Join Aidan Small and Sean Walford as they preview Southampton’s 2016/17 season – the pair discuss the new managerial appointment, the summer transfers so far, their expectations of the new season and much much more. Follow the link here to listen.
Author Archives: Aidan Small
It’s now just 11 days until the 2016/17 Premier League season gets underway, and so far, Southampton’s business has been astute as ever. Having spent just under £26 million pounds, the South coast club have managed to secure the promising midfield star that is Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, have snapped up their long-term target in Nathan Redmond, have applied pressure on Cedric with the signature of Jeremy Pied and finally, have added capable backup to Fraser Forster in Alex McCarthy. So, with Southampton now four targets down and still holding plenty of money left in the bank, where should we look to improve next?
In my opinion, Southampton Football Clubs priority should be placed on securing a player who can carry out the most important role in Claude Puel’s attacking system; the number ten. Whilst at this moment Southampton hold two players that are capable of filling this role – Dusan Tadic and Nathan Redmond – I believe that if Southampton want to improve on last year, they need a player that is naturally suited to this role. But what is it that’s needed in a player to make this role so effective?
Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, is the need for Intelligent movement. This role demands the player to persistently hunt for space and vacate areas of the pitch that give his side the best attacking option. Without this movement, counter attacks are rendered near enough useless, and unpicking a ten man defence becomes an impossible task. A player can hold all the ability they want, but if they lack the intelligent movement needed to take up the correct position, it’s almost no use at all. In the system that Puel is currently implementing at Southampton, the movement of this player is especially important as he helps to determine the positioning of the two strikers. If this key player isn’t finding the right areas, then the threat of the two forwards will most likely be nullified.
Secondly, the player must possess the ability to quite simply, put the ball in the back of the net. An asset which in truth, has been lacking from Southampton’s attacking midfielders in recent years. Due to the way that the two forwards drift wide and make runs between the channels in Puel’s 4-1-2-1-2 system, the ball will often be cut back to the number 10 – typically on the edge of the box. It is for this reason that a dangerous finisher must takes up this position. Failure to do so would be waving goodbye to some potentially crucial goals.
Whilst Tadic holds immense creative ability – the third most Premier League assists over the past two seasons in fact – he has built up the tendency to miss clear cut chances. In truth, Puel needs someone who can not only bury clear cut chances, but also creep those half chances into the corner of the goal too. As for Redmond, he’s looked very promising in this role so far, but his past would suggest that he is not yet ready to reach the required goal tally. Not to mention that this would be a position change for both Tadic and Redmond too, having spent the previous season on the wing – this adjustment would take time.
No one in Southampton’s current squad fits the number ten role to the standard that they should be aiming for. But with the acquisition of Hakim Ziyech of FC Twente or Sofiane Boufal of LOSC Lille, that problem would be no more. Both of these players are comfortable in the number 10 position, continually find space between the lines, have the ability to unlock a defence and both reached double figures in goalscoring over the 2015/16 season.
Next up? the Mane replacement. Over the past two seasons, Southampton fans have had the joy of watching Sadio Mane bare down on goal and at times, single-handedly destroy a side. In games where the opposition stands with their backs against the wall, it was so often Mane that would find the much-needed yard of space, and in times where you need a moment of brilliance to overshadow the genius of Mourinho, Klopp or Wenger, Mane was the man.
Mane’s direct and relentless style of play helped to raise the tempo in Southampton’s attack, and without him, there is no denying that we are weaker going forward. It’s damaging to lose the intensity that Mane provided and for that reason, we need a like-for-like replacement. Even more so considering that Mane would have fitted perfectly into the plans of Puel.
At this moment in time, Redmond and Long are the only players in the Southampton squad that possesses pace and the ability to operate in the channels – two attributes that are key if you want to be successful in Puel’s two man up top system. But whilst Long holds both of the above, his dribbling is far behind that of Mane’s, and while Redmond also holds the two key attributes, he has a lot to learn about playing a more central role. So, for now, we need a player that is a proven goalscorer in both wide and central areas. Perhaps Carlos Vela of Real Sociedad could fit the bill?
