Author Archives: Aidan Small

Backs to the wall

Within the space of a single week, Southampton FC have booked themselves a place in the League cup final and completed the biggest deadline day signing in the Premier League. Yet still, despite these undeniable positives, us Southampton fans were left feeling awfully frustrated as the transfer window slammed shut at 11:00 pm last night. A feeling that for the sake of our club’s success and progression, should have been avoided.

Coming into this January transfer window, our top priority was securing a forward; the fans could see it, Puel could see it, and now we just had to hope that the board could see it too. But on the 20th January, Southampton waved goodbye to Club Captain Jose Fonte, and consequently, handed themselves another priority in the market with just 11 days remaining.

Fonte clearly had his head turned after a remarkable Euro winning summer, and since joining back up with the Saints squad, he no longer seemed to be the same player; it was a sad choice to let him leave, but ultimately, it’s one I have to agree with. The club had dug themselves a hole by allowing Fonte to depart, but provided we filled that gap and acted instantly, I could just about bare losing the last remaining member of our Johnstone Paint Trophy winning side.

There was a part of me at the time that was worried we wouldn’t replace Fonte adequately, but I continued looking to the following quotes from Les Reed in faith of the opposite:

“He certainly won’t leave on the basis that he can just go. We would not consider releasing him unless there was a decent transfer fee, and secondly, that we were in a position to replace him.”

But as we now all now know, that replacement is nowhere to be seen.

In plain and simple black and white text, Southampton have finished the January transfer window with a weaker defence than when the window opened; something that a successful and ambitious club should never allow to happen.

In the modern age of football even standing still can be dangerous, let alone regressing.

First and foremost, we needed a new centre-back because of Fonte’s departure. Not only has he proved to be one of the Premier League’s most reliable defenders in recent years, but he is also a natural leader both on and off the field. Such personalities are hard to come by in football, and in my eyes, can’t be discarded without thoughtful and precise planning. Maya Yoshida has shown a remarkable rate of development under Claude Puel so far, but the Japanese International is certainly a downgrade. There is no two ways about it, a player of higher quality should have been recruited to rise above Yoshida in the pecking order.

Secondly, with Virgil Van Dijk putting in performances that could be expected from a ball-playing Barcelona defender, it’s perfectly reasonable to suggest that we could lose the Dutchman this summer. If that may prove to be the case, then Southampton will now be tasked with the challenge of building an entirely new centre-back partnership from scratch this summer. Pushing for a signing this January would have most certainly helped the transition if/when it occurs, as one of the defenders will be aware of his surroundings and demands at Southampton.

Finally, we have the simple fact that competition and depth will bring about the best results for any club. With Fonte now being a Hammer, we have seen that with just one simple injury to Van Dijk, Southampton’s defence has been stripped to its bare bones. And whilst I’m still all for players such as Jack Stephens earning their chances in the side, it shouldn’t have to happen out of desperation. Chances should be handed to less-experienced players in the right moment with the help of fellow experienced defenders around them (both on and off the pitch), and with the signing of another high-quality defender, Southampton would have been able to continue doing so in a controlled manner. 

In the same way that I have praised Reed for his astute business and calculated transfers over the years, I must now also criticise him here for damaging our resilient defence and failing to follow his word.

Jose Fonte and Southampton FC: the fairy tale that’s come to a crashing end

Ugh. We’re here again. In this current moment it’s looking increasingly likely that Jose Fonte will complete his move to West Ham United, with reports stating that the two sides are close to agreeing a fee in the region of £8M; my only question surrounding this latest advancement however, is why? Just why?

On the 9th of January 2010 Jose Fonte decided to depart from Championship outfit Crystal Palace, in favour of a League one side that had recently entered into administration and faced a ten point deduction: that side was of course our beloved Southampton FC.

For the fans, there was excitement and hope that this tough tackling Portuguese centre half would finally bring solidity to our side, but Fonte himself saw far beyond the short term goals of this transfer.

“I’ve come here with a purpose, which is to help this club move to the top divisions. I want to play in the Premier League and I think I can do that quickest by moving here.”

These were the very words that Fonte spoke on his first day in red and white, and the tale that soon followed is remarkable.

There’s that beautiful day at Wembley for the JPT final, the back-to-back promotions taking Southampton to the Premier League, achieving our highest ever Premier League finish, and even returning once again to the Europa League. Since the 9th of January 2010, it’s undeniable that Fonte has been at the heart of all our success.

But it was with the reward for these achievements that has since changed Fonte into a player that we seem to no longer know.

Understandably, Fonte received his call up to the Portuguese national team ahead of the Euro’s, and to say the least, us Southampton fans were thrilled – rather emotional in fact. After years of hard work, grit, and dedication, our club captain was representing his country on one of the biggest stages that a player can ever prove himself on. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in feeling like a proud dad as Fonte first stepped out onto the pitch to face Croatia…

However, with this start in place of the injured Ricardo Carvalho, Fonte didn’t just fill the gap, he made it his own, leaving manager Fernando Santos helpless in selecting Fonte for the quarter final against Poland, and semi final against Wales. In both games Portugal were victorious, and consequently Fonte held his place in the starting XI for the final against France – a decision that would see Portugal become Champions of Europe with a 1-0 win.

