WITH Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren joining the Reds this summer – and Southampton trousering £49m from the transfers in the last three months – I spoke to BEN STANFIELD, a born-and-bred Southampton lad, a Saints fan for over 25 years and a season-ticket holder for 19, about what we can expect from our new trio.
TAW: I guess the obvious first question is how are you feeling about Liverpool nicking three of your best players – did it come as a surprise?
BEN: To be honest, I completely appreciate that all three of the players have, on the whole, moved to Liverpool for footballing reasons. The chance to compete for domestic trophies and play in the Champions League is something they were realistically unlikely to ever achieve at Saints, so I can’t say I blame them. Football never surprises these days so I guess it was more disappointment that the moves happened – particularly Lallana and Lovren and the way in which they forced their moves.
TAW: Dejan Lovren then – now the most expensive defender in Liverpool’s history; good player? Worth the money? What will he bring to Liverpool’s defence?
BEN: It would sound rather bitter of me not to admit that he is a good footballer. Saints achieved the sixth best defensive record in the Premier League last season, and he was certainly a factor in that. As Liverpool fans will already know, he is an international defender for Croatia and has certainly gained a lot of experience for someone of his relatively young age (25).
Would I say he is worth the money? Probably not, but when you see other pretty average defenders like David Luiz being sold for c£50m, Lovren actually starts to look a bargain at £20m. I’d value him nearer £15m, so I think Liverpool possibly paid slightly over the odds for him.
In relation to what he’ll bring to Liverpool’s defence, he’s a very committed defender who will give the clichéd 100 per cent each game. He is strong in the air, relatively quick and calm when on the ball. He has excellent positional sense and communicates well with the players around him. Something I believe, from a distance, Liverpool lacked a lot last season
TAW: Yeah, a lot has been made of Lovren’s skills as an organiser; a leader – he’s vocal, we’re told, which is something Liverpool have missed at the back since Jamie Carragher’s retirement (catch The Anfield Wrap-Jamie Carragher special here by the way, for his view on Lovren). Is that something that stood out for you about him?
BEN: There is no doubting that, like most footballers, Dejan is a confidence player. For the first half of last season, Lovren was fantastic and definitely grew in confidence each game. The more he played, and the better the team starting doing, then the more involved he got in organising the defending of opposition attacks and set-pieces. It was evident that, while not the team captain, he had all the assets of a captain and was respected by other players for that.
Then, just after Christmas, he got injured at Sunderland and was never the same player when he returned to the side for the remaining four months or so of the season. I’m not sure if the injury played a part and that he never really recovered full fitness but, alongside a dip in the form of the team for a few weeks, he just didn’t seem the same and that affected his leadership on the pitch as well.
It’s obvious at Liverpool that he’s likely to win more games than he loses and, if the team are doing well, then I think Lovren will be more evident to fans as someone that is playing a significant part in marshalling the defence that’s contributing to those wins.
TAW: If you had to rate Lovren alongside other players in his position in the Premier League, where would you put him?
BEN: I’m not sure if your readers will necessarily appreciate this, but I’d put him in the same bracket as John Terry and Nemanja Vidic. Apologies on both counts! Like those two though, he is a natural leader, commits to every tackle and is never scared to put his head in where it hurts. I think, crucially in a title chasing team, he’ll also contribute points with goals as well. As you saw at Anfield last season, he is always a threat from corners and free-kicks and can easily score five to 10 goals a season if the right chances come along.
TAW: What did you make of the nature of his move – the public declarations of love, the threats to strike and so on. Did it leave a bitter taste?
BEN: How long have you got?! Look, this is a Liverpool-related site so I’m not going to waffle on about what kind of man Saints fans think he is (or isn’t!), but I think it was well documented across the country about the way he handled himself.
We are some of the most loyal and committed fans you’ll ever find. We rarely come close to really winning anything so what we expect in return for that is that players contracted to our club will at least treat it with the class and dignity that its history deserves. Lovren sulking, refusing to play and posting quotes in the media through third parties definitely left a bitter taste in the mouth.
In my opinion, while we’ve lost an exceptionally good footballer, we’ve certainly not lost someone that young Saints fans should aspire to be as adults when they grow up!
TAW: On to Adam Lallana; again the £25m price tag seems to concern many, but to persuade Southampton to sell their captain, an England international and a player who was in the PFA team of the year – it was always going to cost us wasn’t it?
BEN: I know for a fact that Saints never had a choice in whether they wanted to sell Lallana or not. He had informed them, before the World Cup, that he would not play for the club again and that the move to Liverpool had to happen.
So confident was he of the demands he had made that he’d actually said his goodbyes to friends and family. Alongside this, he’d also sorted out what would happen with his house in Dorset and was actually ready for the move to be confirmed before he went away to Brazil.
