Author Archives: Aidan Small

Southampton bid €17M for Lazio’s Wesley Hoedt

According to the latest reports by Sky Italia journalist Gianluca Di Marzio, Southampton have made a €17M offer for Lazio’s Wesley Hoedt.

The report states that the bid was submitted last night, and whilst it’s still yet to be accepted, the €17M on the table does match Lazio’s initial valuation of the player at the start of this window.

To many looking in from the outside this will be considered an attempt to secure Virgil Van Dijk’s replacement, but given the clubs consistently strong stance on the situation, this could still be the Fonte funds being reimbursed.  Reports from the ever reliable Simon Peach have also reinforced that.

This report will no doubt be encouraging news for fans, who despite feeling optimistic about life under Mauricio Pellegrino, can see that our current defence doesn’t match up to that of previous seasons.

Whilst Maya Yoshida greatly improved last season and Jack Stephens is proving himself to be a promising talent, fans are hoping for a little more ambition as teams around us continue to strengthen in the transfer market.

As a pair the two have put in some fantastic performances, but they still hold the tendency to get bullied in the air, drawn out of position and left exposed. In a dream scenario Yoshida can act as reliable back-up, whilst we allow Stephens to progress alongside a player of Hoedt’s quality.

The Dutchman has proven himself to be a strong and dependable centre-back in the top flight of Italian football for the past two seasons, helping Lazio to finish eighth and fifth respectively.

Of those to contest 50+ aerial duels in Serie A this term, only Bruno Alves (79.3%) came close to Hoedt in the air, who recorded a staggering 84.1%. Given Southampton’s evident shortcomings in the air at the minute, this interest certainly doesn’t surprise me. Especially when his ability to build from the back has also been praised during his time at Lazio – something that’s to be expected if you wish to be a Southampton centre-back.

Review: Southampton 0 Swansea City 0

Southampton showed attacking intent and played with a high intensity from the very first whistle, but ultimately the narrative was all too familiar. 28 shots on goal, two on target and just one point to show for it.

This was Mauricio Pellegrino’s very first competitive game as Southampton boss, and had it not been for our poor form in front of goal, it would have been a dream start to life on the South Coast for the Argentinian.

It’s very much early days, but based upon this first showing, there’s plenty to look forward to in the Pellegrino era. Since his appointment Pellegrino has stated numerous times that he wants to entertain the fans – something that was clearly discussed during his sit down with Les Reed and co.  The players had a sense of urgency about the situation and were brave enough to take risks. We had a nice mixture of some neat triangles, defence splitting passes and even direct play (an option we very rarely turned to last season).

Both full backs were heavily involved in each phase of play, looking to bomb on down the line and ask questions of the defence. But this wasn’t at the cost of defensive stability, as both Cedric and Bertrand continually turned to check the positioning of their man.

I still maintain the stance that Southampton must invest in another centre-back this summer, but for all the talk about Virgil Van Dijk, Southampton didn’t allow Swansea even so much as a sniff at goal. Stephens and Yoshida were commanding in the air, quick to intercept and even brave in their distribution of the ball.

It wasn’t just our work on the ball that impressed me either. Our physicality, defensive positioning and alertness also stood out. We were rarely outnumbered, reacted first to almost every second ball, and looked to impose a greater physical edge over the opposition (not entirely dissimilar from a certain Pochettino).

The jury is obviously still out on whether this will be maintained consistently, but it certainly isn’t a bad place to start. As mentioned earlier however, there’s something that definitely doesn’t need debating; our ability to throw away golden chances.

Minus Gabbiadini and Austin (who never start together), we don’t have a player that can cleanly strike the ball inside the box, and boy has it harmed us. Mishit efforts and a lack of composure in front of goal has cost us too many times, leading me to conclude that we simply have to act in the transfer market.

There’s been whispers of Southampton holding an interest in Atletico Madrid’s Luciano Vietto, and given his ability to play off the forward as a second striker, this certainly wouldn’t surprise me. Perhaps Pellegrino has already recognised his sides need for a clinical late arriver in the box?