Through his ability, attitude and personality, Fonte has given so much to our club throughout his career, making it simply beautiful to witness that same man achieve his childhood dream

Every Southampton fan was supporting Portugal that night as they got behind Fonte, leaving us all optimistic for yet another season with a player capable of such fine performances. But oh how wrong we were…

Fonte returned to St Mary’s with a hero’s welcome, but shortly after it was clear for all to see that his head had been turned. Fonte had tasted success of the highest level, and now he wanted more. This lead to a summer of speculation whereby papers and online sources were filled with ideas regarding Fonte’s current situation, but in truth, only those involved with the deal know what was said over that summer.

What we do know however is that the performances that soon followed from our captain were showings of a man who was no longer stimulated. Fonte’s mind was clearly elsewhere, and on the fifth of January, that was confirmed by Les Reed:

“He’s had several opportunities to improve the situation and he’s reserved his right not to do that.

“He’s made it very clear he would like to explore the opportunities for a transfer.

“That’s where we are at the moment, Jose wants to leave the club. He’s formally asked for a transfer.”

These quotes were hard for every Southampton fan to swallow. We’ve heard it all before in regards to other stars from years gone by, but hearing such news about our club captain and a man who has been with us through every step of our journey was gutting. Just gutting.

With Fonte’s agent being Jorge Mendes – the same agent as Cristiano Ronaldo – this decision to hand in a transfer request was surely used as a means to alert the big boys. Fonte clearly wanted more silverware, and had his eyes firmly placed on a move to either one of Manchester United or Liverpool.

But it seems that Fonte didn’t take into account a particular circumstance; that neither club wants him. Which funnily enough, is exactly what’s happened.

Since realising this, Fonte has been the subject of two bids from two mid-table Premier League sides, West Bromwich Albion and West Ham, with Southampton reportedly close to accepting a bid from the latter.

Fonte has played his hand, and with brutal honesty, it seems to have backfired in the most embarrassing of ways. Not only have Fonte’s dreams of a ‘big move’ amounted to absolutely nothing, but it seems that he is now completely incapable of swallowing his pride and reconciling with the club and us Southampton fans. It appears that for this reason, Fonte harbours no ambition to make life work on the south coast. So much so that I believe if Fonte knew only West Ham and West Brom were interested from the start, his notice would have remained firmly in his pocket.

I will always love and adore Fonte for the years of service and crunching tackles as a member of our original League One side, there is no doubting that. I just hate that this against all odds fairy tale will be tarnished with the same brush of so many other departures from Southampton FC in recent years.

Interview: Talking Mamadou Sakho with Sam McGuire

Another transfer window, and yet another Southampton player wanting out. Incase you missed it earlier this week, Les Reed confirmed that Jose Fonte has made it clear that he wants to explore the possibility of a transfer, having rejected both an improved and extended contract. Once again, this places Southampton in the forever recurring position of having to find a suitable replacement for one of their stars, but just like always, Southampton already appear to have their eyes on someone.

According to Paul Joyce, Southampton have shown great interest in the availability of Mamadou Sakho, who has been told that he can leave the club after falling out of favour with manager Jurgen Klopp. The report states that the French International is supposed to be keen on a move down South, despite interest from Sevilla and Galatasaray.

Eager to find out more about the French International, I spoke with Sam McGuire – writer at TheseFootballTimes and podcast member at Anfield Index – to find out if Sakho is the right man for Southampton Football Club.

Let’s start with the positives; what strengths do you see in Sakho as a player? He’s what most top teams seem to crave these days; a ball-playing centre-back. He break the lines with passes, he’s incisive and positive with his use of the ball. The reason he doesn’t get the plaudits he deserves is because of how awkward he looks when doing it. He’s commanding in the air, he’s a leader and he’s got that grit you sometimes need to get you over the line. In the Europa League match against United at Old Trafford many forget the home side had us on the ropes in that first half and Sakho put in a MOTM performance to keep them out.

Some might say his biggest strength, and possibly the greatest compliment you could pay him, is the fact Alberto Moreno looked fairly solid beside the Frenchman.

What weaknesses has Sakho shown?

His decision making can sometimes be questionable. As in when he attacks the ball and when he lets it bounce. If you’re squeamish you probably won’t be a fan though. As mentioned earlier, he’s not the most graceful on the ball and sometimes it looks as though he’s played himself into trouble but more often than not he’s got it under control.

There’s also question marks over his off field behaviour. He did storm out before a derby after not making the squad, he did put his career in danger after taking a supplement the club didn’t know about and he was sent home for being a disruptive influence on the tour.

Paul Joyce has claimed that Sakho is keen on a move to Southampton; how reliable do you deem Joyce regarding Liverpool news?

If Paul Joyce says something Liverpool related it’s usually true. This is a guy who leaked the Sevilla team news the night before the final by posting it as his Twitter picture.

What exactly has helped Sakho become such a fan favourite at Liverpool?

He bought into Liverpool as a city and in return the fans realised he was one of their own. He’s an adopted scouser. He does a lot of work in the community and goes beyond what’s expected of him and we as fans have a lot of time for players who do that. He showed us respect and we returned it with interest.

At times it was like having a fan on the pitch because he wanted to win as much as we did.

It’s safe to say that Jurgen Klopp and Mamadou Sakho seem to have their differences; what has happened between them and how would you summarise their relationship?

It’s difficult to comment without fully understanding what happened because there’s got to me more than meets the eye. Even after the drug debacle I think Sakho had a future at the club but he had to regain Klopp’s trust. It’s unlikely the club would have given the player a new squad number if he was always on the way out. But then something on the tour, he was late for a few things and disruptive in general.