It turned out that he got on the plane to Rio a very frustrated man that it hadn’t done so due to Saints being reluctant to sell him unless they could get the right deal for the club.
Saints were again informed of this by his representatives while he was in Brazil as no-one of significance at the club was actually answering Adam’s phone calls whilst he was there.
Eventually, the club realised they had no choice, sped up the negotiations with Liverpool and it meant he could sign on returning from England’s disappointing campaign. The £25m fee was the one positive thing that Saints managed to achieve out of the situation.
TAW: What will he bring to the Liverpool side when he recovers from his injury?
BEN: Adam is a talented boy. Everyone has seen that over the last 12 months throughout his season in the Premier League and rise to prominence with England. He has a good turn of pace, although I wouldn’t necessarily say he is quick, can play with both feet, scores and creates goals and takes an excellent set-piece. He is, fitness aside, your typical all-round modern day footballer.
TAW: A lot is being made of his versatility with him being two-footed, from your experience of watching him, what is his strongest position?
BEN: During Saints rise through the leagues over the past few seasons it’s been evident that his strongest position is coming in off the left flank. He can play, and indeed has regularly, ‘in the hole’ as well, but left wing is where he is at his best. He linked up well with Luke Shaw down our left-hand side last season and I’d expect when he plays for Liverpool that he’ll be used in a similar position by Brendan Rodgers.
TAW: Would you back him to be a success at Anfield?
BEN: Yes, but I think he’ll find it hard. He’s going from being the captain, and one of the few stars at Saints, to now playing among a team of international stars. Whereas he was the first name on the teamsheet at St. Mary’s he will now be competing against at least one, if not two, other players for his position at Liverpool. There is no doubting Rodgers rates him, like Roy Hodgson does, but he’s not as young as people think he is (26) and certainly isn’t the fittest player around. It will be interesting watching his development from further afield now and seeing just which way it does go for him.
TAW: Your song for him, “He plays on the left, he plays on the right, Adam Lallana, makes Messi look sh*te”, presumably tongue in cheek (!) but again as with Lovren, how would you rate him in comparison with other players in his position in the Premier League?
BEN: Tongue in cheek? How dare you! The funny thing is, if I had to pick one player who I thought was most similar to Lallana, it would actually be Philippe Coutinho! Juan Mata isn’t far off in similarity to Lallana, although he is faster and I would hesitate to say fitter, but that’s why I found Rodgers’ willingness to part with so much money for Lallana strange – you already have a player just like him!
I do appreciate though that Liverpool will be playing Saturday-Tuesday-Sunday-Wednesday most of the season and therefore need a bigger squad to cope with that. For that reason having Coutinho and Lallana will probably be ideal and I think fans at Anfield will quickly realise that they are very similar in the assets they bring to the team.
TAW: As you’ve hinted at, there is some question over Lallana’s stamina – he was substituted a lot – should we be worried?
BEN: Let’s just say this – I wasn’t surprised to hear that he is injured already! I genuinely can’t remember the last time that he completed a 90 minutes for Saints. He has had problems with his knees and ankles for several years and often got replaced at Saints around the 70-75 minute mark – and this wasn’t because he had been charging up and down the pitch all match.
I wouldn’t say he is an Andy Carroll or Darren Anderton ‘sicknote’ type of player at all, but he is fragile and that’s why, with the hefty price tag and hectic fixture list, I’m interested to see how much he does achieve at Anfield.
TAW: Rickie Lambert then. Was his the easiest transfer to accept given his emotional ties to Liverpool?
BEN: Once again, how long have you got?! There are no words that can really encapsulate how I feel about Rickie Lambert. I was lucky enough to watch Matt Le Tissier each week throughout his entire career and could never have imagined then that any Saints player would ever come close to matching his iconic status with me. Then Rickie came along.
The goals he scored, the goals he created, the friends he made, the kids he inspired –he is a true modern day Roy of the Rovers in Southampton. When it was announced Rickie was moving to Liverpool my heart instantly split in two.
Half of it was devastated that a guy that had achieved so much for Saints could be leaving us while the other half felt so proud and delighted for him that he was going to get to finish his career at the club he loves.
I’ve been lucky enough to meet Rickie several times and, while I still can’t understand a word he says, he is such a genuine bloke! Thousands of Southampton fans have spent the last five years proudly wearing ‘Lambert 7’ shirts around the world and he has done that shirt, synonymous with the aforementioned Le Tisser, so much justice.
As long as I live I will forever remember the goal he scored for England against Scotland at Wembley with that first chance. Like so many, I jumped out of my chair with a loud cheer and shed a tear. No-one deserved that success, or further success, more than Rickie did and, except for the times when Liverpool play Saints, I’ll cheer every goal he scores for you guys!
