Southampton Remember ‘Saint’ Markus
Saturday’s Markus Liebherr Memorial Cup paid tribute to an important figure in Southampton’s recent past. LS Sport’s Hugo Greenhalgh reports from St. Mary’s Stadium…
Markus Liebherr is a name that may not be familiar to many football fans beyond the South Coast. Yet despite only owning the Saints for a year and a month, his contribution to their history is vital and enduring.
In the 2008/09 season, Southampton went into administration and were relegated to League 1. This was the first time they had fallen into the third tier in 50 years.
The club needed a saviour and they found it in the form of Switzerland-based, German-born industrialist Markus Liebherr who took the Saints out of administration in July 2009.
Liebherr’s cash injections were used effectively to bring in a number of important signings. Striker Rickie Lambert was bought for £800,000 from Bristol Rovers and would play a key role in Southampton’s return to the top flight. To date he has scored 88 goals for Southampton and was named Championship Player of the Year last season.
Improvements were immediately apparent, with the Saints narrowly missing out on the play-offs. Tragically though, Markus Liebherr passed away in August 2010 and would never see how far his work would take the club; Southampton would go on to achieve back-to-back promotions.
His contribution to their history is vital and enduring
Liebherr also understood the importance of player development and selling academy prospects to the Premier League elite was a valuable source of income. Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale had both previously been sold for large sums to Arsenal and Tottenham respectively, and Liebherr’s investment saw the academy continue to produce talented players.
It is therefore fitting that Arsenal’s presence in this year’s Markus Liebherr Memorial Cup came as a provision in the transfer of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who at the age of 17 was sold to the Gunners for around £12m last summer.
Belgian champions Anderlecht were also invited to play in the unusual tournament format of 45-minute games. Rangers were originally asked, but had to pull out after they were forced into liquidation in June. How the Glasgow side must pray for a Liebherr-type figure to rescue them from their dismal plight.
The tournament itself was an unspectacular affair. With the bulk of Arsenal’s first-team resting after Euro 2012, it was up to their youngsters to put on a good showing. They beat Anderlecht 1-0, with England U-21 midfielder Henri Lansbury getting the goal.
After losing 1-0 to Anderlecht, Southampton came out stronger against Arsenal and went ahead from a header by new signing Jay Rodriguez. However, Gervinho’s weaving run and neat finish made it 1-1. Much to the confusion of the crowd, the result was then decided by a penalty shoot-out despite Arsenal already having won the tournament on points.
Liebherr’s investment saw the academy continue to produce talented players
It remains to be seen how Southampton will fare on their return to the Premier League. What is certain though is that they are in much better shape than when they were last there. Liebherr’s financial assistance and emphasis on sustainability for the future put them well on their way to success.
It is important that Southampton fans continue to remember Liebherr’s legacy at the club. A true ‘Saint’, in more ways than one.
Words: Hugo Greenhalgh
Images: Joe Cummins