Klopp sent him home as a way to show who was boss and you have to respect that.

There is a reported £20M price tag to acquire Sakho’s this window; do you believe that he is worth such a fee?

Definitely. He only recently signed a new deal at the club, he’s 26-years-old and he’s still a quality defender.

Obviously the likes of Romagnoli, John Stones, Eric Bailly and your own Virgil Van Dijk don’t come with the baggage Sakho does but in a world that they’re all worth £50M plus Sakho is comfortably worth £20M.

Finally, what would be your overriding thoughts if Sakho leave’s Anfield this window?

A mixture of regret and resentment.

Had he not been a fool on the tour he could have been part of the Liverpool squad. I know we’re second in the league but there are still defensive problems, especially when it comes to lapses in concentration and distribution of the ball, and it’s something you can’t help but feel Sakho would be able to fix, or at least play a part.

I trust Jurgen Klopp but sometimes you see Lucas/Lovren/Klavan do something ridiculous in defence and just let out a sigh knowing Sakho is at home. It’s just best for all parties if he leaves now though.

 

Fraser Forster: questions need to be asked and answered

On the 13th of January 2016 the chant of “Fraser Forster, England’s number one” was being bellowed from all corners of St Mary’s stadium. Nearly one year on however, this chant has since been replaced by moans and murmurs, with Southampton fans understandably vocal over their worries of the big man.

 This time last year Southampton had been forced into relying on the services of Maarten Stekelenburg, and upon Forster’s return from injury, Southampton went on to keep six consecutive clean sheets – an achievement that would prove to be a new club record.

Forster’s return to the starting XI was remarkable; not only was he was denying the opposition numerous clear cut chances, but he was also raising the game of his team mates through the confidence that he naturally installed into his defence. Subsequently, this saw Southampton pick up 15 points across these six clean sheets – a run of form that made up for just one win in their previous ten games.

But at this moment, that brave, acrobatic, and confidence spreading shot-stopper is nowhere to be seen. So much so that many fans are running out of patience and calling for a new man to stand between the sticks.

Over the course of this season, the England International has been a serious disappointment. Given the fine form that he showed following his return from Injury, fans would’ve no doubt been excited to see just what level Forster may reach in the forthcoming season – after all, player development has been placed into the DNA of Southampton Football Club in recent years.

Forster has always shown clear weaknesses to his game; this can not be argued. But in the past these errors have often been instantly recovered, wasted by the opposition, or redeemed later that game. It goes without saying that hopes of progression over this season have been squashed by Forster’s undeniable regression.

The same weaknesses from the past are being shown, only this season they are happening far more often and being punished at an expected rate – worryingly, Forster doesn’t appear to boast the confidence to correct them either.

More specifically, there are four standout weaknesses to Forster’s game in my eyes. There is his inability to sprint from his line in 1v1 situations, his woeful distribution, his indecisiveness and lack of bravery to claim crosses, and finally, there is also his lack of anticipation when placed in reoccurring situations.

It could be argued that all of which were on show in Southampton’s clash with Tottenham Hotspur last night; Why exactly is this happening though? competition.

In this very moment, Forster is undroppable, regardless of how badly he may perform.

He could launch the ball into his own net this coming Saturday and yet still, he will be placed into the starting XI the following week. Forster has become all too complacent, and who wouldn’t when a 36-year-old Stuart Taylor is your only competition.

He knows that the number one spot is his own, and whether he realises it or not, this has caused Forster to lose his risk-taking nature that allowed him to decide those game changing moments.

Goalkeepers need to take risks and act as if each shot that they are facing will be their last. Instead, Forster seems too scared to rush off his line or dare to think one step ahead of the striker at risk of being the one at fault.

During his first season with Southampton, Forster had the motivation of proving his quality at a new club. During his second season, Forster had the pressure of returning from injury with a point to prove and the chance of turning Southampton’s fortune. This season however, Alex McCarthy’s early season injury and Taylor lack of quality appears to have left Forster awfully complacent and in need of motivation.

It will be interesting to see whether the return of McCarthy sparks some new-found form out of Forster.

There is no point in beating around the bush, it’s clear for anyone to see that Forster has been well below his expected standard this year, and even the statistics are there to back it up too.

Over the course of the season so far, Forster has faced 53 shots on target, recording a save to goal ratio of 1.3. This is poor when compared to his 2.76 average over the 2015/16 season.

Despite this drastic decrease however, Southampton have managed to record an average of 1.11 goals conceded per 90 this season. This is just a small increase on the impressive 0.94 figure of last season.

These statistics speak volumes of just how impressive Claude Puel’s defensive organisation is, but also just how much Forster is letting down the side. Behind any team that wishes to taste success, a fine goalkeeper is always in order.

There will be times when your side go one goal to the good and for the remainder of the game, your play just isn’t up to your usual standard and you need to cling on – its in these moments that your goalkeeper must step up, and at the minute, Forster simply isn’t doing that.

Over the course of this season Forster has had numerous opportunities to save all three points or even rescue a result for Southampton, but he’s failed to do so.

Now by no means am I saying that I expect him to be the difference in each tight margin of every negative result, but what I am saying is that I want to see the return of the 6ft 7inch man mountain who revels in such moments, not shy’s away from them.