Pep guardiola once stated “My job is to take you to the final third, and your job is to finish it” and with this considered, it’s been an incredibly encouraging start to life under Mauricio Pellegrino.

An insight into Mario Lemina

Whilst some were bemoaning Southampton’s lack of transfer activity this summer, the board decided to respond in the finest fashion; by securing the services of Juventus’s Mario Lemina for a club-record fee.

The midfielder has joined the club on a five-year contract for an initial £15.4m, that has the potential to rise to £18.1m. Lemina has been detailed as an athletic, powerful, box-to-box midfielder, who is capable of initiating counter attacks, whilst also boasting the defensive mindset to help out his midfield partner; good news for Oriol.

Lemina spent his youth career developing with FC Lorient in France, rising up the ranks to make his first team debut at just 18 years old. During his first and only season with the Ligue 1 outfit, he greatly impressed and soon after prompted Marseille to chase for his signature. He joined the club at the start of the 2013-14 season, and whilst he struggled to make his mark in the side during his first year, his talent was clear to see. It was with the appointment of Marco Biesla in May 2014 however, which brought about the Gabonese International’s finest form. Lemina played a vital role in helping Marseille finish fourth in the Ligue 1 table.

Throughout the summer of 2015, Lemina was the host of plenty of Premier League attention (by some accounts, this is when Southampton’s interest started) but on deadline day, it was Juventus who came out on top. They signed Lemina on a season long loan with a view to a permanent at the end of the season, and over the next year he faced the impossible challenge of fighting for a place amongst Juve’s midfield. Despite only starting seven Serie A fixtures, he did show glimpses of his talent, causing Juventus to activate the €9.5M release clause agreed in his loan deal. The following season however would follow the same story line as his first year with the Old Lady, and this brings us to today…

To gain further insight into just what type of player we’re acquiring, I spoke with Juventus fan, Marco Messina – the owner of ItalianFootballTV.

“Mario Lemina is a young player – 23 years old. He’s raw but you can see his talent shine through. Unfortunately I’ve never been a big fan of him to be honest; he’s a good dribbler but far too raw for a team like Juventus. Maximiliano Allegri actually liked him if you remember that he was subbed on many times in the Champions League. His time at Juventus wasn’t the best, as there were too many good players in front of him, and unfortunately he wasn’t good enough to ever break through. The general feeling is that Juventus fans are happy Lemina is leaving as he was holding up a spot for a better player in the squad. Maybe the Premier League could suit him better and at a club like Southampton, he’s actually going to get real time to play so it could be perfect for him.”

Preview: Southampton vs Swansea City

It’s almost here; the first game of the 2017/18 Premier League season. But in traditional Southampton style, we once again enter this season with a new boss, an endless supply of transfer gossip, and the determination to prove our doubters wrong (again).

Southampton’s first challenge of the season comes in the form of Swansea City, but rather than us sitting here and giving you a general low down, we decided to speak to someone who truly knows the ins and outs of the club; Kevin Elphick, the editor of Vital Swansea City.

Paul Clement and Swansea City appear to be a match made in heaven; what has he done to once again reinstall hope into the fans?

First and foremost, he kept us up last season when the odds were stacked massively against him. I don’t think he’s received enough praise from the media and pundits etc that he deserves. Like he said, it was his proudest managerial achievement and it’s not hard to see why.

It’s a cliche but he got us back to the basics, quickly recognising our strengths and weaknesses as soon as he came in and improving them almost instantly. After the disastrous spell of Bob Bradley, he identified his strongest side and stuck with it to get some consistency.

He got us playing in a much more organised and compact shape, and played to our strengths – mainly getting the ball wide and putting in crosses for Llorente to finish.

Looking ahead to next season, having simply played to our strengths last year to keep us up, it looks like he’s trying to get us back to playing a more possession-based, passing style and playing out from the back. A style of play that we got used to but has lost its way here in recent years.

He also comes across as an assured and confident character – unlike his two predecessors. With the likes of Claude Makelele, Nigel Gibbs and some former Spurs coaches amongst the backroom staff, I’d say we’ve got one of our best management teams in the last few years.