With that, I conclude my transfer hopes of Southampton Football Club this summer, but by no means am I saying that doing otherwise would be a failure or a disappointment – if it’s what Puel wants and it fits his system, then I’m on board. My only demand for this window? that Claude Puel enters the season as a happy man with a team that he believes, will make Southampton Football Club progress yet again.
For the second season running now, Southampton have been linked with Brighton and Hove Albion’s talented winger, Solly March. So, with the youngster most likely holding a place on Southampton’s list of long-term targets – rather like recent signings Charlie Austin and Nathan Redmond – we decided to speak to WeAreBrighton to help you gain a better understanding of just why the club are keeping such a close watch on the England U21 International.
For fans who don’t know about Solly March, what type of player is he?
A traditional winger. He will take players on, get to the byline and get the ball in. He can also play down either side and depending on which wing he is on, can either deliver a cross or cut inside and let one go. Not to mention that he has a hell of a shot on him too.
What are March’s greatest qualities on the pitch?
Before the serious knee injury he picked up away at Derby in December, it was his pace. Whether he remains as fast after that injury will be interesting to see but he also has the ability to go past a man. A skill which in this day and age of short passing is very underrated but one that we’ve used to great effect.
Are there any areas of March’s game that can be considered a weakness or a worry?
He does seem to pick up lengthy injuries. As already noted, he hasn’t kicked a ball since mid-December, he missed three months in the middle of 2013-14 and was out for two more three-month spells at the start and end of 2014-15. Currently, he might be considered a bit too lightweight for the Premier League.
What is the general conception of March amongst Brighton fans?
He is a popular player, being one of the very few local young players we have actually managed to bring into the side successfully. We didn’t pick him up until he was 17 so to credit the Albion with his development would be a bit of a push, but everybody likes a homegrown player, especially when he is an exciting match winner like March is.
What would be your feelings toward seeing the young winger leave?
We’ve got an absolute plethora of good wide players at the minute with March alongside Anthony Knockaert, Jiri Skalak and Jamie Murphy as guys who you would expect would walk into most other teams in the Championship. So losing him wouldn’t be a total disaster. Whether it would be a good move for his career is up for debate – he is still yet to complete a full season of Championship football and would he get that opportunity in the Premier League? The bloke is clearly talented and it would be a shame for his career to stall if he moved too early to the top flight and became just a bit-part player.
What price would you be wanting for March if you were to let him go?
Young and English seems to whack an obscene amount onto the price of a player these days and with the absurd amount of money that Premier League clubs have laying around these days, you can afford to hold them to a ransom a little bit. Financially, we aren’t under any pressure to sell either so around £10m would do!
Is March ready to take on the Premier League?
He’s looked like a star in the making in the Championship, but these have only been over one or two month periods. He is yet to consistently perform at this level and I believe that he would need to do that before you could say that he is certainly ready for the Premier League.
And finally, how successful do you believe that this signing could be for Southampton?
If you could get him fit and use him correctly, he could be a good signing. The one thing that a move to Southampton has in his favour is the number of young English players who have been given their chance down there in recent seasons. Whether that continues under your new manager remains to be seen, but it is clear that March has a lot of potential – he just needs to toughen up and receive a significant run of games to realise it
That concludes our interview with WeAreBrighton, but we want to know your view on Southampton’s interest in March – be sure to let us know @freshsaints on Twitter.
Also, don’t forget to check out WeAreBrighton for all the latest news about one of our fellow South coast clubs.
Focused and strategic youth development is in the DNA of Southampton Football club. Over the past ten years, teams have been forced to watch on in envy as technically gifted youngsters in red and white stripes school the masters of the game. But as I went to collate my strongest possible Southampton FC homegrown side, I couldn’t help but notice that in one particular area, Southampton are falling short. For a club that is always striving for perfection, this is something that must be attended to.