Thoughts on the 2016/17 season so far

We know that it’s part and parcel as a Southampton fan to experience the highest of highs no sooner than being put through the lowest of the lows; the 2016/17 season so far has certainly been no exception.

After 17 Premier League games, Claude Puel’s side have found themselves sitting handsomely in 7th, whilst also booking themselves a place in the semi-final of the League Cup.

Now, to the average football fan, this sounds like a promising start to the season – and they would be right in thinking so – but these facts don’t even begin to paint the picture of Southampton’s season so far.

Since Claude Puel has taken charge of Southampton Football Club, we’ve been treated to some of our most dominant and defensively resilient performances in recent years. Games have gone by where the opposition have forgotten what a touch of the ball feels like, and Fraser Forster has had the privilege of picking up clean sheets that even Paulo Gazzaniga could protect.

Watching on, I’ve been left astounded by our side’s understanding of Puel’s defensive demands on multiple occasions. At all times our defence and midfield are communicating, ensuring that each and every player is in position and alert.

With Puel’s guidance, Virgil Van Dijk has been touted by many as the Premier League’s best defender, Cedric Soares has recently come into outstanding form, and unsurprisingly, Ryan Bertrand has remained as consistent as ever. For me, It seems that defensive stability is at the forefront of Puel’s demands of a Premier League side, and boy is he doing it well.

To add to this, I’ve also witnessed numerous dominant midfield performances that would have never been possible under previous manager Ronald Koeman. Granted, Koeman liked to keep the midfield tight and he carried this out on many occasions, but never did I see the Dutchman’s midfield play with the same expression that Puel encourages.

Like the defence, each midfielder knows exactly where to be and when, whilst also boasting the confidence to remain composed on the ball and maintain possession effectively. Since our return to the Premier League, I’ve never seen Southampton’s midfield so drilled and confident whilst on the ball.

Through this, Oriol Romeu is playing the best football of his career, James Ward-Prowse is being utilised more effectively, and even Jordy Clasie has had his best game in a Southampton shirt.

These showings have seen us beat West Ham 3-0, draw 1-1 against Manchester City, beat Arsenal 2-0, and just last weekend, beat our good friends AFC Bournemouth 3-1.

However, as I finish talking about the defence and midfield, we now come to the attack, and this is where my and many other fans frustrations lie. We can stand strong, we can dictate play, and we’ve even shown that we can forge plenty of chances for ourselves; but when it comes to sticking the ball into that big white netted structure, we crumble.

Perhaps what is most frustrating about this flaw in our side however, is that it was so preventable. Southampton have been hailed countless times for their ability to replace talent in the past, but last summer, we failed in the attacking department. It’s as simple as that.

This doesn’t mean to say I’m not happy with the signings of Sofiane Boufal and Nathan Redmond – because i’m delighted with that business – but what I am saying is that when you sell your two top goal-scorers and decide not to sign another striker, you can’t complain when the goals aren’t flowing. I can’t help but wonder that if we are in 7th place despite being the League’s fifth lowest goal-scorers, how many more points could we have salvaged with the help of some extra fire power?

For a club as ambitious as ours, failing to sign another striker was a poor footballing decision, and it’s one that must be amended this January. Ultimately, it could now also be argued that it was a poor financial decision too, as throughout our Europa League campaign our inability to finish was the reason for our group stage exit – an exit that has forced us to miss out on plenty of revenue and exposure.

However, whilst the board may have failed here, they most certainly didn’t with one particular aspect of Puel’s management – his trust in youth. It’s now common knowledge that Koeman isn’t a fan of promoting from within, and this has become even more evident with the appointment of Puel.

Since joining, Puel has handed multiple opportunities to Harrison Reed, Jake Hesketh, Josh Sims and Sam McQueen; all of which were deemed by Koeman to not be ready for first team football.

Puel hands these opportunities out through merit, not out of desperation, and through this well-placed trust, he is able to receive a confident, determined and talented young player in return.

The development of young talent is in the fabric of Southampton Football Club, and with Puel, that philosophy appears to be in safe hands.

All in all, I’m delighted with the style of football that Puel is implementing, the use of the academies talent, and our current position in the League and League Cup. But, the last thing that I want come the end of the season. is for my mind to still be riddled with questions about what could have been with the investment of a real goal-getter.

So, please Southampton Football Club, let’s back Puel’s promising start to life on the South Coast this January with investment, to ensure that we can once again stick two fingers up to those who doubted us. 

Jack Wilshere: what would he bring to Southampton FC?

We’re edging closer to that time of the year again when drama is inevitable, rumours are plucked out of thin air, and the back pages are needing to be filled. I’m of course referring to the January transfer window, and already, it’s beginning to take over my mind. Just the other day I spotted an article produced by Jamie Carragher regarding Jack Wilshere’s future, and it got me thinking, could the current Cherries loanee worm his way into our Southampton side? 

Above: Jack Wilshere wearing the Mansion sponsored AFC Bournemouth shirt – Mansion are the owner’s of the online casino platform Casino.com

Wilshere is a player that in recent years, has without a doubt caused split opinion amongst football fans. There are those that will continue to defend him until the final day of his career, and on the flip side, there are also those that would implode at even the thought of complimenting one of his performances.

But to me, there is one aspect of Wilshere’s game that any football fan should be able to recognise; his technical qualities.

Be it as a number ten or as a central midfielder, Wilshere boasts the remarkable ability to perform inch-perfect through balls, drilled passes, and deft flicks as a means to unlock the oppositions defence. This has seen Wilshere become Bournemouth’s most creative player, and by some distance too, averaging 2.01 key chances created per 90.

