I appreciate that’s harsh on Benali, who has done fantastic things for his Southampton community as well as on a national scale, conquering some ridiculous feats in the name of charity. The guy is a true Saint in all senses of the word and he deserves his post as a club ambassador. But the cynic in me found the timing... interesting.
Why wasn’t Franny given such a role in 2014 after completing his three-week, 1,000-mile challenge running to all 20 Premier League grounds? Or following his second ultra-challenge when he ran and cycled to all 44 Premier League and Championship stadiums in 2016? There was also an opportunity earlier this year when Benali completed five Ironmans to raise £1million for Cancer Research UK.
In total, Benali raised over £1.45m with his charity work and won the Spirit of the Game award in 2014, Just Giving’s Fundraiser of the Year award in 2015 and was awarded the freedom of the city of Southampton in 2016. Saints were late to the party, it seems.
As for the scarves, I’m sure plenty of kids, tourists and a certain subsection of Southampton fans would have enjoyed them, but it’s not for me. What is for me is supporting a club which at least appears to know what it’s doing.
Like many others, I’m tired of hearing the go-to cliches pumped out by the Southampton PR machine. In my full-time line of work, I’m well aware what the role of a social media executive or manager entails. Demanding, sometimes clueless, internal stakeholders. An angry fanbase or set of consumers. It’s very much a damned if you do, damned if you don’t kind of job and a lot more goes into it than you might think.
Given Southampton’s poor form in the league, the Saints social media team have come under fire for their regular posting of training session videos. Not to dig the player out, but proclaiming Che Adams is on fire each week - when he has failed to net in any of his 11 appearances in all competitions this season - can be pretty maddening after a while.
Following Saints’ humiliating 0-9 home loss to Leicester City at the end of October, Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl indicated he didn’t want to continue delivering empty promises and platitudes.
“After this, no more talking from us,” said Hasenhuttl. “No more messages. The time for that is over.”
The Southampton social media team were only happy to relay that message on to Saints fans.
In fairness, Southampton’s social media did go quiet for a while, only posting three times in between Ralph’s quote and announcing the teams ahead of Saints’ trip to Manchester City in the Carabao Cup. It was quiet again in between that game and Southampton’s return to City in the league days later.
But a spirited 2-1 away defeat against last season’s champions at the Etihad was enough to have the same old sh*t being trotted out again.
On 4 November, James Ward-Prowse was quoted by the social media team saying the below:
We’re all out there together; the team, the manager, the coaching staff, all the physios... Everyone’s together and striving in the same direction. We’ve got a good chance of progressing if we’re all doing that for each other.
Not sure if that makes me want to laugh, cry, fall asleep or throw up.
In little over a week, Southampton went from “No more messages,” to the same old tripe AFTER TWO FURTHER DEFEATS! I know expectations are low, especially in games against Man City, but that is something.
The problem is, I don’t see how Saints will get out of this predicament any time soon.
Though some fans may have problems with his odd selection and tactical choices in recent weeks, Hasenhuttl performed a near-miracle keeping this shower of sh*te up in the league last season. It appears some of that magic has worn off, but don’t forget that this is a manager who was really sought-after when he was somehow signed by Southampton to replace the inept Mark Hughes late last year.
The alternatives are totally uninspiring and Hasenhuttl has proven he can keep a terrible Southampton side in the Premier League. We’d be fools to get rid of the Austrian, but he does need to find a way to plug some gaps as this old, battered row boat is taking on water and quick.
Then, and this is really wishful thinking, hopefully Chairman Gao will realise the desperation his cash cow is in and will actually part with some of his supposed millions to address the clear shortcomings of this squad in January, giving Hasenhuttl the players he wants as Saints gear up for yet another relegation battle.
But it’s not just the playing staff which is of concern to me. Saints fan Glen de la Cour, a great follow on Twitter and writer of the brilliantly-sweary LeagueOneMinus10 blog, posted a really sobering tweet yesterday.
Am I correct in saying that we currently have no Director of football, no head of recruitment, no assistant manager, no first team coaches (just assistant coaches) and no Under 23s manager and a temporary Under 18s manager? #SaintsFC— Glen de la Cour (leagueoneminus10) (@L1minus10) November 12, 2019
As Glen rightly points out, the football side of Southampton’s backroom staff has totally disintegrated.
How are Southampton fans supposed to be optimistic that things will change when this Premier League club - one which was highly thought of up until recently - are unable or unwilling to find football men to fill these coveted positions?
The Southampton hierarchy has allowed this to happen. It appears there’s a total apathy at board level. Inactive, slow to react, unwilling to invest. What hope can we or Hasenhuttl have that things are going to change for the better from January onwards?
So, my final message in this rambling article is that Southampton Football Club, from top to bottom, needs to get its sh*t together. Saints fans aren’t all idiots and these ongoing empty, vapid PR stunts do not cover up the fact that nearly all of you have been totally incompetent at your jobs for the last three-and-a-half years.
Gao, if you want to keep Southampton as a valuable asset you can sell on for profit, you need to do something about it.