It has been a very tough battle on the field in the past few months, with Mark Hughes endearing himself to the fans by steering the club from the reality of relegation to the dizzy heights of safe 17th, with 3 points to spare. The scenes in Swansea were that of pure jubilation, and there was a party atmosphere inside St.Mary’s on May 13th when we faced the Champions of England; but despite this feeling, it was a horrific season which cannot be repeated.
There is no doubt that an in-depth post-mortem will be conducted in the coming weeks, especially considering the successive top 8 finishes in recent years. There are so many questions to be answered, and there is no doubt that the structure needs to be revised if we are to avoid another disastrous season. The question that is whirring around my head though, is what is more important right now; Progression or Production?
Ralph Krueger has already conducted a lengthy interview in which he admitted that the club has
“lost The Southampton Way”
However, what exactly does that mean? In recent years, ‘The Southampton Way’ has been to sell players for big money, buy replacements for a fraction of the sale cost, and then sell those players on for big money. That is not what the fans want, and for me, it doesn’t represent ‘The Southampton Way’.
For me, ‘The Southampton Way’ has always been delivering quality players through our academy. This is a platform upon which Southampton became famous, whilst also drawing the admiration of all football fans in the country. We would produce jaw-dropping talent through what was referred to as the conveyer belt of talent, and at one point we seemed to have something for Left-Backs. Wayne Bridge, followed by Gareth Bale, followed by Luke Shaw and also Matt Targett coming through the ranks, too. We’ve produced exceptional players, but my concern is that it will be some time before we experience this again.
To produce quality, young players we need to be giving them game-time. This worked in our favour when we were in The Championship and especially in League 1 because we could introduce these talented players in a much easier environment for them, two leagues below where we are now. To compete in the top-half of the Premier League you need experienced, top quality, established players; so without a doubt if we are to progress in the league next season we need to invest in our squad, leaving production in the shadows.
Josh Sims has been on the brink of the first team, with Sam McQueen also gaining some substitute appearances in the latter parts of our final games, but I can’t see either of them getting regular games for us next year, and on top of that our academy is bursting with players who will be hungry for first team football. Harrison Reed has had a solid season for Norwich, and has even been quoted as saying that he doesn’t want to be sitting in the stands next season, so does that spell the end of his Southampton career? I can’t see him pushing Romeu, Lemina, Højbjerg, Ward-Prowse or Davis out of the squad. The same for Matt Targett when he returns from loan, unless we sell Bertrand (who finished the season with the Captain’s armband), will he want to be a squad player? If he stays, where does that leave McQueen? Sam Gallagher is also returning from loan, much to the despair of a lot of Birmingham fans who had a lot of good words to say about his performances.
If you look deeper into the youth set-up we have talented players such as Michael Obafemi, Ryan Seager, Nathan Tella and Callum Slattery to name but a few. These are all players who are exciting prospects, but nowhere near the first team.
There has been talk lately that Mr.Gao is looking to invest in an Austrian or Swiss team so that we can put players through their books to gain experience, which does seem like an interesting proposal but this won’t come into effect for some time so that still leaves us with good, young players who want regular football. If Reed gets told he needs to go on loan again for first team football then I can see him leaving for good, as is the case with Targett, too.
I personally believe that we will lose several of our younger players this season, whilst concentrating more on progression overproduction. It is a shame, but I would rather see Southampton Football Club invest some of the money back into the team, and with a stronger squad we can compete for a Cup and once again become “The Best of The Rest” by finishing 7th. I think we also need to drop tags such as ‘The Southampton Way’ and ‘We March On’, which basically translate to ‘We sell high and buy low, but the fans will get over it’, and put all our efforts into what every fan wants; success.