Wilshere also possesses the close control and dribbling skills required to create space, which in turn allows him to make the all important passes mentioned before.

To tie all of these technical skills together, Wilshere has received an education in football under Arsene Wenger – as a midfielder, it really doesn’t get much better than that.

This has allowed him to become an extremely intelligent player when maintaining possession, and looking to break down the oppositions defence – you didn’t think that Wilshere’s tendency to find himself in game changing positions was a coincidence, did you?

So, having covered Wilshere’s greatest strengths, what exactly is it that Claude Puel is looking for in a central midfielder?

To tell the truth, he is looking for a player with qualities similar to that of Wilshere.

Since arriving at the club, Puel has placed great emphasis on his Southampton side being dominant in possession, and given Wilshere’s passing ability, he would have no trouble in carrying out that task.

In addition to this, Puel wants a midfielder with bite, grit and determination whilst out of possession, but this cannot be at the expense of positivity and flair. It seems that Wilshere fits the billing here too.

Since the start of the season, the Southampton midfield have shown inconsistencies in their ability to provide a positive approach to the the game; one week they are fluid and brave, but the next they are stagnant on the ball and fearful of mistakes. With an attack minded midfielder like Wilshere who is willing to take risks, maybe that issue could be put to an end?

Admittedly however, there are some widely known issues with the 24-year-old; his goal record is hardly threatening, his weekly wage is extortionate, and of course, there is the endless list of injuries.

Whilst Wilshere’s lack of goals wouldn’t be an issue if he’s playing as a central midfielder (rather than as a number 10), I simply cant look past the wage demands. The board of Southampton Football Club are known for their astute business, and if these demands were to be maintained until the end of the season, there is not a chance of us making a move. It’s as simple as that. As for the injuries, if Wilshere continues his current run of game-time in the Bournemouth side, then I would most certainly be interested.

All in all, I would love for Southampton Football Club to possess a player of Wilshere’s quality and potential, but given the undeniable risks and abuse of our business model that would come with the signing, I am forced into forgetting that this could ever happen.

Jose Fonte: the subject of Southampton’s latest transfer saga?

We’re fast approaching the January transfer window, and as a Southampton fan, this is a time of the year that we have grown to fear.

Reports have stated that Southampton captain Jose Fonte has been given the green light for a move away from the South Coast this coming January; but what exactly are the current details of Southampton’s latest transfer saga, and what do I make of it all?

Firstly, let’s take a look at the reports.

The Guardian stated that Fonte has turned down the clubs latest contract offer and is unwilling to commit to an extended stay with Southampton Football Club. However, the Daily Echo has a conflicting report with quotes from the man himself.

“I don’t know what they’re talking about,” Fonte said. “There’s no contract on the table.

“It is what it is, there’s nothing on the table that I didn’t sign. There was nothing there, to be honest.”

He added: “There was in the summer, they offered me a pay rise. They didn’t offer me a new contract.

“They offered me a pay rise which I’m entitled to discuss with my agent and entitled to say no to as well.”

The report from the Daily Echo then goes on to mention how Fonte has become frustrated with Claude Puel, after failing to feature in all five of Southampton’s Europa League fixtures.

“Of course I’m disappointed,” Fonte said. “I want to play every game. I’m fit to play every game. I’m always on the dance floor – I’m always fit.

“I worked really hard last year to play Europa League.

“I worked really hard and obviously I’m disappointed, but I have to accept the decision from the manager and be ready when I am called to play.”

Finally however, reports from Portuguese website MaisFutebol have stated that Southampton are willing to let Fonte leave the club in January, after deciding that they will not offer the captain a contract extension. This same report states that contrary to what some may think, Fonte in fact wants to prolong his stay with Southampton Football Club.

In addition to this, Fonte has also taken to social media to deny the reports that he rejected a contract extension from Southampton FC (as seen in the comments on a fan pages account below). 

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So, that is a collection of all the important reports regarding Fonte’s current situation, and you can make of it what you wish, but here are my thoughts…

The board of Southampton FC don’t like to be bullied during negotiations. They wish to carry out business in the way that they believe best suits the football club, and therefore, if negotiations begin to swing away from the best interests of the club, they will often cut their interest there.

It’s interesting to note that Southampton FC have now on two occasions offered a financial increase to Fonte’s contract, without offering an extension past his current deal that runs until 2018. Fonte rejected these financial offers and therefore, my thoughts here are simple; Fonte want’s his contract extension to be offered now, whilst Southampton will most likely be wanting to make their offer at the end of this season. The reason being is that with Fonte nearing 33-years-old, offering a long term contract extension is risky business. At this age, performances can suddenly drop off, injuries are more threatening, and fitness naturally decreases too. Look around at other clubs in Europe and you will see that contract offers made to players over 30-years-old, typically become more calculated and risk-free in comparison to younger players. It’s smart business, something that the Southampton board knows plenty about.

If reports are to be believed and Southampton have told Fonte that he can leave this coming January, then I imagine that they have made such comments as a statement to Fonte. Perhaps they are wanting to remind Fonte their beliefs in negotiations and just who is in charge?