I’m of course referring to the lack of young talent between the sticks, and as the new season approaches, this is the perfect time for Southampton to wave goodbye to the years of holding an incapable backup keeper. At this current moment, Southampton’s first choice goalkeeper – Fraser Forster – is one of the Premier Leagues finest. But in terms of Southampton’s goalkeeping options, few are worse. Behind Southampton’s number 44, there is only one goalkeeper with first team experience – Paulo Gazzaniga. A man who in truth, is well below the standard of the Premier League and has been fortunate to receive his 22 appearances. Gazzaniga isn’t good enough now, he has shown little to prove that he can be in the future, and at the age of 24, his needs of first team football don’t match the needs of a second choice keeper. So, at this time of the season with the finances and scouting that Southampton hold, it seems the perfect time to fix this situation.
To me, another year with an ageing keeper is simply a year of high-quality training and development being put to waste. This same point is transferable if we were to once again seek the solution to our issues in the loan market too. These are attributes that simply shouldn’t be on Southampton’s checklist but sadly were last season with the acquisition of Maarten Stekelenburg. Rather than just seeing it as a gap that must be filled, I see the role of the second choice keeper as an opportunity for a young player to develop, gain valuable top-flight experience, and start following the pathway to forge their name above the number one shirt. Now that sounds suitable to the Southampton that we all know.
Not to mention that with the added benefit of England goalkeeper coach, Dave Watson, as Southampton’s goalkeeper coach, the club are far more appealing to any English youngster with hopes and dreams of representing their country in the future. This connection would not be overlooked in negotiations over the transfer of a young and talented English keeper.
There are few times that Southampton have needed to look toward another club in how to plan, innovate and strengthen over the past ten years – but perhaps Stoke City can serve as a model club for the Saints due to their fine replacement of Asmir Begovic last season.
In January 2013, Stoke City recognised that with Begovic continuing to increase his performance levels (rather like Forster), top clubs with big money would soon be circling – with that came the signing of Jack Butland on a four and a half year deal. From here, Butland was sent out on loan to a number of sides, but this came with the option for Stoke to recall the now England International whenever possible.
This proved to be an incredibly beneficial deal for all parties as whilst Begovic remained in goal for the Potters, Butland was continuing to face new situations in the Football league. Then, when Begovic was facing injury, back came a sharp and fully fit Butland to show off his development and gain some valuable top-flight experience. Through these challenges, Butland was then prepared to make the step-up when Begovic’s move to Chelsea followed through. With the combination of a smart £3.5M investment and some intelligent planning, Stoke internally sourced their new first team keeper with great pride.
As a Southampton fan who has spent years watching my club place faith in youth, I would much rather watch a young prospect stand between the sticks than to see my club take the easy way out with the signing of an experienced stopper. Even if that means it would come at the cost of numerous mistakes and learning curves. Now by no means am I saying that they must reach Butland’s level, or even that they must be English; but what I am asking, is for Southampton Football Club to match their policies for outfield players, with the men between the sticks.
Just yesterday it was announced that after much speculation, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg will be joining Southampton Football Club on a five year deal. But despite holding a promising reputation in Germany and with football experts, many Southampton fans still know little about the midfielder that Pep Guardiola once compared to Sergio Busquets. So, here at FreshSaints, we decided to speak to Bayern Central to find out more about Southampton’s newest recruit.
For fans who don’t know about Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, what type of midfielder is he?
Højbjerg is fairly versatile, but what he handles best is the traditional box to box role in central midfield. He is the kind of man who does well on the ball and provides lots of support to his teammates on both ends.
What are Højbjerg’s greatest qualities on the pitch?
The young Dane’s best asset is the passing game. His short passes on the ground are extremely accurate, even under pressure. He masters “tic tac toe” or give-and-go situations to create space and, eventually, scoring chances.
Højbjerg’s long diagonal passes to the flanks also are very accurate, something a team with good wingers can benefit from. He has a good shot from a distance, making him a free kick threat.
Are there any areas of Højbjerg’s game that can be considered a weakness or a worry?
Although 1.85 meter tall, he lacks physicality. He shields the ball well, but I wonder how he will handle the Premier League’s rougher brand of football. What about his reaction to rough challenges? Keep an eye on that.
What is the general conception of Højbjerg with Bayern Munich fans?
From my understanding, most Bayern fans hyped Højbjerg and saw him as a future midfield star. We saw glimpses of his ability for a few months during Pep Guardiola’s tenure, but he spent a lot of time on loan. Many people wanted him to come back.