How have the squad looked over pre-season?

Paul Clement wasn’t happy with the performances during the U.S Tour, he admitted that by the end of the tour that the squad was behind his own targets, but they showed a big improvement when they came home, beating Birmingham and Sampdoria and keeping clean-sheets in the process.

Without Gylfi Sigurdsson and Fernando Llorente, our two key players last season, we have looked short of attacking creativity at times, and we need to address that weakness before the end of the month, as it doesn’t look like Sigurdsson will be kicking another ball for us.

What have you made of Swansea’s transfer window so far?

It’s not been great so far. It’s been too dependant on the sale, or lack of, of Gylfi Sigurdsson. We’ve signed two first team players, which is better than signing most squad players last Summer. Roque Mesa looks like the perfect player to help us revert back to a passing-style game, while Tammy Abraham is the sort of confident striker that we need to replace the flop Borja Baston – who’s headed back to La Liga on loan.

The most of us are hoping now that Gylfi Sigurdsson’s move to Everton is completed sooner rather than later so we can push through some much needed signings. We’re looking a bit thin in certain areas. We don’t have enough strength in depth or enough competition for places. I don’t know who we can turn to in games as an impact sub if things aren’t going our way. Therefore we need to bring at least 2 players that will walk into our side – the main one obviously being a replacement for Sigurdsson. We also need a defender (it’s a toss between a centre back and right back) and a winger/inside forward.

With both clubs holding a wantaway star, you could say Saints and Swans fans are in the same boat at the minute; what’s your stance on the Sigurdsson situation?

We’re all fed up with it now. It’s rolled on for weeks and weeks and we’re getting tired of this ongoing saga not being resolved.

He’s gone down in my estimation since he refused to travel to the U.S on the morning they were jetting off. He’s trained with the squad since they’ve been back home but has still refused to take part in any friendly matches.

It’s frustrating to see him resigned to leaving us, and refusing to take part in friendlies despite us still paying his expensive weekly wages.

I just want him to join Everton now, at £45m if needs be, mainly because we need the money quickly to bring in some much needed signings. We don’t want to be going to January with the squad as it is.

Who do you expect to be your key man this year?

Gylfi Sigurdsson would be the obvious choice if he was staying, and Fernando Llorente next, but because we’re looking to move to a possession-based game and his future not 100% secure, then I’d say it’s our new loan striker Tammy Abraham.

Llorente will miss the first one or two games, and we need Abraham to get off the mark quickly, otherwise – without Sigurdsson and Llorente, we could be struggling to score goals.

What would make for a successful season?

Reaching the 40-point mark still has to be our first and immediate target for the season. I’d hoped by now after 6 full seasons, that we could be possibly looking to be established in and around mid-table, but we’ve experienced the threat of relegation now for the last two years – and that’s where we’re currently at.

Which player from this Southampton side strikes the most fear into you, and who would you take to join the Swans?

Dusan Tadic springs to mind as being the player I remember to give us the most problems when we’ve faced you. He could walk into our team easily and would be able to play anywhere across our front three and would definitely improve us. He’d be excellent playing as a number 10 behind our front 2 or anywhere in a front three or wide.  That’s the sort of player that we’re currently lacking at the moment.

Finally, what do you think the score will be this Saturday?

Our record at Southampton isn’t great, we’ve won one and lost three out of five, we don’t score many at St Mary’s either and I expect another tough game. With a lack of impact subs available – I think you’ll be a bit too strong for us in the end so I’m predicting a narrow 2-1 defeat – with you going on to win it in the final 15-20 minutes. But I’m hopeful of a good performance ahead of our first home game against Manchester United at least.

Jack Stephens: the latest talent off our academy conveyor belt

Just over six months ago the sale of Jose Fonte was sanctioned to West Ham United, before Virgil Van Dijk was dealt a season ending injury blow just two days later. The following ten days proved to be even worse than any Southampton fan could imagine, with the board opting to stand still in the January market. An onslaught of panic amongst fans was well and truly beginning to settle in.