Krueger and Reed

For me, its understandable why Southampton may be hesitant to offer a contract extension just yet, but at the same time, I can also understand Fonte’s decision to reject the financial increase on his contract. The reason being here is that Fonte still believes he is a fit, dependable, and high quality defender, so therefore, he wants to hold out for the security of a contract extension. In my view, Fonte’s decision to reject the offer of an increase wage was used as a means to pressure Southampton into offering him a contract extension, and to that I say well bloody played Jose (if of course that is true).

For now however, we must wait. It appears that in this current moment we have no other option but to wait for either one of the two parties to make their move.

In an ideal world, I would love for Jose Fonte to spend the remaining years of his career at our club, with the Portuguese International being appropriately eased out of first team action according to his performances. However, in this current situation, who knows. Nothing is concrete at the minute and there are still countless pages of paperwork to be filled in and filed before any definitive decision has been made.

Regardless of the outcome however, it doesn’t change that Jose Fonte will go down in history as a hero of Southampton Football Club.

The recent restoration of Southampton’s identity

When we as fans think of Southampton Football Club, we think of the hero’s that have worn the red and white stripes, our rise from League One, and the joy handed to us as a result of supporting this remarkable club. But to the rest of the world and the average football fan, we are best known for our conveyer belt of young talent, better known as the academy; a part of our club that with thanks to the appointment of Claude Puel, has been brought back to life.

Looking back on the 2012/13 season – the year of Southampton’s return to the Premier League – Nigel Adkins placed an unprecedented amount of faith in Southampton’s youth. He was not only responsible for giving James Ward-Prowse his Premier League debut on the opening game of the season against Manchester City, but he also handed a then 17-year-old Luke Shaw his Premier League debut soon after too.

Then along came Mauricio Pochettino in January 2013, and with him, came the rapid development of our finest young assets. Over the next season and a half, Luke Shaw transformed from a raw talent, into one of the Premier League’s most in-form and sought after fullbacks – earning him a £30m transfer to the Theatre of Dreams later that summer.

This was all whilst Pochettino helped James Ward-Prowse to become a key asset to the first team, Harrison Reed was finding opportunities during the absence of first team players, and of course, Calum Chambers was battling with Nathaniel Clyne for a starting place in the side. This was an achievement that Arsene Wenger deemed so impressive, that at the end of the 2013/14 season, the 19-year-old transferred to Arsenal in a deal worth £16M.

But on the 27th of May 2014, Southampton had to handle two gut wrenching departures; firstly, there was Mauricio Pochettino’s decision to leave for Tottenham Hotspur, and unknowingly at the time, there was also the destruction of the pathway between the academy and the first team.

With the appointment of Ronald Koeman, Southampton went on to record back-to-back record breaking seasons, with qualification to the Europa League also achieved over both years. However, there was a price to pay for this undeniable success; whilst dreams of European football were being achieved, Koeman was continuing to completely disregard the young talent available in the academy.

During Koeman’s two year reign at Southampton, the Dutchman failed to even significantly develop one academy talent, turning to experience over youth at any possible opportunity.

In fact, Koeman not only avoided promoting young talents, but also opted to slander them in the press, once stating how he wasn’t impressed with the standard after watching an U21 match.

Koeman stated “I look to the development of young players and they still have a lot to learn and they are still not on the level that is needed for the Premier League.

“For some of them it is a long way, maybe too long. Only Matt Targett is ready for the the first team. Harry Reed is also close, but the rest not so much.”

Koeman was adamant that the talent in our academy simply wasn’t good enough, but with Southampton Football Club now under the control of Claude Puel, Koeman’s comments have been made to look rather foolish.

Since the start of the season, Southampton fans have been treated to the attacking talent of Josh Sims, the bite of Harrison Reed, and even the creativity of Jake Hesketh. Not to mention that James Ward-Prowse has also shown improvement in his awareness on the field too, but perhaps the most impressive integration of an academy star has been the introduction of Sam McQueen.

The 21-year-old spent his years in the academy as a direct winger, but under Puel, McQueen has been transformed into an expressive and attack minded wing back.

Many at this point may say that such a decision by Puel was only made due to Bertrand’s injury, but I would heavily disagree. At the time of Bertrand’s absence, left back Matt Targett and versatile centre half Maya Yoshida were still available for selection, yet still, Puel wanted to analyse the entirety of his squad to see what was at his disposal.

To me, finding a first team left back in the form of an academy winger shows just how willing Puel is to provide opportunities to our young talents. Best of all, these young players haven’t been handed such opportunities out of desperation either. These academy players have been given opportunities ahead of established first team players, and it shows on the field just how much faith and confidence Puel has given these youngsters.

In short, Puel respects what Southampton Football Club is all about. He understands that to us fans, we of course expect attractive football, but that we also love to see products of our own academy out there in the red and white stripes.

We are still in the early days of Puel’s tenure at Southampton Football Club, and therefore, there are still questions to be answered as to whether he can meet the clubs demands of annual progress. However, in just his five months at the club so far, Puel has without a doubt proven his burning desire to create attractive football and develop young talent; two components that fit perfectly with the ideologies of Southampton Football Club.

Academy watch: Sam Gallagher at Blackburn Rovers

Whilst academy prospects James Ward-Prowse, Josh Sims and Sam McQueen have been shining in the first team, the fine goalscoring form of Sam Gallagher at Blackburn Rovers has been going under the radar of many Southampton fans. So, we spoke to Richard Sharpe – Blackburn Rovers writer at the Lancashire Telegraph – and  Oscar Jepson – owner of Talk of Ewood – to find out more about Gallagher’s rise in form. 