What are your feelings toward seeing the young midfielder leave?
I guess his departure was inevitable. Bayern has an extremely competitive squad. Thiago Alcântara, Arturo Vidal, Javi Martínez, Xabi Alonso and Renato Sanches can all play in central midfield. The Sanches signing probably tipped the balance against Højbjerg. He is three years younger, with a similar style and more upside.
Pep Guardiola once dubbed Højbjerg as the new Sergio Busquets; what happened?
Guardiola heavily favoured Thiago, Vidal and Alonso in the middle. The three have a strong track record in all competitions. This left little room for Højbjerg, even with Martínez playing in defence, prior to Sanches’ signing. At the end of the day, Høbjerg needs to play for his career to take off.
Do you believe that the reported £12M is a good price for Southampton?
I find it surprisingly high because Bayern are known for offloading players for lower prices than most clubs, but the player has enough talent to justify it. He just needs to play and develop.
And finally, how successful do you believe that this signing could be for Southampton?
With regular playing time and a good supporting cast on the pitch, I don’t doubt he will become a fan favourite. Højbjerg is one of those skilled players whose talent should not be wasted. He’s also likeable!
That concludes our interview with Bayern Central, but we want to know your view on Southampton’s signing of Højbjerg – be sure to let us know @freshsaints on Twitter.
Also, don’t forget to check out Bayern Central for all the latest news about the German giants Bayern Munich.
It’s now become a sad reality for many football fans that if you’re not a supporter of a select few at the top of the food chain, then your club’s greatest assets can simply be prised away from your grip at any time. Money has become the most integral factor to many footballers career decisions, and in truth, the sooner we accept that, the sooner we can remove the annoyance that we so often have to face as Southampton fans. But just earlier today, one move that was entirely financially motivated has left Southampton fans in good spirit.
We’ve seen it happen to Southampton before, and I’m certain that it will happen once again in the near future too. A player will put on the red and white stripes, proceed to captivate the fans hearts with a number of sensational performances, build up hopes of what could be, and then leave upon the prospect of adding another figure to their weekly payslip – crushing the hope and optimism of fans in the process.
During a transfer it goes without saying that ambition is important, a plan is necessary, and that history is a consideration. But however you want to dress it up, money is the greatest factor for acquiring a player in this new age of modern football. For many fans, this is a concept that they still struggle to grasp; but when Graziano Pelle’s departure to Shandong Luneng was announced, there was a distinct lack of Southampton fans questioning the Italian’s ambition and priorities. This was a change from how these same fans reacted to previous departures.
The reason being? Southampton fans have grown to love Graziano Pelle, and now know exactly what he is – a celebrity within the game.
When Pelle’ first arrived, I remember him strutting out onto the pitch with his hair styled in miraculous shape and an ego so large the spare seats in the Chapel stand had been filled.
Within just minutes of his debut, Pelle was clattering the defence, arguing with the referee and gesturing with his hands as if he were Don Corleone’s undercover agent in the Premier League. Right from that moment, I knew what Southampton were in for. Action.
From here on, Southampton fans have been treated to wonder goals, screams of passion to the stands, and a head of hair so perfect that not even for one moment has a strand been forced out of place. But this too includes handling his tantrums, moments of storming off the pitch in anger, and playing with a body language so frustrating that it will force 30,000 fans in St Mary’s to claim “Just f*cking track back Pelle!”.
There is no denying that Pelle is talented, but my god can he be frustrating, and that’s just the way he is. Every decision over his two years at Southampton was contested with full emotion, and every goal was celebrated with sheer ecstasy.
But in truth, whilst us fans will all remember Pelle for his ways on the pitch, his happiness is based off the pitch. So much so that it seems to me that Pelle simply uses his natural talent in football, to build himself the most luxurious life possible. Pelle wants the beautiful girl, the weekend getaways, the fast cars, the big cars, the mansions, the watches and the finest Italian fitted suits – Pelle’s move to China with his girlfriend will give him just that.
Sure, football has gifted Pelle some memorable moments. But he does it for his lifestyle, and to that I say, keep doing you Grazi. You carried out your time at Southampton as if it was a movie and you were the star man, so be sure to enjoy the sequel.