But when one door closes, another door opens, as the emergence of Jack Stephen’s has most certainly shown.

Should we have aimed to sure-up our defence up with an experienced defender? Were we right to let Fonte leave? And did we chose to work with what we’ve got, or was it simply poor planning?

These topics are all up for debate and will most likely divide opinion amongst fans, but there’s one thing that we’re all certain about; the undeniable talent of Jack Stephens.

We really shouldn’t be surprised to see another academy prospect benefiting from the opportunity of first team football, but I’m sure I won’t be alone in saying that I didn’t see Stephens breaking through in the manner that he has.  

So often in the past Southampton have aimed to gently integrate their promising starlets into the first team, ensuring not to hand them too much too soon. It’s vital to present a youngster with opportunities, but only when it truly benefits their development; this often requires having a leader alongside them, ensuring that there is capable back up to cover for them, and keeping responsibilities limited. There’s far more to developing a youngster than simply throwing them into the starting XI.

However, Stephens introduction into the first team as an academy graduate has been really rather different; quite the opposite in fact. Rather than being handed the opportunity as a reward for good form in the youth leagues, or even just to showcase the clubs future, Stephens was being used out of necessity. He had no natural leader by his side, no first-team standard back up to take his place, and was being handed all the responsibilities that Virgil Van Dijk took on before him.

Stephens was placed in a position whereby he simply had to deliver, and boy has he done just that.

The England U21 International has always held promise – there’s no disputing that – but it’s over the past six months where he’s truly come into his element.

Southampton Football Club as a whole have always promoted the idea of playing with an attractive style of football, and naturally, this creates a demand for a certain type of player; in this case, a certain type of defender.

With Virgil Van Dijk sidelined through injury, Southampton lost a vital cog in their approach of building from the back. Without a player of such a mould, Southampton heavily reduce the intensity of their attacking play, and there’s often a disjointed link between the defence and the attack.

In the form of Stephens however, Southampton are able to effectively maintain this approach to their games. Each and every time that he receives the ball, I’m astounded at his awareness of his surroundings, as he instantly knows who will next take charge of possession.

He holds the ball with great composure and plays his passes with real conviction. If there’s a full back free on the opposite wing, then you can bank on him to make that pass, and if the opposition’s midfield shows a gap, then you can be sure that he’ll drive into the space.

Dare I say it, but his qualities on the ball have an heir of Van Dijk about them…

Don’t begin to think that these technical strengths come at the cost of bread and butter defending however. Stephens is improving defensively on a weekly basis, showing that he can handle all the different challenges that the Premier League can throw at you – be that a nippy and pacey forward, or a physical and classic British number nine.

I’m yet to see him back out of a single 50/50, he’s brave enough to always put his body on the line, and he’s even adopted his own signature method of tackling; this involves sliding, then hooking his ankle around the ball from behind the player, before quickly rising to his feet and recycling play. It never fails to get a standing ovation from us Southampton fans…

However, I’m not wearing red and white tinted spectacles; Stephens does have his weaknesses.

In those all important moments against the big teams he boasts the tendency to switch off, and whilst he’s certainly not troubled physically, his aerial presence does need improving.

On top of this, having only spent half a season in the Premier League, Stephens can still be dragged out of his defensive line in those manic end to end fixtures. He can be guilty of over committing when the opposition overloads their attack, but with time on his side and plenty more challenges on the horizon, these shortcomings can be corrected.

At a time when everyone is talking about Virgil Van Dijk and the transfer window, it’s important to appreciate the talent of those who will proudly step out onto St Mary’s this season; especially when they’re one of our own.

My centre-back choice for Southampton FC

Many Southampton fans have already highlighted their main objective from the current transfer window; to retain our assets rather than reform our squad. But whilst this is an opinion I certainly share, there’s one position in the side where Southampton Football Club can’t afford to stand still.

Regardless of whether Virgil Van Dijk stays or goes, Mauricio Pellegrino needs another body at the heart of his defence; and in my eyes, Kevin Wimmer fits the billing.

