This year marked a decade since Southampton’s memorable Trophy triumph at Wembley Stadium, and Alan Pardew has explained how he masterminded a victory which sparked a succession of successes for the Saints…
When all is said and done, we might forgive Alan Pardew that famous dance on the Wembley touchline, for glory at the home of football doesn’t come around all too often.
On 28 March 2010, in what was Southampton’s first-ever appearance at the new National Stadium, we might have even encouraged it.
Pardew and the Saints marched to victory under the arch that day, claiming a 4-1 win over Carlisle United in front of a record-breaking crowd and, in turn, a first domestic trophy since 1976. But few could have predicted what was to come for his young side in the years that followed, even the manager himself. The Trophy triumph was a springboard for Southampton, one which catapulted the club and its stars to the next level.
“Rickie Lambert was one of my first signings and, I’ll be honest, when he walked into my office I didn’t think he’d go quite as far as he did in terms of playing for England!” he says with a smile.
“But I always liked Rickie as a player at Bristol Rovers. People talked about him but no-one actually went for him. The Chief Executive and owners weren’t that keen when I said I wanted to sign him, I had to really, really push for him. Even though I felt he wasn’t the perfect specimen when he signed, I believed we could get him to be the perfect specimen. Having looked at his record, I thought ‘surely he can only get better’.
“Obviously, that was the case. He was a great character, he took on board some fitness and nutrition advice we gave him – we got him off the beer and pie diet! And he truly flourished.”
Lambert’s story had begun long before that day at Wembley, though, and ended long after his bow on the international stage. Until New Year’s Day in 2019 - when a certain Billy Sharp took on the mantle - the former forward was the highest-scoring player in English football since the turn of the century. Honoured with the prestigious Sir Tom Finney Award at the 2018 EFL Awards, his career spanned 18 years, nine Clubs and over 600 games.
And he wasn’t the only one in Southampton’s Trophy-winning side. Far from it.
Pardew’s face lights up as he recalls others in his starting line-up that day: Jose Fonte, a European Championship winner with Portugal in 2016; Michail Antonio, a regular for West Ham and Player of the Season in 2017; and Adam Lallana, Champions League winner and England international in 2019.
“Looking at the team I had once the season had started, I always thought we could and should win the EFL Trophy from the moment we entered it. I approach all the competitions I enter as a manager in the same manner – I want to win them. The EFL Trophy became very, very important to Southampton’s success that came later on, because that team really learned how to win in that Final, and in the games leading up to it.
“Without a doubt, at that particular time, Lallana, Lambert and Fonte were a level above everyone else in the team and that’s why they all went on to have great careers. I feel it was massively important for them, winning that trophy, just to get a winning mentality amongst them and the others in the team. I thought the competition was really important to us.
“I think that Final was a real bonding for us as a team and the fans. Southampton took so many fans to Wembley, there were over 44,000 of them there – it literally seemed to be all Southampton, it was amazing.
“It was such a great day for us, we won the Trophy, we paraded it in front of the fans, we enjoyed the experience and I think for the first time the fans thought ‘OK, maybe there’s a future in this club and maybe we can get back to the Premier League one day.’
Indeed, a quarter of Southampton’s entire population was estimated to have been at Wembley to see their side lift the EFL Trophy. Lambert, Lallana and Antonio had all found the net with half an hour of the game to spare, with the result beyond doubt just minutes into the second half.
Pardew left the dancing to Antonio, who celebrated with a jig as he scored Southampton’s fourth. It was a victory which marked just the beginning of a long journey, and everyone associated with the Saints knew it.
“There was a definite feeling that the club could or should have been competing higher than it was, especially with the huge fan base and the stadium it had,” he continues. “Really and truly with the club, the only way was up and we knew it was achievable, we just had to rebuild. It was just a case of how quickly we were going to get there.
“I think that win at Wembley in this competition was one of the building blocks that put the foundations in place to be successful again, certainly so. It started with the new ownership, then it was myself being appointed, then it was the right recruitment of some good players and then it was just the results on the pitch.
“Then, they had another excellent manager in Nigel Adkins who built on the success and that consistency has got them to where they are today. They’ve had a consistency in their model and that’s really important. If you have that around you, it really helps you manage a team well.
“In a way, we delivered the perfect performance that day. It was a day when the players just delivered and, as a manager, that’s a great feeling because you can just watch your team play and enjoy the success. I remember enjoying their performance so much; they won the game and deserved to do so.”
The EFL Trophy continues to champion the development of young players, and the proof is in the pudding. Last September saw Rochdale’s Peter Thomas become the competition’s youngest-ever player, at just 15 years and 22 days of age.
“Our EFL Trophy win had serious significance for the young players at Southampton,” Pardew says with certainty. “For them to experience that joy and that win in front of the crowd we had – you only want more of that as a player. It had real significance to them.”
What remains, of course, is a real legacy, both for the club and the class of 2010. Southampton would go on to earn promotion to the Championship the following season, and again to the Premier League just 12 months later, with much the same group of players who had helped them to EFL Trophy glory.
For Pardew, what remains are nothing but pride and fond memories.
“Like anything, you want to put foundations in place and I genuinely felt that when I was there the foundations had been put down and they were solid,” he says.
“After I left, the team went on to have great success and even though I wasn’t there, I was so proud to see what they achieved because a big part of it was the team that I had built and the team that won that competition. It instilled a winning mentality into them and gave them momentum, belief and a sense of what the good times could be like again, I suppose.
“It gives new, young fans something to shout about and allows them to think ‘we’re a winning team, we’ve won the cup’. That’s something you just can’t buy; you can’t buy that in the transfer market, it only comes from winning. Those sorts of memories last forever.”