Sunday afternoon was the near-perfect riposte to Ronald Koeman.
This is somewhat belated, given the 48+ hours since Sunday's 4.30 kick-off, but I felt obliged to type up what was on my mind at the time.
There is no dodging the fact Koeman did a fantastic job at Southampton. Joining the club in its inaugural (and biggest) summer of change, various "insightful" football pundits from across the broad spectrum of the British sports media gave Southampton absolutely zero chance of surpassing the club's achievements while under the guidance of Tottenham's Mauricio Pochettino.
Continuing Saints' upward trend of finishing in higher league positions for six consecutive years, breaking Saints' Premier League table position record with a berth in 6th place in the 2015/16 campaign, things were looking rosy for Koeman, despite losing numerous players to bigger and better clubs over his two seasons in charge.
Despite Saints' relative success, one thing I always found particularly galling with Koeman was his apparent unwilling to give any Southampton youngsters a chance—a key part of Southampton's ethos as a club. Even poor Harrison Reed, who was fantastic in a vital 3-0 win against Everton to break up a poor run of five losses in a row back in the 2014/15 season, didn't even get a sniff at first team football after that stellar performance.
Nigel Adkins helped bring Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain through in League One, before handing the then-unknown James Ward-Prowse a full debut on the day of Southampton's return to the Premier League against reigning champions Manchester City. Mauricio Pochettino introduced us to two young, top-quality full-backs in Luke Shaw and Calum Chambers. It's what Southampton does best. Under Koeman, you would be hard-pressed to find any young Saints academy players he trusted enough to play for the first team, unless through sheer necessity a la Matt Targett.
In the space of a few months, we have already seen Puel insist on Saints playing less-direct, neater football in a similar vein to that of Pochettino's Saints, while we have also seen the return of our academy stars getting a chance of first team football. Sam McQueen, Targett, Ward-Prowse, Reed, Olufela Olomola and, after Sunday, Josh Sims have all had a crack in the first team in both the league and in cup competition under Southampton's French manager.
Those fears of Koeman's lack of faith in Southampton's youngsters were confirmed when he stated he wasn't particularly impressed with what he saw in the Saints under-21 game he attended. 'I wasn't impressed," Koeman said. "I look to the development of young players and they still have a lot to learn and they are still not on the level that is needed for the Premier League. It is more difficult to get into the first team of Southampton than it was four years ago."
Statements like the above are often best served to be kept behind closed doors. But, as Everton fans can now attest, Koeman enjoys the sound of his own voice. The oft-repeated soundbite provided by Koeman when asked about his future at the club—stating his loyalty to Southampton for at least until the end of his contract with another season remaining—proved the Dutchman to be rather full of shit when he left for Everton in the summer, with the lure of money proving too much as the Toffees doubled his wages.
I was disappointed at Koeman's departure, before feeling totally indifferent. Southampton Football Club and its loyal fanbase have seen and been through this so many times by now. Despite Pochettino making it very clear he saw Saints as nothing more than a stepping stone in his translated press conference answers, I felt more twisted at the Argentine leaving than I ever felt with Koeman. It's hard to not be used to the inevitable summer upheaval by now.
Koeman certainly got plenty of venom thrown his way at St. Mary's, but it felt a lot less toxic than the abuse Dejan Lovren, Adam Lallana or a Harry Redknapp type would receive. Koeman deserved some stick for going back on his word, but the Southampton fans in attendance soon channeled this energy into backing the team—something which was lacking when Redknapp was abused on his return with QPR a few seasons ago in a 2-1 home loss to the league's relegation strugglers.
Saints supporters had a lot to shout about, to be fair. Less than a minute in, Charlie Austin put his side 1-0 up against Koeman's Everton—set up by Saints academy product Sims, who was also named the Man of the Match for his efforts on his league debut for Southampton.
Many of the players who struggled to get game time under Koeman, the Dutchman's undesirables, flourished on Sunday in a stirring team performance. The match-winner Austin rarely featured under Koeman's stewardship, while the likes of Ward-Prowse, Oriol Romeu and Cedric also did well to undermine their former manager's lack of faith in their abilities.
19-year-old forward Sims impressed on his first appearance for the club's starting XI and, inevitably, Koeman was asked what he thought of the youngster's debut. Clearly perturbed at his team's performance and/or the question itself, Koeman retorted: "I wasn't aware of Josh Sims when I was here and he is not my problem." If a quote could perfectly encapsulate Koeman's lack of interest in the Saints academy, it's that.
To that, Sims replied: "There's always going to be people in football that have different opinions. That's just football. That's life. Everyone has their own opinion. Ronald said what he said. It's just about proving him wrong really."
Before the game, I spoke to my dad about how great it would be for a youngster to kill Everton off with a goal on Sunday to do what Sims wants to—prove Koeman wrong.
Sims may have not scored, but his assist was invaluable in earning three points which felt both important and sweet in equal measure.