We are embracing it, don’t you worry! One and a half days to go!
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LES Reed has called on everyone at Saints to embrace the Europa League – and ignore anyone who claims the competition will be a burden to them.
Tomorrow’s game against Dutch club Vitesse marks the start of an exciting chapter for the club, as they return to the European stage following a 12-year absence.
Yet while qualification represents a significant achievement for Saints, there are some who have claimed it will only undermine the impressive progress they have made in the Premier League during recent seasons.
Reed, though, believes that is a defeatist outlook and insists that, at St Mary’s, the ambition extends far beyond being satisfied with just holding on to a place in the top flight of English football.
Inspiration “Let’s not talk about big squads, tiredness, travelling,” said the club’s executive director of football.
“Let’s talk about: ‘This is Southampton, we’re in Europe – where we wanted to be.’ “That was an aspiration. It’s the next step on the way. It’s more progress.
“Let’s celebrate that, give it our best shot and really take it seriously and give it a go and see where it takes us.”
Reed continued: “It really baffles me when people were coming up to me at the end of last season saying ‘Ooh, you’re going to be in that dodgy Europa Cup berth.
“You don’t want that, do you?’ “Actually, yes. It’s what we’ve been driving for for the last five years.
“Yeah, we’ll have it, we’ll take it, and I think that says something about us as a club.
“Therefore, when we talk about Champions League within the next five years, yeah, it’s a dream, but it’s a realistic aspiration.
“But we have to do it a step at a time. We have to be patient, because we don’t have the ability to do it all in one hit.
“We have to build towards it and it’s keeping on track. That’s the plan.”
Reed also highlighted the role he believes the supporters can play.
He will no doubt have been buoyed by the excitement that has been evident among the football club’s fanbase as tomorrow’s tie approaches.
“Keep our focus and everyone believe in it and we’ll get there – that’s the message that the fans need to take on board,” he continued.
“They’re part of it. They hopefully will enjoy European nights and we’ll have a good atmosphere and fans will get a chance to go and travel away to places they haven’t been to before.
“Embrace that and see it as your contribution to us being able to keep moving forward as a club, and let’s all be positive.”
Despite his sentiments, Reed has, of course, not been ignoring the possibility that the Europa League could place some significant extra demands on the squad this season.
He and manager Ronald Koeman have already increased numbers slightly, and are still intending to make one or two more additions before the deadline.
But Reed is being careful to strike the right balance.
He is wary of the danger he feels some clubs have wandered into, by adding significant extra numbers in preparation for Europe, only to exit the competition early and be left with an overblown squad that is difficult to keep happy.
He and Koeman have also wanted to continue their policy of focusing on the younger end of the transfer market, rather than going down the route that some clubs do by targeting “experience”.
That can lead to the addition of players who are potentially in decline, on big wages and who are greater injury doubts.
Reed is also optimistic that an additional batch of youngsters will emerge this term to supplement the squad.
So the planning for the Europa League has indeed been serious and detailed – but it is the excitement factor that Reed wants to emphasise the most, and he says it is one that has been building inside the club for some months now.
“Because of the season we had last year, there was always the potential that if we kept going there was a chance of getting a European spot, so we started discussing it a long time ago,” he said.
“So the whole business of dressing the stadium UEFA style, all of that’s been well planned.
“In doing that, it’s really built up a real great atmosphere in the club.
“Everyone’s really looking forward to it, and what we want to do is embrace it.”
Follow Saints v Vitesse with the Echo’s online blog tomorrow at dailyecho.co.uk