Author Archives: Aidan Small

In defence of Sofiane Boufal

Sofiane Boufal has only been with Southampton since late August of 2016, and unsurprisingly (as I anticipated), a number of our fans don’t seem to be his greatest admirer.

Boufal’s career in red and white stripes got off to a flyer. Having joined the club already nursing an injury, Boufal had to wait until the 26th of October to make his first start for the club, but boy was it worth the wait…  

Following his sensational strike against Sunderland in the League Cup, Boufal then proceeded to pick up a number of appearances, sometimes operating as a number ten, and other times as a left winger. Over these showings he was able to show us glimpses of his fine footwork and unpredictable nature on the ball.

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By this point Boufal had already pulled out enough trickery to build a compilation video, but fans were still asking for more of a final product, and that’s exactly what they received during Southampton’s clash against Middlesbrough.

But since this scintillating run of form, Boufal has struggled to maintain those same performance levels, and with that, there has been plenty of criticism. Criticism that I personally believe, is unjust and irrational.

Ever since our return to the Premier League, fans have been screaming out year on year for creativity and flair, but now that it’s here in the form of Boufal, these same fans don’t have the patience to let him find his feet.

Despite still being inside his first season as a Premier League and Southampton player, fans are expecting instant and consistent results from a player that is currently facing all types of new challenges. He’s playing in a new League, with new demands, having to overcome a language barrier, and this is all whilst he’s having to find his new role in the Southampton side.

On top of this, he’s also been expected to find a level of consistency in the team, despite Puel’s weekly weekly squad rotation – a policy that can sometimes be cruel on new arrivals, who require regular game time to be at their best.

It’s difficult as a creative player to truly cement your place in the team when each and every week, you’re having to adapt to a new frontline – especially when you’re a new arrival. One week Boufal is having to play direct to Charlie Austin, a forward who struggles to play quick one-two’s, and the next he’s expected to find Shane Long through the channels. This is whilst Boufal himself is also having to adjust to playing as either a number ten or as a left winger.

Perhaps now that Puel has halted his rotation policy with the introduction of Manolo Gabbiadini, Boufal will soon be able to find his most natural position and style of play. 

Right before our very eyes we have a player that is capable of humiliating defenders, whilst also being able to find the back of the net from the most acute of angles, yet still, I am already witnessing fans jump on his back and rule him out of being a success at Southampton.

Quite simply, Sofiane Boufal is a player who loves to take risks, and it seems that some fans just can’t quite grasp that fact. Whilst I see a player that is wanting to change the game, make an impression and play positive, others see this as irreversible greed and selfishness. Granted, he has certainly shown his tendency to overplay and rush his decisions, but to see this as something that can’t be channeled and worked upon is mindless.

Boufal is an exceptional talent – in terms of raw ability, I’ve seen few better in a Southampton shirt over recent years – but in order to truly reach his thrilling potential, he needs an abundance of patience and support from us Southampton fans. Something that I know we are more than capable of providing.

A lesson learnt from our trip to Wembley

After facing the initial disappointment and pain from being dumped out of the League Cup final just three days ago, I imagine the players are now analysing the game in hunt for any valuable lessons. How did they cope under pressure? What would they carry out again? And what decisions would they change?

Reflection is a valuable tool for any footballer if they want to progress, but in my view, they shouldn’t be the only ones doing so after last Sunday; If we as fans can take anything away from that monumental day, it’s to recognise the influence that our support can have on the team.

Having started the game with an attractive yet direct approach, Claude Puel’s side looked to have found the game’s opener inside the 12th minute, but Manolo Gabbiadini’s goal was wrongly waved offside.

Just five minutes later, half of Wembley was stunned into silence as Zlatan Ibrahimovic found the back of the net with a 30-yard free-kick. This failed to dishearten either one of the fans or the players however, as Southampton chants filled the stadium and the positive play continued.

Southampton we’re looking dangerous in attack and looking to play the positive pass at all times, but just as luck had it, Jesse Lingard doubled United’s lead in the 37th minute, with a sweet curling effort into the bottom right corner – their second chance of the game.

In the moment, it was gutting. Truly gutting. Watching on over the Wembley turf I had witnessed my team play with confidence, bravery, and style, yet still, we found ourselves 2-0 down at the hands of the officials and United’s clinical finishing.

