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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 April 2006, 11:29 GMT 12:29 UK
Saint George ready for next task
By John May

Southampton head coach George Burley
Burley is buliding his own team at St Mary's stadium
England's patron saint had things pretty easy compared to the tasks facing the current version of Saint George.

George Burley would probably love a cushy day slaying fire-breathing beasts, instead the Southampton head coach's to-do list is as long as a dragon's tail.

Burley came into a club in turmoil, still writhing from the pain of relegation from the Premiership and Harry Redknapp's discovery of his return-ticket to Portsmouth.

The former Ipswich, Derby and Hearts boss's priority was to ensure Saints did not suffer a second successive relegation, but at the same time he had to trim the squad to fit a new financial reality while planning ahead to mount a promotion challenge next season.

All of this against a background of media speculation surrounding his role and relationship with Southampton's director of football Sir Clive Woodward, and uncertainty over the future of chairman Rupert Lowe who brought Burley to the club.

"When a club comes down from the Premiership, it can be difficult to stabilise," says Burley with understatement.

"You have problems on and off the field, it's difficult financially, some clubs change their manager and the fans get frustrated.

"You only have to look at clubs like Nottingham Forest, Sheffield Wednesday and Manchester City who have slipped down to the third tier.

You have to face the reality of the situation and face it head on
Southampton boss George Burley

"But what you have to do is face the reality of the situation and face it head on. And then set out to build something that's going to take the club forward."

Burley's rebuilding began with a spot of demolition, as he ushered out 16 players and brought eight in during the January transfer window.

"When I first came in we had a series of four games in 10 days and that showed me the squad wasn't strong enough. That's why we had to change things.

"We sold players for almost 8m and that will give us funds in the summer to increase the size and quality of the squad.

"Another reason we had to make a lot of changes in January is that this is the last year of the Premiership parachute payment. Once you lose that, it's difficult to build a squad."

Burley faces more decisions in the summer when Matthew Oakley, Marian Pahars, Michael Svensson, Kamil Kosowski and Djemal Belmadi are among seven players out of contract.

Oakley, Pahars and Svensson who were Premiership regulars for Saints, could be allowed to walk for nothing.

Southampton goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski
Polish keeper Bartosz Bialkowski was one of Burley's first purchases

"You're talking about some good professionals there and we won't be rushing in," said Burley.

"Some of those players have been injured which hasn't helped. We will be giving them the opportunity over the next few weeks to see how their fitness goes and take it from there.

"Come the summer it's time to get a squad strong enough to take us back," said Burley who knows what it takes to get clubs out of the Championship.

"I don't think there's a recipe for getting out of the Championship. I had four play-offs at Ipswich and got promoted the fourth time, and I got into the play-offs with Derby.

"It's a different style of football, it's not about about keeping possession. If you look at the teams who are doing well, free-kicks and corners and defending the box is very much the key.

"Teams close down quickly and get the ball into the box quickly and they're very dangerous at set pieces with big strong attackers and defenders.

"You have to cope with that and only then can you impose your style and that's what I did at Ipswich and Derby."

I have the opportunity to build a team that I'm going to be judged on next season
Saints boss George Burley

Burley's time at Hearts and Derby has provided him with the experience of doing his job while ignoring the noise in the background and there is plenty of that at St Mary's.

Saints chairman Rupert Lowe is coming under increasing pressure as a takeover battle shapes up, while the role of former England and British Lion rugby coach Sir Clive Woodward continues to invite speculation.

Woodward's position of director of football means he is responsible for reporting to the board on all football matters but Burley is his own man within the set-up.

It will be the team that Burley assembles that will ultimately decides Burley's fate, and that is how he wants it.

"You build your own style. I was brought up at Ipswich under Sir Bobby Robson and that's something I try and introduce, and I think the teams I had at Ipswich, Derby and Hearts showed that.

"You work at things, and try and see things as quickly as you can and mould a team that will hopefully win games and play the way you want it.

"A lot of decisions were made in January, and there are some still to be made that will give us the opportunity to build a team that I'm going to be judged on next season."


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Interview: Southampton boss George Burley



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