It’s been nine days since Ronald Koeman left the Saints for the Toffee’s, and to tell the truth, I’m growing quite sick of all the talk.
Each and every time that I want to check up on all the latest Southampton Football Club news – be that via social media or newsnow – I’m met by a hoard of worrying fans, demanding that we know exactly who is in the running for the job, and how long they will have to wait for it. Sadly, If no information is available, fans quite simply go into meltdown – and that is exactly what we are all currently having to endure on social media.
Just a few days ago an “ITK” source posted information about Southampton’s pursuit of Manuel Pellegrini, and unsurprisingly, fans jumped onto it like a greedy Dutchman to a bag of money. From here it appears that they were attached to the idea of Pellegrini taking over the reigns of the club, and with that came the endless tweets and articles detailing exactly why “Pellegrini is the perfect man for the job”. These articles and opinions have been passionately shared from the same people who just last week, were stating exactly why we can’t miss out on Andre Villas-Boas, Vitor Pereira or whoever they fancied at the time. But just earlier this evening, both Simon Peach and Adam Blackmore stated that the club are no longer in pursuit of Manuel Pellegrini. The result from many fans? Outrage.
My problem with this is not that fans are speculating on the positives and potential promise of a new manager for the upcoming season, but that some fans are growing far too emotionally attached. So much so, that they are undermining our so successful board and removing the excitement for themselves in a time that should rightfully be filled with promise.
A quick search on social media regarding Pellegrini will present you with Tweets saying “I can’t believe that the club turned Pellegrini away”, “We have no big names on our watchlist” and a general feeling of unjustified worry in the space of 140 characters. With this, I can’t help but ask, are these fans forgetting that the board would have spent hours discussing our five-year plan, aims of youth promotion and seasons targets to the candidates?
Are they forgetting that the club always hold’s a shortlist of bookmarked managers who could continue our exceptional progress?
Are they forgetting that Southampton’s board wish to always hold the cards during negotiations? It’s with this strategy that the board has firmly placed Southampton Football Club as one of England’s most efficient sides, and for this reason, these fans must relax.
But in a day and age where information is just a swipe, click and search away, I can hardly blame so many fans for jumping on each exciting story that runs through the saintsFC hashtag. It’s clear to me that the modern day football fan has been given all too much information, meaning that when the club conduct’s their business in their usual secretive manner, fans panic.
Pellegrini wasn’t the first front-runner for the job, and It’s now been confirmed that he won’t be the final either. Until the time that our new manager is announced, fans should know that If their preferred candidate wasn’t selected, then there was a reason, and that as always, the final choice will be the man that our board believes can take our club forward once again.
For the past two weeks, Southampton fans have experienced every possible emotion over the saga of Ronald Koeman’s potential whereabouts next season; but for the first time in a long time, this departure from the club has seen no backlash or comments from the fans toward the board. Instead, we have all willingly accepted and trusted the board that their decision is the right one, and that giving in to these individuals is a sure fire way to lose the direction and power that our club has fought so hard to forge. And on Monday evening, another decision from the club proved that we were right to place our trust in the board.
That night, news broke out regarding the transfer of Nathan Redmond to Southampton subject to a medical. Whilst I’m excited by the prospect of the England U21 International potentially representing our club, I’ve been left impressed for a completely different reason. This act from the board has further proved to me that Southampton Football Club are consistently following their ideologies in each and every department of the club. A feat that has become a rarity in the modern game.
After a record-breaking season like the last for the boys in red and white, many clubs and their owners would have felt rightfully honoured to employ a manager such as Ronald Koeman. So much so that when the Dutchman reportedly came to the club with his demands for the forthcoming season and his contract, many clubs would have allowed their policies and ambitions to be altered out of fear of losing this “irreplaceable” figure. But not Southampton, if what we are led to believe is true.
Rather than allowing their arms to be twisted into reckless financial management (a situation that Southampton fans will never want to experience again), the club simply ignored these short term demands and remained confident that through their in-depth planning, the club can continue to push forward – be that with Koeman, or without.
