saints' situation?

ESPN FC's Mark Donaldson examines the work Southampton manager Ronald Koeman has cut out for him as his club unloaded five key players.

Football fans have a relationship with their teams like no other sport in the world. It's like a family and, by definition, the players who represent it are treated as such and loved accordingly. In almost all cases, though, this relationship is a one-way street and -- apart from some notable exceptions -- for the players it is only ever temporary.

Fans worship those who pull on their team's shirt as heroes, going to great lengths to show them love and respect in exchange for them using their skills to contribute to the success in the name of the badge. Perhaps those fans are naïve for believing that love and respect would ever be returned.

When clubs go through difficult times, it is the fans who suffer, almost exclusively. Players can always find someone new to worship them; fans are stuck with their club.

What is happening at Southampton right now is unprecedented. There have been similar exoduses elsewhere around the globe, but this is surely the first at a club that has no major financial worries. In the past few months, Rickie Lambert, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and now Calum Chambers have left the club, with Morgan Schneiderlin and Jay Rodriguez expected to soon follow. The best and brightest will ply their trade elsewhere in the coming season.

For a supporter of Southampton, this is very difficult to accept. Right now it feels like the Saints' "family" is being ripped apart and nobody even knows why. In every case there are justifiable reasons for the moves, all going to "bigger" clubs in a "better" position than Saints, but where will it end? And could it not have been prevented?

The trouble with not knowing the full extent of the plan behind the scenes at the club is that everyone has a voice, and with it an opinion. All sorts of wild theories and accusations have spread around the Internet, promoting further unrest among an already worried fan base. A very good team is disintegrating and there is seemingly nothing that the supporters can do about it.

To make matters worse, at least two of the players were so desperate to get away that they were prepared to completely burn their bridges with the people who had idolised them to achieve it. Underhand tactics, childish interview comments and ultimatums meant that those particular splits ended less than amicably. As the departed players are insensitively congratulating each other on social media for the moves they so "deserve," it is another kick in the teeth for the people whose support has paid their wages.

Saints fans have had it worse, of course, but perhaps that's why this current situation has hit home so hard. The club was seemingly on the up, and a lot of fans bought into Nicola Cortese's foolish talk of the Champions League, which has in turn raised expectations to an unachievable level. The players perhaps bought into it, too -- perhaps furthering their hunger for the competition when it didn't materialise on the south coast.

The big question: Is the board more than happy to let these players go -- at admittedly extortionate rates -- or is it really doing all that can be done to keep them? Either way, there is an issue behind the scenes: The board is cashing in, or the players are unhappy. Neither is a place the club want to be in.

The third, and also plausible, option is that the Saints squad are the ones with the impetus. At a time when their stock has never been so highly valued, is it possible that the players themselves chased big pay raises and career advancement on the back of a fantastic season?

Football lost its soul a long time ago, sold to the highest bidder, and today's player is nothing short of a hired gun who will work for whoever can provide the most coin. The trick is to have no expectations of the players at all, and to treat them as such. Don't get their names put on the back of your shirt, don't have your picture taken with them, and don't fall into the trap that their badge-kissing means anything more than the finishing move in the act of a show pony.

These people aren't your family and they aren't your friends, they are employees of your club, and often other clubs can pay them more. All Saints fans can hope for is that the board have a master plan up their sleeves, otherwise this could be a long old season, and neither the new manager nor those who pay to watch the side week in and week out deserve it.