The Obituary Column: Farewell, Nicola Cortese, and possibly Southampton

Bryn Lennon

Nicola Cortese has resigned as Southampton's chairman, with rumours now flying that many others could be set to follow. It's yet another end of an era on the South Coast...

It's a strange time, in modern football, where non-players can sometimes be thrust into the limelight. There was the sight of Portsmouth's administrator, Andrew Andronikou, signing autographs, while chairmen who saved clubs from disaster frequently appear above those with a century of goals in the Football Manager 'legends' and 'icons' section. Alexandre Gaydamak will probably inspire a flicker of "oh yeah, I vaguely remember him" in most Premier League fans in the same way, I don't know, Stern John would.

So it might be with Nicola Cortese. He's been linked with a move to Milan, in the same way a star striker might be, although his departure is a mystery with varying reports on how and why it came to pass. We hardly knew him, but we may well know the effects of him leaving, with Southampton about to endure a potentially disastrous fire-sale which, while not quite in the same desperation, could vaguely resemble something that once happened to their fiercest rivals.

The South Coast of England seems to be the prime location for this kind of drama. We've had Portsmouth's multiple implosions until they found themselves in League Two, Southampton's fall, rise, and now uncertainty, while even Bournemouth have attracted heavy investment themselves after seeing relegation, and Brighton and Hove Albion have gone from playing in some hellish trough to the romanticism of the American Express Stadium.

The South Coast, with its antique shops, placid beaches and Victorian-nostalgia tat, doesn't inspire much fantasy of do-or-die football games, epic tales and vicious derbies, although Portsmouth and Southampton do seem to have one of the tastier ones. There was a story of one goalkeeper placing down his towel by the goal, only to turn round shortly afterwards to find that it had been set on fire by the away fans. Not bad for a reserve game.

In recent years, the most memorable clash was when the two met in the FA Cup as Southampton passed Portsmouth while the former were in the ascendancy and the latter were dying a horrible death, Pompey gathering for a last hurrah to crush their rivals 4-1 before the club steered itself into the sun, achieving only a defeat in the final, putting Michael Ballack out of the World Cup and relegating West Ham United by convincing them to hire Avram Grant.

Once again, it seems there will be knock-on effects. Luke Shaw, Rickie Lambert, Morgan Schneiderlin, Adam Lallana, Dani Osvaldo, Victor Wanyama, Jay Rodriguez and James Ward-Prowse will likely be attracting the attention of many other clubs in the Premier League, and many have eagerly been linked with moves away by those predicting a mass exodus.

As well as the demise of Cortese, we may well be about to see the death of one of the few clubs that looked capable of seriously challenging the established top seven in the league. A far more unpredictable septuple have taken the place of the old Sky Four, but their hegemony has almost been as unquestioning. Southampton could've upset that, with a mixture of sensible acquisitions and long-term talents that have been at the club since the League One days. When Cortese first threatened to resign, the club were in third. Since then, things have gone south somewhat, but they looked to have a fine base from which to launch a serious challenge next season.

A big part of this was the decision to replace Nigel Adkins with Mauricio Pochettino, derided as madness at the time but now looking one of the more astute managerial decisions in recent Premier League history. It was the move Tottenham Hotspur thought they were making when they replaced Harry Redknapp with Andre Villas-Boas, and timed to perfection.

Now, uncertainty reigns. The talk of the end times may prove to be premature, but it certainly seems that the club's ambitions will be greatly stunted. We may never know whether they truly had the capability to compete at the highest level, but we do know that we've lost a fun club full of a lot of exciting players that played good and effective football. The Premier League is probably going to be a little bit more predictable next year, and in an age of marginal gains, sometimes that really can seem like the end of the world.

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