Similar to the clubs negotiations with Koeman, the pending deal of Nathan Redmond to a managerless Southampton proves just how much control the higher forces of the club hold. The club have their targets that they believe will fit into the ethos of the club, and holding such policies ensures that everyone involved within Southampton is singing from the same hymn sheet. The moment that anyone decides they want to do otherwise on their own terms, they can leave. Nathan Redmond is a player that fits into the clubs ideologies of football, and for this reason, he has been personally selected by the club.
But perhaps what has proved most valuable about Southampton strictly following their transfer shortlists – as opposed to the manager being given the vast majority of power in picking and choosing who they want – is that no matter who takes charge of the club, Southampton always possess the assets to play the attractive style of football that they believe in.
Of course, it’s only right and healthy for the club to allow the manager to source their own players and have an important say in transfers – e.g. Koeman personally recruiting Graziano Pelle’ and Jordy Clasie – but in the event of the manager being given full access to transfer funds and soon after making an abrupt exit, you may well find that too many players no longer fit into the club. It is for this reason that Southampton adopted this approach to transfers. Ryan Bertrand was certainly sourced in this way, and now he’s an integral part of the side who represents everything that Southampton Football Club is about.
Another man who came to Southampton in a similar fashion was Charlie Austin, and whilst his career under Koeman in the famous stripes didn’t kick on, fans are still eager to see what he can provide in the coming season. Imagine if Southampton missed out on the chance of acquiring someone of Austin’s calibre for only four million, simply because the manager wants total control over transfers.
Even worse, imagine if the manager was to demand such control, spend the club’s finances on his own personally selected players, and then leave just months later. If Southampton had the same transfer approach as many other modern day sides and allowed their own policies/ethos to be undermined for the sake of meeting a manager’s demands, Adkins, Pochettino and Koeman’s departures would have sent Southampton down the same path that Aston Villa and Newcastle United have so regrettably followed.
It goes without saying that both the club and the manager still have to agree on the player in order for the transfer to go ahead – doing anything else would be a disaster for all parties – but the Southampton board will always ensure that they are the ones who hold the power at all times and that if the current manager is to leave, the players at the club’s disposal will always match the club’s philosophy.
The acts of aiming to recruit a young English talent whilst managerless and standing strong at a time when they could have caved into Koeman, proves to me that Southampton’s board care about the safety, philosophy and the future of the club in each and every aspect. During a time when money and egos are calling the shots at so many football clubs in hunt of a shortcut to success, I’m proud to see that Southampton are going against the grain.
We march on
Since the 2015/16 season came to a close, I’ve found that each and every football media outlet has been talking about the newly appointed big bosses of the League and which shiny new players will be drafted into their squad this summer. Talksport, Sky Sports and even the so called football experts have continued to mindlessly pin the solution of many clubs season’s troubles, on a need for fresh faces. And this leads me to question, has anyone learnt anything from this Premier League season?
It seems to be a newfound craze in football – and more specifically the Premier League – that a solution to any hard times facing a club can always be found in the market. That if you need a goalscorer, he’s firing them away in La Liga. And if you need a tough and resilient centre half, he’s plying his trade in the Bundesliga. But this seems to be happening to many teams all too often – year on year in fact. And I don’t know about you, but when teams are persistently recruiting high performing players for a ludicrous fee that are failing to match those previous levels set, I believe it’s only logical to look at the internal factors. In short, the coaching and eye for potential from the manager.
If Leicester City and Claudio Ranieri had delved into the market for a goalscorer and needlessly replaced those who helped the club to narrowly avoid relegation, the fairytale wouldn’t have been possible. Instead, Ranieri looked at his side, analysed the qualities that the team held and created a system in which each individual player’s assets would flourish. And admittedly, Ranieri did dip into the market, but only to find the perfect player that would meet the demands of his system – there was no buying players for the lone sake of trying to better last season’s goal tally or because it was a good price, he simply recruited round pegs for round holes that needed filling.