At this point some may understandably have their doubts, due to the 24-year-old spending the past two seasons as back up at Tottenham Hotspur, but hear me out…

First and foremost, being second choice to Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen is certainly no insult; far from it in fact. Under Mauricio Pochettino’s management, the pair have arguably become the strongest centre-back partnership in the Premier League, and given that current Saints Ryan Bertrand and Oriol Romeu were forced out of Chelsea due to unassailable competition, it’s mindless to discount a player’s ability for these reasons.

The Austrian International has built up a reputation as a tough tackling centre-back, who isn’t afraid to put his body on the line and block efforts at all costs. He’s more than capable in the air, and despite his naturally strong physical nature, is accomplished on the ball too – a vital characteristic for being a Southampton centre-back.

However, there are of course some areas of his game that desperately need work.

Wimmer deputised well for Vertonghen over the 2015/16 season, and barely put a foot wrong; proving himself to be reliable back up should anyone be on the injury table. But over the 2016/17 season and so far in pre-season, Spurs fans have found that the lack of game time has taken a toll on his fitness. His reading of the game is also struggling at the minute too, with opportunities coming few and far between.  

But when you consider Pochettino’s demands of a centre-back, it’s understandable as to why Wimmer has struggled over the past 12 months. Wimmer’s not a quick defender by any means, so when he plays in a defensive line as high and physically demanding as Tottenham’s, he’s naturally going to be exposed in these areas of his game. On top of this, he can’t evade pressure or carry the ball out of defence quite like Vertonghen or Alderweireld, meaning he’s forced to operate in a system that doesn’t play to his strengths.

What’s most encouraging about these current shortcomings however, is that all of them can be solved under the right management and set up; something Southampton Football Club have shown with a number of players in recent years.

Wimmer would be my personal choice, but of course I would back any other first-team signing given our track record. The bottom line however is that we simply have to get someone through the door; not only to potentially prepare for a Van Dijk exit this summer, but also to ensure that we have a mature defender who knows his demands if Van Dijk departs next year.

Aiming to form an entirely new defensive partnership in just one window is a risk that would be all too mindless to take.

I’m confident that if our club is keeping tabs on Wimmer – as some reports are suggesting – we’d be able to mould our system to his strengths, and he could get back to realising the joys of being a truly valued squad member. He only has to ask Romeu and Bertrand what it’s like…

Is Remy right for Pellegrino’s Southampton?

Once a fully fledged French International and a menace to Premier League defences, Loic Remy’s career has come to somewhat of a standstill, as he finds himself locked out of Antonio Conte’s plans.

Sky Sports have since reported however that he’s free to leave the club this summer, stating that Southampton are one of three clubs interested in the Frenchman.

Remy travelled with the Blues squad for pre-season and even scored twice during an 8-2 win over Fulham, but it seems that he was selected solely to improve his fitness.

So with Remy firmly placed in Roman Abramovich’s shop window, and Southampton fans divided in opinion, is this a deal that takes my fancy? And is it the kind of gamble Southampton Football Club should be taking?

Firstly, it’s only right to paint the picture of Remy as a footballer; he’s an experienced centre-forward who at 30 years of age, is still quick on his feet and cool in front of goal. He’s a more than capable dribbler on the ball, and whilst his movement is generally considered intelligent, he’s considerably more effective in sides that look to counter attack.

He’s proven himself as lethal forward in Ligue 1 from 2008-13 – maintaining a one-in-two strike rate – before scoring 20 Premier League goals in just 42 appearances for QPR and Newcastle United.

From this profile it would seem like a no-brainer to race for Remy’s signature. However, I have my reservations for a number of reasons…

Since moving to Chelsea in 2014, Remy has featured in just 37 Premier League fixtures, scoring eight goals. And whilst failing to start for Chelsea is certainly no insult, that tally includes a miserable half-season loan spell at Crystal Palace, where he failed to open his goalscoring account in red and blue.

It’s been a long while since Remy has been able to string together a number of promising performances, and injuries have certainly played their part too. As the years have gone on, it seems that injury is waiting for the Frenchman around each and every corner; this is an attribute that we certainly don’t need in our squad. Regular injuries not only cost the club, but they also disrupt the way the team are playing, as someone else with different qualities takes their place.