What were your initial thoughts when Blackburn Rovers signed Sam Gallagher on loan?

Sharpe: He came at a time when Rovers were struggling for forward options, but as he joined, aided by arrivals of Danny Graham, Anthony Stokes and Marvin Emnes, the forward line suddenly had some promise.

Highly-rated, on loan from a Premier League club, and with both top flight and Championship experience, his arrival seemed like a good fit, and that is how it has played out so far.

Jepson: In complete honesty, I was pessimistic about the signing of young Sam. I didn’t see a real reason behind it, so shortly after we had just bought two other strikers. Also, after doing research I began to become a bit wary over Gallagher after finding out about his time at MK Dons. With family trouble and a lack of goals, his time down in London wouldn’t be one to savour for him and a move to Blackburn Rovers – who had just signed a couple of experienced, first team goal-scorers – wouldn’t help him. After a lot of thought, I came to the conclusion that Sam would be a good third choice for us and that he could only get better. Therefore I was content with the signing in the grand scheme of things.

What are your personal views regarding Sam Gallagher’s performances this season?

Sharpe: There has been something of a burden on Gallagher for goals, given the unavailability of Rovers’ other three senior strikers at various stages of the season.  That has been eased somewhat, particularly since the return of Danny Graham, but they have struck up something of a good partnership in their few outings together.

He has scored seven of Rovers’ 20 goals this season so he could have done very little else to aid their campaign.

Jepson: Sam Gallagher has been absolutely sublime this season. He hasn’t set a foot wrong in his displays and puts 110% in week after week. His pace, power, determination, finesse and desire can take him very far. I personally feel that Blackburn’s recent turnaround in form wouldn’t have been accomplished without him, his ability to dig us out of a hole when the going got tough kept us afloat and the morale reasonably high. Honestly I think we have relied far too heavily on Sam at times this season yet he has brushed that aside like it was no ones problem!

How have Rovers fans taken to Gallagher?

Sharpe: They have – but that has certainly been helped by his goal return.  He’s not afraid to put himself about, and has also shown he has a discipline to play different roles away from home when needed, not least against Newcastle last weekend where he often found himself in more of a number 10 role.

Jepson: Unquestionably. Gallagher is a fans favorite. We even resurrected a Blackburn classic song of ‘Ooh Aah Gallagher’ previously used for Kevin Gallacher. A lot of fans have noticed his importance to the side and with him getting on the score sheet as often as he has, he wasn’t going to go un-noticed! Now, i’m 100% sure if you asked for a Rovers fans opinions on Sam, not a single one would be negative.

What weaknesses has Gallagher shown?

Jepson: I feel like I am being a bit bias here but, none! He was raw towards the beginning of his loan spell – offside too often – but now he has everything; Pace, skill, defensive work-rate, attacking work-rate, strength, headers, finesse, you name it, Gallagher has it. There isn’t much I can say other than: No! He has it all!

Would you want to keep Gallagher beyond the current loan spell if possible?

Sharpe: Owen Coyle has already made it clear that he would like to keep Gallagher beyond his loan spell, but unless he is reclalled, or Southampton look to move him to another club, then having him signed up until the end of the season already gives Rovers some security.

Gallagher has always been tipped for bright things, so whether he feels now is the right time to leave Saints I’m not sure, particularly given his comments here

But if he did, he wouldn’t be short of suitors.

Jepson: Of course! I was thinking about this the other day, if he goes back to Saints and isn’t close to the first team, in my opinion he needs another loan. He has only had one good season of senior level and more goals and confidence will do him the world of good. Again, I might be being bias but, Rovers is the best option for him. If we stay up, which i’m pretty confident we will, coming back to Blackburn where he has good memories, he is comfortable and knows well enough is a lot better to a whole new start. So yes, i’d do anything to get him at Rovers permanently.

And finally, do you feel believe that Gallagher is currently playing at a suitable level, or do you believe that he could show his talent in the Premier League?

Sharpe: He’s still only 21, and will undoubtedly get better as he gets older, but to continue his development, he must continue to get games under his belt.  He’s started 14 of Rovers’ 18 games this season, and come off the bench in the other three, and that’s clearly aiding his development.

Given his build, and his ability in front of goal, as well as being at a club who has shown faith in their young players, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see him flourish in the Premier League.

Jepson: Gallagher certainly has all the qualities to get in the prem. If you look at your lad, Josh Sims, and how well he has fitted into the side then Gallagher can do it no doubt. He isn’t bullied either. Some of the battles he has had with some of the best Championship centre backs; Ciaran Clark, Chancel Mbemba, Magnusson, Danny Batth and Matt Mills, in which he has mostly won are exceptional to watch, he is a real talent across the board. 

The future is bright for Southampton’s midfield

Ah, ‘the diamond’. A term that I’m sure many of us Southampton fans are quite frankly growing sick of.

We had the initial ‘will it work?’ Followed by the ‘how long will it last?’ And now, after a spell whereby all fans grew a salty tasting love for it, there is once again doubt. But this piece isn’t a tactical analysis of the formation, or even how I want to see the side altered, this piece is here to appreciate the components themselves within Claude Puel’s aforementioned diamond.

To be precise, I believe that Southampton Football Club have one hell of a future in store for themselves in the middle of the park, and here’s why…

First are foremost, we have the balance and ability of the midfield itself. As we look to the future, there are three players that standout to me; Oriol Romeu, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and James Ward-Prowse.