TAW: He’s a much better footballer than he is given credit for isn’t he? He’s wrongly just labelled a target man.
BEN: Over the last few years I’ve often heard him mentioned as “your typical English number nine” but you’re right, there is a lot more to his game than just flick ons and hold-up play. Yes, he is very good at that but, without sounding to cliché again, he has a great touch for a big man. He brings other players in to play and will create as many goals for other team members as he scores himself.
He is lethal from the penalty spot (having scored 34 out of 34 for Saints), takes a venomous free-kick and will score as many long-range goals as he will tap-ins. The one thing Rickie lacks these days is pace. If he gets any slower he’ll start going backwards!
TAW: Would you back him to be a success at Liverpool?
BEN: I’m not sure it really matters does it? He’s a Liverpool lad and for that Liverpool fans will adore him anyway. Like Lallana, I think it’ll be hard for him to be a massive success, but for different reasons. Rickie is 32 now and certainly nearing the end of his career – definitely in the top flight anyway.
The one thing Liverpool fans know is that there will be no-one in that changing room who is more proud at pulling on the hallowed red shirt and wanting to do well in it than Rickie.
TAW: What kind of reaction from the travellling support at Anfield can the three players expect?
BEN: Assuming Lallana is still out injured, then I think it will be very different receptions for the other two! Lambert will be cheered and sung about like the ‘God’ that he is on the South Coast, while Mr Lovren should, and can, expect a much more frosty reception…. I know whose shoes I’d rather be in that day!!
TAW: As things stand, how do you see that game panning out?
BEN: In our current predicament, we are going to get tonked I reckon! Look, normally, Saints often raise their games against the bigger teams but this pre-season has been anything but normal! Despite winning at Anfield last season, Liverpool has never been a particularly happy hunting ground for us over the years.
It’s one of those away games I’d rather get out of the way early doors – before Liverpool hit their straps – so I’d happily take a draw right now.
TAW: We’ve been linked with Jay Rodriguez now – do you see that happening?
BEN: Earlier this week I might have said yes but, after our Chairman Ralph Kreuger stated adamantly in several interviews that Jay Rodriguez would be staying at Southampton, I’d like to think (hope!) that he’ll therefore stay with us.
Reality, however, says that Jay is from the north west of England, has twice refused to sign new long-term contracts with us and is also very good friends with Adam Lallana. My heart says it won’t happen but my head says you’ve got every chance of getting him at some point, albeit possibly not in this transfer window.
TAW: How highly do you rate him and is he what Liverpool need?
BEN: When Jay first arrived at Saints I wasn’t convinced he’d do well in the Premier League but over the last two years he has just got better and better. He is a very quiet lad who has just worked hard on developing both his physique and his technical ability. Everyone, both inside and outside Southampton, was gutted that he got injured at Manchester City last season and missed out on a deserved place in the England squad for the World Cup.
There is no doubting that he is a goalscorer and, while I think he’d be an excellent addition to any Premier League squad, I’m not sure if I could see him dislodging Sturridge on a regular basis in Liverpool’s starting XI.
TAW: What now for Southampton with all the players out, a new manager and so on – what are your predictions for the new season?
BEN: Like all of you who bleed red for Liverpool, I bleed red for Southampton. They’re my team and they always will be. Whatever league they play in, whoever is playing for them, managing them, running them, I’ll always be cheering them on.
There has been a lot of turmoil at St. Mary’s this pre-season and it’s been hard to process it all as a fan who loves the club so much. But I believe in the new manager, Ronald Koeman, and I hope he can bring the players in that we need to make us competitive on the pitch. If he can then we will continue to surprise people like we have for so many years.
Saints have a world-class academy and already have ‘new’ Lallanas and Shaws coming through that will be in and around the first-team this coming season. But they need experience and quality to play alongside them as well.
The first goal for any club like Southampton is to maintain their Premier League status so, with everything that has happened in the last few weeks, I’d happily take seventeenth now if I was offered it. I really hope all of this change throughout the Club will mean one step back to take two steps forward.
TAW: How do you think Liverpool will do?
BEN: Liverpool have made some good signings this season but I can’t help feeling the real world-class players have gone to some of the other title-chasing teams. Without a marque signing or two, I can’t see Liverpool winning the title this season, I’m afraid.
I think Arsenal and Chelsea have both made some fantastic signings – particularly Arsenal with the signing of the summer in Alexis Sanchez (and who I know was linked heavily with Liverpool) – and I also believe Van Gaal will get the best out of Manchester United side that underachieved last year.
Liverpool also have the added bonus/distraction of being in the Champions League and that will of course have an effect on your squad for Premier League games. If Liverpool finish in the top four again, while having good runs in the domestic and/or European cup tournaments, then I believe they will have done well. Knowing Liverpool fans like I do though, they’ll be expecting more than that!