But what happened next was a moment that will never leave me as a Southampton fan. With all hope of Cup glory seemingly gone following Lingard’s fine finish, Gabbiadini stepped up to provide the touch of class that Southampton have desired so many times this season; there was once again hope. Timed to perfection in the 45th minute, Gabbiadini’s goal gave Southampton new life before the break, with over 32,000 fans screaming for more as the teams marched in at half time.

The referee then blew his whistle to get the second half underway, and instantly, there was this venomous momentum behind Southampton with the support of their travelling fans. In the opening stages of that second half there wasn’t a single moment where the Southampton fans stopped chanting, and late into the 46th minute, they were handed their reward.

With remarkable awareness and instinct, Gabbiadini watched the ball fall to his feet with his back to goal, before swivelling on his heel and lacing the ball past a rooted David De Gea. It was simply beautiful. Deemed to be down and out, little old Southampton had clawed back from a two-goal deficit, and now, our fans truly believed that we could take this trophy home with us. Nothing quite proves that like half of Wembley stadium swinging their scarves to the sound of our Italian hero’s name.

For the next 15 minutes, the chanting was endless. Manchester United’s half of Wembley had been reduced to silence, and given their well renowned away support, that is quite some achievement.

The incredible Southampton support was still far from over though. As the game reached the 62nd minute, out came 30,000+ shining lights from the Southampton fans, as a loving tribute to their former Chairman and club saviour, Markus Liebherr. The very man that allowed us to experience such a thrilling occasion.

Sadly however, we know the remainder of this story. Despite pushing on with bravery and the willingness to express ourselves right up until the closing moments of the game, Ibrahimovic was the difference in the 86th minute.

A moment of true quality from an undisputed world class footballer settled the tie, but all in all, I couldn’t be any prouder of my football club and our fans. Right from the first whistle to the very last, we stood strong by our team and ensured that when they needed that extra push, we made our voices heard.

It’s understandable for fans of a football club to brag about the quality of their support, but in all honesty – minus the Northam stand – St Mary’s has been lacking for a long while. Our fans are superb, there is no doubting that, but having witnessed for myself what 32,000+ chanting fans in red and white can do to a game, I’m left with just one question; can we now transfer that same overpowering atmosphere to St Mary’s Stadium?

Preview: Southampton vs Manchester United

In less than four days, I will have the joy of watching my beloved Southampton FC march out onto the field of Wembley. But sadly, standing strong in our way of cup glory is Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United; a team that are unbeaten in their last 16 Premier League fixtures, having scored 24 goals, with just six goals conceded. In terms of form, there are few better in the Premier League than the Red Devils at this moment in time, but as we all know, football is a funny old sport and over 90 minutes, anything is possible. 

So, to find out more about what we can expect from our upcoming opponents, I spoke with Elliott from United Report.

How does this seasons performances compare to the showings under David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal?

Our performances under Mourinho have been the complete polar-opposite to Moyes and Van Gaal’s. We’re still somewhat building from the back but we’re doing it with a lot more intent and pace, something we lacked majorly under the previous managers. We’re now creating a lot more chances than before but are sometimes lacking that end product. Finishing seems to be one of our only weaknesses at the moment and that can be worked on.

As an outsider looking in, what is your perception of Southampton this season?

I’m a huge admirer of Southampton. The fact that the club are constantly selling their best players (unfortunately) and somehow managing to replace them with equal talent is very impressive. Saints have a nice looking spine now – players of note are Van Dijk, Romeu, Redmond and Gabbiadini. I am however surprised at Saints’ position in the league. The current crop of players have a lot of potential and it’s a shame they’re not fulfilling that. However, I do think Southampton will climb the table towards the end of the season.

What do you make of Luke Shaw’s current situation at Manchester United?

Luke Shaw’s current situation at Manchester United – it’s nothing more than tough love from Mourinho. It worked with Mkhitaryan and seems to be working with Martial, and I’m 100% sure it will work with Shaw. The difference is that Shaw is still recovering from a career-threatening injury. Mourinho has already confirmed that he has no intention to sell Shaw and that he is very fond of the player and his potential. It’s all paper talk.

If you could take any Southampton player, who would it be and why?