With the combination of these three players, Southampton have an exceptional spine to their side, but let’s start with the base of the midfield. Throughout this season, Romeu has without a doubt been Southampton’s most improved player, and it could be argued by many that he’s challenging Virgil Van Dijk to be our top performer.

Romeu has now proven himself to be a monster in breaking up play, winning more tackles per 90 minutes (2.88) than Nemanja Matic, Ngolo Kante, Jordan Henderson and Francis Coquelin this season. He has also shown his quality in possession too, recording an 88% pass completion rate over his 12 Premier League starts.

Romeu is key in recovering the ball, maintaining possession and helping to pin back the opposition; with his latest role in the side allowing him to carry out these strengths most effectively. Whilst he plays a simple game, carrying out the role is far from simple. Considering that experience is one of the most important factors in becoming a top level defensive midfielder, Romeu is an exciting project at the age of 25.

Romeu acts as the foundation of Southampton’s possession based play, and it’s his deep positioning in the side that allows his two fellow midfield partners to flourish. One of which is a new found fan-favourite, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg. The 21-year-old arrived at Southampton in the summer and since joining, every Southampton fan has come to recognise what he is all about.

Højbjerg is a central midfielder with a persistent positive approach to the game. At any given opportunity, Højbjerg looks to push Southampton forward and place pressure onto the opposition; be that through a cutting pass into Dusan Tadic, or a daring run from deep in the midfield. His technical ability is undeniable, and whilst his biggest negatives have been his fitness and sometimes wasteful nature, this can easily be worked with.

Then we come to one of our very own in James Ward-Prowse. In my opinion, the England U21 captain currently has a fantastic opportunity to cement himself as a starter for Southampton FC. Ward-Prowse boasts an unbelievable passing range, an incredibly dangerous delivery on set pieces, and holds the intelligence required to dictate the tempo of a game.

But I am by no means bias, and therefore, I am able to recognize that he often lacks the intensity needed in a Premier League match, and that his ability to finish is needing urgent attention. This has seen Ward-Prowse receive plenty of criticism in recent years, which in my opinion, most of which is unjust. He is still only 22-years-old and I believe that due to his great maturity on the field, so many fans forget that he still has plenty of time to improve.

With Romeu sitting deep to sweep up, Højbjerg looking to penetrate the opposition, and Ward-Prowse controlling the tempo of the game, Southampton have a wonderful balance in the midfield.

This leads us nicely into my second point; the fact that Southampton have two Pep Guardiola educated midfielders within their ranks. I’m of course talking about Romeu and Højbjerg. Admittedly, both possess two totally contrasting styles on the field, however, both share the same tactical understanding, willingness to learn and specifically to the training of Guardiola, an easily recognisable education in body orientation.

If you’re familiar with the demands that Guardiola holds over a player, then you will know just how important these characteristics are, and how deeply drilled these traits are into so many who have worked under the Spaniard.

The tactical understanding that both Romeu and Højbjerg hold is remarkable. They are able to naturally adjust to changes mid-game, possess the ability to greatly enhance their physical ability with their extensive tactical knowledge, and are able to absorb tactical concepts with ease. Perhaps explaining why both players were able to make such a seamless transition into their new formation and role.

Romeu and Højbjerg aren’t just switched on tactically either, they are also switched on mentally. Both players boast the same desire to learn and work on the training ground, often leaving manager’s helpless in admiring their mindset. A player can have an abundance of quality, but without the desire and willingness to learn more, they are significantly lowering their ceiling of potential growth – thankfully, the Southampton due possess both. Such keen learners of the game are easy to develop and progress.

Then we come to a trait that is as mentioned before, a must-have for players who wish to work under Guardiola; body orientation. To those who are unaware of what body orientation means in footballing terms, it is all about positioning your body so that you are able to see the pitch (hunting for space), your opponents, and of course, your teammates.

In a possession based side, this is vital for maintaining control of the game as each player constantly knows where and who they can pass the ball to. It sounds like a simple skill to adopt, but it fact, it takes years to integrate into a player so that the skill becomes second nature.

Next time you’re watching Romeu and Højbjerg play for Southampton, just watch the way that they position their body when receiving or turning with the ball – they always know what their next move will be, and the positioning of their body allows them to do it as fast as possible.   

Third and finally, we have the style of play that Puel is implementing onto Southampton’s midfield. Since arriving at the club, Puel has given the Southampton midfield far different demands to that of seasons gone by with Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman.

When in possession, Puel wishes to see his midfield control the ball in a composed manner, waiting for the opposition to open up in a bid to find that perfect opportunity to attack. This places great emphasis on the midfield to be assured in their short passing, composed on the ball, to remain patient, and to have belief in their ability. Notice anything? All of these demands match the strengths of Romeu, Højbjerg and Ward-Prowse…

Understandably, fans are a little worried about the side after that horrendous showing against Sparta Prague last Thursday, but how can we be so quick to forget so many of those dominant performances? We are so early into Puel’s reign, yet we have still been treated to some of the most composed midfield performances that i’ve seen from Southampton in recent years. Besides, what else can be expected from a side that is learning how to play an entirely different concept of football?

With all of these factors considered, it leaves me certain that with the same patience, education and belief given to so many talents at Southampton FC in years gone by, us Southampton fans have every reason to be excited for the future of our midfield.

After all, there are few better in the business at turning potential into performance.