Then, take a look at this years Champions League runners up Atletico Madrid – they serve as further proof for the resulting success of following these coaching/transfer ideologies on the big stage with years of consistency. Similarly to Leicester, Atletico are challenging for the title in their respected League despite holding a squad that is worth a fraction of the big boys. This too has been achieved through extensive coaching and development on each individual player, allowing every player regardless of their ability to be able to carry out their necessary role in the side. Diego Simeone knows the qualities needed from a player in order for his side to remain successful, and he wouldn’t dare deviate from it – this has often resulted in the Argentinian boss neglecting a technical able talent, for an intelligent and tactically disciplined mind. Through making each and every last player sing from the same hymn sheet, it allows every last drop of talent to rise to the surface and leaves no room for “superstars” who deem such work below them. Simeone’s focus remains on making every player at his disposal the most effective they can possibly be before looking to the market.
Just last Saturday on the night of the Champions League final, Simeone made the decision to drop Andres Antonio Ferreira Carrasco – one of Atletico’s most creative sparks – for the tactical shape of the team. But after the first half being a failure for Atleti, Simeone called upon Carrasco at half time. Yet there on the touchline when so many others players would have been restless about being dropped or simply shown no interest in what the manager was saying, Carrasco was looking into the eyes of Simeone and soaking in every word that came from his mouth. This respect stems from the managers ideologies in player development and removal of hierarchies within the squad.
For these same reasons of intelligent coaching, development, shrewd business and respect from players, I believe that Ronald Koeman’s achievements at Southampton have been criminally overlooked.
Rather like Ranieri and Simeone, Koeman has a clear and identifiable system that he aims on making all players within his squad accomplished to play in. To some players, this awareness of the system and ability needed to carry it out comes in an instant. But to others, it can take a while, and that’s perfectly okay for Koeman. When Shane Long first arrived at Southampton in a £12M deal, it looked as if the club had truly overpaid for a hardworking forward with little technical ability and an average goalscoring record. And to tell the truth, that view from fans remained consistent over both 2014 and 2015. But throughout this time, Koeman saw the potential in Long and continued to believe in him. Instead of looking elsewhere in the market, Koeman continued to place his focus on developing Long’s ability and boosting his understanding of his demands.
The results from doing so? The Irish talisman is now the most important figure in Southampton’s attack and was the catalyst in making Southampton the second best Premier League team over 2016 (only behind Leicester City).
Prior to this rise in form, Shane Long’s value would have been in the region of £10M. But due to Koeman’s coaching and eye for what Long could amount to, his value would now be no lower than £25M in the current market.
The Southampton boss even said “When he came, he had problems with maybe the way we play and how we do the training sessions. If I see Shane Long now compared to when he came, it’s a big big compliment to him and all the people in Southampton”
No one saw such a rise coming, so it makes you wonder just how many careers in the Premier League have been held back due to impatience and the wrong coaching approach from managers. Where is the logic in trying to solve such a key element of football like goalscoring by repeating the same short term mistakes of shipping in players again, and again, and again, without applying the correct coaching. That 15 goals a season striker that that many clubs are so desperately hunting for, may well have been sat before their managers eyes all along – this is perfectly illustrated by Koeman’s situation with Shane Long.
But whilst Shane Long’s rise in form has undoubtedly been the back page filler and the most obvious to fans, there is an improvement in one particular player that epitomises exactly why I’m writing this article. When Cuco Martina joined the club, fans were wary of the signing due to the non-existent reputation of the player outside of Holland, the low price and the hardly impressive comments from followers of the Eredivisie. And over the first few showings of Martina in a Southampton shirt, It looked as if the fans initial worries were justified. In fact, he looked horrendous. Martina was turned inside out at every defensive situation and appeared to offer next to no support at either end of the pitch. Having only cost Southampton just over £1.2M, this is where many clubs and managers would simply crawl over the line to January so that they can cut their losses and ship in a new face. But not Ronald Koeman.
Instead, the Dutch boss continued to give his time to Martina to help him further understand his role in the side, reinstall his confidence and implement a system whereby Martina’s strengths can be put into practice. By the end of the season, Martina proved to be a real attacking threat and Koeman had identified his greatest strength – the ability to find attackers from deep. Through high quality coaching and avoiding the rash approach that so many other managers would have taken, Martina has now become a real asset in red and white.
