Jeremy Lim sits down with the CEO and founder of British lifestyle consumer electronics company Veho to discuss their shirtfront sponsorship of Premier League fast-risers Southampton, Ronald Koeman's impact and the Saints’ future place in world football.
The best decisions in life often don’t feel like decisions at all. When Steve Lewis learnt of the opportunity for Veho to be Southampton Football Club’s main shirt sponsor for the 2014-15 season and beyond, he didn’t hesitate.
“When the offer to sponsor Southampton was initially presented to Veho, I laughed, and just politely said we were not quite ready for it yet,” Lewis tells FFT. “Two weeks later, the board looked over the accounts, and found we had actually made more profit than we expected. We then thought ‘OK, we can reinvest that money into a shirt sponsorship deal.’ ”
Soon, Veho were called into a meeting with club chairman Ralph Kruger, tying up what would be the beginning of a perfect marriage of the things Lewis loved in life. “As much as Veho chose to sponsor them, they chose us,” the Southampton native explained. “It happened really quickly because we built up mutual ground immediately. There was loads of synergy.
“I’ve been a Saints fan since my childhood, when my father brought me to the old stadium, The Dell. I come from humble beginnings, and started Veho in my garage. Nothing has been gifted to me. Both our brands are growing really fast and punching above their weight.”
Southampton had made their decision. They would soon make others over the course of that fateful summer of 2014. Five difficult decisions, to be precise. No sooner had the Veho logos been attached to the front of Saints kits, before the names of Dejan Lovren, Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw and Callum Chambers swiftly disappeared from the back. Their careers were all headed northwards and upwards, to Liverpool and Manchester United and Arsenal, while Southampton’s prospects for the upcoming campaign spiraled downwards.
Mauricio Pochettino’s departure for Tottenham had likewise been a blow, with the Saints looking increasingly like a victim of their own success the previous year. “When Mauro Pochettino and five of our key players left, it was all doom and gloom. I remember,” Lewis said. “The bookies had us as straight candidates for relegation, and I recall taking some abuse as founder of the shirt sponsor from angry fans over social media.”
The tremors that had been felt were those of Southampton apparently hitting a ceiling in their growth. The club would have loved to retain her stars, but that’s not often the reality for a side that played its football in League One, England’s third level, only five seasons ago. So the feeling of surprise when they still managed to convince one of the Dutch Eredivisie’s most talented – all speed-of-thought and effervescence near the byline – of their project last June was prevalent.
The era of Koeman
No, not Dusan Tadic. For the first time at St Mary’s Stadium since the days of Gordon Strachan, Southampton’s star signing stepped not onto the pitch, but into their dugout. Ronald Koeman would go on to change the lives of those associated with the club forever following his appointment as Saints’ boss. “Hearing the news was surreal,” Lewis said. “Koeman was world-class as a player and gained lots of exposure, which carried on later as a manager.”
The collective sighs of fans that had been left in the dark over Southampton's direction were quickly replaced by cheers, their path illuminated by the clarity the ex-Netherlands player brought to the role. The emptiness of the discourse that they would spend the season threading water has been laid bare. Securing Europa League football for next season has been a fitting way to end this one.
Others may have been daunted by the enormity of the task awaiting them. But a new situation over the summer presented new opportunities to Koeman, who has built a team around its own ideas and an identity that is instantly recognisable. Now, the Saints let the ball do the running for them with their constant possession. Transformation into something greater than the sum of their parts has been swift.