On top of this, Remy hardly makes for the most Southampton-esque signing given his age; there’s little room for development, next to no sell on value, and the possibility that he blocks the pathway into the first team for others.

Not to mention that with Charlie Austin and Manolo Gabbiadini, Remy will be facing hot competition, and I’m not convinced that’s what he needs for his own development. In order to get back to his best, he needs a guarantee of consecutive starts with limited competition and a manager who trusts him – something we can’t offer.

Admittedly Remy’s pace does offer us something different in our frontline, and I’m sure that under the right management, a revival of his career can be made. But when you consider the high wage bill, missing form and recurring injuries, I can’t help but feel this is all too big of a gamble for Southampton Football Club.

Nathaniel Chalobah: The perfect project for Southampton FC?

According to a recent report by Goal, Southampton are believed to be keen on England U21 International and Chelsea Youngster, Nathaniel Chalobah.

Numerous sources in recent weeks have stated that Marco Silva’s Watford are currently leading the race for the destructive midfielder, but Southampton are now keen to hijack the Hornets plans.

A bid in the region of £5M appears to be all that’s needed to prise the youngster from Chelsea’s grips, with Chalobah holding just one year left on his current contract.

But just where would he fit into our squad? And what can we as a club do to convince Chalobah to make the switch?

As a self-proclaimed admirer of Chalobah in recent years, this is a deal that certainly interests me; and here’s why…

Southampton are fortunate enough to boast a midfield with many young and creative options, yet despite this, we hold just one out and out defensive midfielder in Oriol Romeu. With the potential acquisition of Chalobah however, Mauricio Pellegrino has the tactical flexibility to select a compact two-man midfield partnership, similar to that of the Pochettino era.

Being able to organise a midfield of this style could prove to be crucial in handling the attacking threat of the Premier League’s top six sides – a challenge we failed to pass last season. We’re sorely missing a physical core at the heart of our midfield, and this is something that I want to return to our side, not only for the defensive stability, but also for the attacking freedom it gifts our frontline.

It’s also worth noting that if Chalobah does make the switch, he would have one hell of a first-team mentor in Romeu. Chalobah has shown glimpses of his obvious talent in the past, but has failed to channel this into a consistent string of performances at a top level.

With an experienced and intelligent player like Romeu, Chalobah has someone that can guide him in finding his role and responsibilities in the side; when to dive in, when to sit deep, when to press, and when to take risks on the ball. These are all questions that Chalobah will need help answering as an inexperienced midfielder.

But whilst this inexperience in the Chelsea side will no doubt raise a few questions marks over Southampton fans heads, I believe that we would have no need to worry.

Firstly because Chelsea’s pathway between the academy and the first team is a battered and bruised road, but secondly, because Romeu and Bertrand’s situations at the London based club weren’t a million miles away either.

Both of these current Saints showed promise at a big club from a young age, were then rewarded with a number of opportunities, before quickly being discarded from the first team the moment that there was a hill to climb. Through hot competition, injury and even inexperience, some ridiculously talented players can fall through the net at Chelsea Football Club.

But with thanks to the faith and guidance of Southampton, they’ve been able to revive their careers and show their full potential.

Presenting young talented individuals the opportunity to succeed and develop is what Southampton Football Club do best, and that’s exactly why I would love to see us take the gamble on Nathaniel Chalobah.

Jay Rodriguez and Southampton: The end of the road

After five years wearing red and white, it’s now been confirmed that Jay Rodriguez will be making the switch to West Bromwich Albion, in a deal worth £12M.

The transfer itself comes as a surprise to very few Southampton fans, who over the past 24 months have watched Rodriguez fight to rediscover his 2013-14 season form.

But despite failing to do so, this is a departure that’s been been left on wonderful terms, with each and every Southampton fan wishing nothing but the best for Jay, and rightly so too…

Rodriguez signed for the Saints in the summer of 2012 for a fee of £7M, as Nigel Adkins’ Southampton prepared for their return to the top flight.