It’s a rather typical comment to pass, but I believe that many managers in the Premier League hold more money than sense. And that teams who are placing their hopes of rising up the League’s pecking order on new signings and a cash injection, need to take a page out of Mauricio Pochettino, Claudio Ranieri and Ronald Koeman’s book. Managers should be ensuring that they are providing everything possible to get the most out of each player for the sake of success, finances and the player himself, before mindlessly writing out a cheque for the same mistake to take place all over again. It sounds bizarre to suggest that managers aren’t doing so, but when you compare them to bosses with values such as those mentioned before, the difference is evident. Southampton need to do everything in their power to keep hold of this very special manager that has become a rarity in modern day management.
The 2015/16 season has only just come to a close, and already, Southampton are being linked with a number of promising names. But one position that continues to fill fans with excitement during the transfer window is the possibility of Southampton acquiring a new winger. Ex-saint Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and transfer rumour regular Nathan Redmond have been linked with a move to the South Coast, but the latest name is young Jordon Ibe of Liverpool Football Club.
First of all, let’s allow us Southampton fans to be filled with hope – If the signing were to go through, what aspects of Jordon Ibe’s play should we be most excited about?
His direct style of play. He’s the sort of player who has the potential to obliterate a full-back.
He’s quick and to the point when in possession and it’s this positive style of play that just seems to cause havoc in the Premier League. He’s not in the same league as Riyad Mahrez, but look at the chaos he caused with his direct nature.
He also seems to have the ability to link with the creative players in the team. He struck up a partnership with Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana with relative ease, so perhaps he could do the same with Saido Mane and Dusan Tadic.
Why hasn’t Ibe been a favourite under Jurgen Klopp?
Confidence is key with Ibe and for large parts of last season he was lacking the self-belief needed for him to flourish. He was feeling the pressure of having to ‘replace’ £50 million man Raheem Sterling and I think it got a bit too much.
It didn’t help that Liverpool adopted a disciplined 4-4-1-1 system and the defensive responsibility seemed to weigh Ibe down and have a negative impact on his performances.
What are the frustrations and negatives in Ibe’s play?
His final ball is woeful at times. Whether it’s picking the right pass or taking on a shot there are times he just seems completely overawed. He seems to overcomplicate things when he has time on his hands.
The defensive side of his game isn’t the greatest either and he is known to switch off when tracking back. These shouldn’t be red flags though, they’re areas of his game that will improve with more games under his belt.
In recent months, Southampton have adopted a direct counter attacking style of football – would this match Ibe’s ability?
This would be perfect for Ibe. If you get the chance to watch his goals against Rubin in the Europa League and West Brom in the Premier League, you’ll see they both come from direct attacks where he is able to drive into space – it’s almost instinctive to him.
He’s a bit of a tank when he gets going. It’s rare to find a player with such power and pace at his age so it’s important that he’s utilised effectively.
Southampton fans have been treated to a free-scoring frontline over 2016, but perhaps the only missing quality is a player who can strike the ball from distance – could Ibe be the answer to this problem?
Ibe definitely has that in his locker. You’ve seen the lad – if he strikes a ball it’s staying hit. His goal against your lot in the League Cup was a finely struck effort.
His first team debut for Liverpool saw his smash the post against Everton from 25 yards. He even scored a left footed worldie in pre-season just to let everybody know that his left foot isn’t just for show.
It’s worth noting the academy staff thought he could potentially play the Steven Gerrard role as the number 10.
What would be your feelings toward watching the youngster go?
He’s a talented lad and he deserves to fulfil his potential, whatever that level is. I’d be disappointed to see him go because I think there’s a player in there, but, at the same time, if he’s not going to get many first team minutes under Klopp, it’s probably best for all parties if he moved on.
I wouldn’t be too disheartened because there a few talented attackers in the academy.
And finally, in your opinion, would Jordon Ibe be a good signing for Southampton?
I’ve got a lot of respect for how Southampton develop youngsters so on paper it’s the perfect club for Ibe. He would add something to your attack from the off but there’s also a high ceiling there for him to grow. He’s the sort of player you could turn a big profit on on 2/3 years – talented young English attacker.