Premier League

Ayre backs transfer policy

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Thu, 18 Apr 2013 16:35:00

Southampton boss Mauricio Pochettino has been satisfied with the performances his players have produced since his appointment.

Pochettino took over from Nigel Adkins in January and looks to have cemented Southampton's place in the Premier League for next season.

But the 41-year-old believes Saints could be in a better position and admits they should have picked up more points.

Pochettino said: "I'm pleased and satisfied with how the team has been playing, but you always need a bit of dissatisfaction.

"All the games that I manage - whether they are at home or away - are winnable, so I want to win."

Meanwhile, Pochettino is relishing the prospect of facing Michael Laudrup again when Southampton travel to Swansea on Saturday.

The ex-Espanyol boss faced Laudrup when the Swansea manager was coaching in Spain.

"I'd like to congratulate Michael Laudrup because he's having an amazing season," said Pochettino.

"Swansea's brand of football is established, and quite similar to what we're trying to achieve at Southampton."

"The style of football he plays at Swansea suits him, and it is similar to the style he was playing in Spain."

Norwich have agreed an ?8.5million deal with Sporting Lisbon for the 24-year-old Dutch striker but the 24-year-old's agent, Louis Laros, was reported earlier this week as saying the move was dependent on the Canaries staying in the Premier League.

With five games remaining, Hughton's side currently lie in 14th position on 35 points, just four points above 18th-placed Wigan who have a game in hand.

Laros was reported as claiming: "There is a special clause in the deal accepted by all parties that stipulates if Norwich leave the Premier League then the future of Ricky van Wolfswinkel will be open again."

Hughton, however, slammed the door shut on that possibility on Thursday afternoon as he prepared for Saturday's vital home clash against rock-bottom Reading.

He said: "I have heard those reports but the facts are that he has signed for Norwich City and I expect to see him on the first of July.

"Any talk of a relegation clause in the contract is not fact. That is where we are and we look forward to seeing him next season."

Hughton was less forthcoming on the future of striker Kei Kamara whose loan spell with Norwich is due to finish two games before the end of season.

There is a chance, however, they might try to keep the Sierra Leone striker who is on loan from Major League Soccer side Sporting Kansas City.

Hughton said: "We are conscious that a decision has to be made on him. He has made a good impact. We still have a bit of time. It's not for a few weeks that we need to make that decision and we are putting our heads together to see what we want to do."

The Norwich boss, however, insisted his sole focus was trained on the match against Reading, following last weekend's unfortunate defeat against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium when Norwich conceded three goals, including a harsh penalty, in the last five minutes in a 3-1 defeat.

Hughton said: "We are coping very well. We know we have to get points.

"We are on the back of a very good performance at the Emirates last week and there is confidence in the team.

"There's no getting away from the fact that we have five very big games, starting at home against Reading on Saturday.

"They are going to be fighting, they are a proud football club and a good team. They'll be giving everything to get a result.

"We have lost three matches at home all season. These are the positives you have to grab hold of. There is a good spirit in the squad and we have nigh-on a fully fit squad.

"You have to look forward to these challenges. It's a wonderful division to be in.

"We felt aggrieved last Saturday but that is in the past. We have left that frustration behind."

Number one choice goalkeeper John Ruddy is back in training and has played two development matches but is unlikely to be rushed back against Reading.

Meanwhile, midfielder Anthony Pilkington is back in contention following his hamstring injury and Bradley Johnson has recovered from a knock suffered against Arsenal.

Hughton insists there are no nerves in the dressing room and prefers to stress the positives of a long season as Norwich battle for their Premier League survival.

He said: "We still have six very good clubs below us at this moment and it is our intention to stay where we are.

"We have five games, three of them at home. It is in our hands.

"It could be worse, we could be in 17th or 18th place. Apart from the early part of season we have not been in the bottom three. That indicates that overall it has been a decent season. We just need to make sure we finish it well."

The American group took over at Anfield in October 2010 having had no previous experience of the sport, with the Boston Red Sox baseball team its primary interest.

FSG initially canvassed advice from a wide range of sources - many of whom have never been named - but Ayre said it was part of the learning process.

Things have changed since then, with Ayre pointing to transfer strategy as the most significant area after accepting they could not be successful taking decisions on the "whim" of any one individual.

"There were two phases to what's happened since the change of ownership," Ayre told Sports Illustrated.

"In the first phase we talked about the knowledge of soccer and that takes time so we probably spent a year with the owners taking a leap of faith to a certain degree of other people telling them what they should be doing.

"Within that year we then get to a situation where the dust has settled and people start to see what is and isn't working.

"I think the fundamental shift particularly around player acquisitions and disposals was that we took the view that it needs to be more of a science.

"Your biggest expenditure line can't be the whim of any individual."

FSG's very first transfer window, having just sacked Roy Hodgson and put Kenny Dalglish in charge, famously saw it spend all and more of the ?50million transfer fee received for Fernando Torres on Andy Carroll (?35million) and Luis Suarez (?22.75million).

The following summer the club spent the best part of ?60million acquiring Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam, Jose Enrique and Sebastian Coates while offloading 13 players.

Having dispensed with director of football Damien Comolli last April and appointed Brendan Rodgers as manager there has been less activity in the last two windows, although spending has still been close to ?50million.

That appeared at odds with FSG's much-vaunted 'Moneyball' strategy of analysing statistics to identify under-valued players who could be acquired cheaply which worked so well for them in baseball.

Ayre, however, denies the American owners ever wanted to transfer that policy to football.

"I don't think there was ever anyone at Liverpool using the word Moneyball, but plenty of other people were using it," the Reds' latest director of football added.

"What we believe, and we continue to follow, is you need many people involved in the process.

"That doesn't mean somebody else is picking the team for Brendan but Brendan needs to set out with his team of people which positions we want to fill and what the key targets would be for that.

"He has a team of people that go out and do an inordinate amount of analysis work to establish who are the best players in that position.

"Despite what people think and read, it's not a whole bunch of guys sitting behind a computer working out who we should buy.

"It's a combination of old-school scouting and watching players - and that's Brendan, his assistants, our scouts - with statistical analysis of players across Europe and the rest of the world.

"By bringing those two processes together you get a much more educated view of who you should and shouldn't be buying and, perhaps as fundamentally, how much you should be paying and the structure to those contracts.

"I think we've had relatively good success since we deployed that methodology. We're getting better all the time.

"We were very pleased with the most recent window in January with Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge (acquired for a combined ?20.5million).

"Hopefully you continue to follow that path. But it's not a Moneyball strategy."

Last the summer FSG wanted to employ another director of football-type figure to help future transfer strategy but manager Brendan Rodgers, appointed in June, was resistant to the idea.

Ayre believes the compromise is working well, however, especially since Dave Fallows (head of scouting and recruitment) and Barry Hunter (chief scout) were brought on board from Manchester City in the autumn.

"I think that director of football role in a lot of cases almost creates as many problems as it solves because people try to judge where the power base is with that role," he said.

"Who's picking the team? Who's deciding which players? What we actually have is probably three or four people who all are involved in that role.

"We have a head of analysis, a head of recruitment, a first-team manager, myself.

"All of those people are all inputting into a process that delivers what a director of football would deliver."

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