With the pressure of fighting for survival, Rodriguez managed to show glimpses of his physical edge and positive movement, only for his unrefined technique and nerves in front of goal to let him down. The talent was there for all to see, but this diamond desperately needed polishing, having recorded just six League goals from 35 appearances.

But with the departure of Adkins – the man who placed his faith in Jay – there came the arrival of a certain Mauricio Pochettino, and this was the moment that we began to see the very best of Jay Rodriguez.

With a full pre-season under the Argentinian, Rodriguez had been endlessly drilled, physically pushed and given a vital responsibility in the way that Pochettino wanted his side to play.

The skinny forward that only 12 months ago would be bullied to the ground in aerial duels, was now leaping high-above 6ft 4in centre-halves as he sinks the ball into the back of the net. And that same player who would once crumble as he bares down on goal with just the keeper to beat, was now cooly slotting the ball home without a moment’s hesitation.

Operating as an inside forward from the left, Rodriguez was wreaking havoc upon the Premier League’s strongest defences, linking up effortlessly with Rickie Lambert through the middle, and showing the intelligence to stretch defences in wide areas.

With 15 League goals in just 33 appearances, Rodriguez was showing no sign of slowing down as the end of the season edged nearer. Having already made his England debut in mid November of that season, there was huge talk of Rodriguez being the wildcard selection in Roy Hodgson’s World Cup squad.

He was in the finest form of his career so far, but then it all came crashing down…

On the 5th of April 2014 against Manchester City, Rodriguez leapt to control a high ball in the air, only to writhe in pain as his feet touched back down on the ground.

The Etihad filled with a painful silence, as the Southampton players rushed to surround Rodriguez in shock of what they had just witnessed. They knew it was bad news from the moment he touched the ground, and the stretcher on the field just moments later only confirmed that.

News broke instantly amongst us Southampton fans, who were feeling every bit of Rodriguez’s pain. Our club had only been back in the top flight for a single season, and here we had a player who was helping to put us back on the football map, all whilst dreaming of representing his country on the biggest stage that football can offer.

I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t emotional watching his childhood dream be crushed before our very eyes.

Rodriguez had suffered a rupture to his anterior cruciate ligament, and was told that he would face the next 11 months on the sidelines. His World Cup dreams were well and truly over.

Rodriguez was about to endure the biggest challenge of his career to date, both physically and mentally. He would go on to face setback after setback, scare after scare, and even for a short time, have doubts over whether he would ever play the game again.

But after sixteen brutal, agonising months, having missed the entirety of the 2014/15 campaign, Rodriguez was once again ready to step back out onto St Mary’s.

It was chilling to watch him re-enter the field as a Saint, knowing full well just how deep and cruelly his strength had been tested over the last 16 months.

And whilst over the past two years Rodriguez has been a shadow of his 2013/14 self, it’s made me realise that there is far more to football than just results and goals. For all the players that come and go from St Mary’s, here we have a player who was giving his all just to one day wear those red and white stripes again.

Even after all that time on the sidelines waiting, Rodriguez still maintained a focused and determined attitude when both Ronald Koeman and Claude Puel starved him of game time; no running to the press, no moaning and certainly no drama. Jay’s only focus was getting back out onto that pitch, to repay the Southampton fans for their endless support through his recovery.

Over the past 24 months, Rodriguez has tried time and time again to once again make an attacking role his own, but sadly, his efforts came to no avail. Without the physicality to play as a lone number nine, the pace to play as a winger, or the technical ability to play just off the forward, Rodriguez has often been consigned to the bench.

But by no means am I suggesting that he’s no longer capable of being an effective Premier League footballer. For a while now, he’s been missing a number of vital components that help to aid development; a manager that trusts him, a single role in the side and a consistent run of games. At West Bromwich Albion it appears that Tony Pulis has promised him exactly that.

For the wonderful memories, professionalism throughout, and his pride in being a Saint, I would love nothing more than to see Rodriguez back amongst the goals; just not against us, alright Jay?