Southampton have confirmed that executive chairman Nicola Cortese has left the club, putting the future of manager Mauricio Pochettino in doubt.
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Cortese came close to leaving Southampton during the summer as he clashed with club owner Katharina Liebherr, but a peace deal was brokered and the Italian stayed on.
However, the differences between Cortese and Liebherr over the future of Southampton were not fully resolved and, with Pochettino and his executive chairman keen to secure fresh investment during the January transfer window, the Italian former banker has now walked away.
Saints announced on Wednesday that Liebherr -- the daughter of the late Saints owner Marcus Liebherr -- had taken on the role of non-executive chairman.
She told the club’s official website: "With great regret we have accepted the resignation of Mr Cortese. He has done a wonderful job at the club and we very much wanted him to stay. A search has now begun for a successor. In the meantime, it is business as usual and we will ensure that the manager, the team and all the staff at the club have all the help and support they need."
Pochettino had earlier made clear that he would leave the club should Cortese depart, and there is now uncertainty over the former Espanyol coach's position. Pochettino had guided Saints clear of relegation trouble when taking over last season and, despite a dip in form since the start of November, they remain in the top half in the current campaign.
Cortese -- who had faced initial criticism when dismissing Nigel Adkins last season -- played an important role in Southampton’s rise from League One to the Premier League since his arrival at the club in the summer of 2009.