It’s got to be Virgil van Dijk. The guy’s been one of the best defenders in the league this season and he has definitely changed my opinion of him. I use to have the image of Martial helping Van Dijk with cramp at St Mary’s lodged in my head after the Frenchman put two past Southampton last season and that set my negative view of the player. In a defence that is lacking solidarity at the moment, I’m taking Van Dijk all day.

Who has been your player of the season?

It’s between a few players. My shortlist is Antonio Valencia, Paul Pogba or Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Valencia is arguably the best right-back in the league at the moment – he’s unbeatable in a 1v1 and is an absolute monster going forward. As for Pogba, the world’s most expensive player, everything good goes through him. On his day, he’s unmatchable and he could have had a lot more goals and assists this season if it weren’t for the woodwork and our poor finishing. Ibrahimovic has to be included due to the pure amount of goals the Swede has scored. He’s already got 24 in all competitions and we’re only in February! The scary thing is, he could have had a lot more…

What area of the Southampton side do you feel that United should exploit this Sunday?

The absence of Van Dijk is huge for United. He’s probably one of the only players that could’ve dealt with Ibrahimovic’s physicality meaning this factor could be decisive at Wembley.

Who do you expect to be your key man this Sunday, and which Southampton player scares you most going into the game?

If Pogba shows up then we’ll play well and have a good chance of winning, it’s as simple as that. Not only will he need to be pin point attacking wise, he will need to deal with Romeu – who does not lack fight in the middle of the park. In the form he’s in, Gabbiadini is frightening. We can’t afford to give him an inch of space otherwise he’ll showcase his favourite ‘spin & shoot’, which he recently showed vs Sunderland.

And finally, what do you think the score will be this Sunday?

Full-time score: United 3-1 Southampton. I think our amount of quality will shine through and pinch the win. It will be a good game nonetheless!

The ultimate 2012-17 Southampton XI

The good news is that the League Cup final is now less than two weeks away. The bad news however, is that Southampton don’t have another fixture until that season defining day. But with all this spare time until we travel to Wembley, it got me thinking about just how fortunate I’ve been to experience such a remarkable journey. From the dark depths of League One in 2009, up to the Premier League in 2012, qualification for the Europa League in 2015, and now, a League Cup final in 2017. When you take a step back and look at how far our club has come, it’s really quite remarkable.

So, in the spirit of enjoying the next chapter that Southampton FC holds for us, I decided to pick my ultimate Southampton XI since our return to the Premier League.

GK: Despite his recent slump in form, there is still no doubt in my mind that Fraser Forster deserves to stand between the sticks in my ultimate XI. Since signing in the summer of 2014, Forster has produced some sensational goalkeeping displays (much to the annoyance of every Arsenal fan), whilst also writing his name into the Southampton history books – totalling 708 Premier League minutes without conceding a goal. The 6ft 7in shot stopper has helped Southampton to better their highest ever PL finish twice over, and is it any wonder when he’s recorded 28 clean sheets in 73 Premier League appearances?

RB: Signed for just £2.15M ahead of our return to the Premier League in 2012, Nathaniel Clyne went on to not only help us steer clear of relegation, but also become a fully fledged England International. Blisteringly quick, dangerous on the overlap, and surprisingly strong in one-on-one defensive situations, Clyne takes the right back spot with ease.

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CB: Given that Virgil Van Dijk is arguably one of the most sought after defenders in European football at the minute, it will come as no surprise to you that he’s placed in this side. Not only is he an incredibly intelligent tackler, but he’s also capable of spraying 40-yard diagonals with ease, whilst possessing the strength to make Christian Benteke look like Nathan Dyer – as aerial threats go, there are few better in football than Van Dijk. If Southampton can retain the Dutchman this summer, he’s as big as any signing we could possibly ship in.

CB: We may have only been able to enjoy the services of Toby Alderweireld for a single season, but my god, what a player we had on our hands. Within just three performances in the red and white shirt, I remember turning to my Dad and simply asking, “How on earth have we got this man?”. Alderweireld boasts many similar qualities to Van Dijk, but perhaps what he loses in natural physical strength, he makes up for with his exceptional reading of the game. It’s for all to see that the Belgian International has received a footballing education at Ajax.

LB: When Southampton first signed Ryan Bertrand, it’s fair to say that there were doubters. Not only had Southampton just waved goodbye to Luke Shaw, but their replacement was a loan player who had failed to shine for Aston Villa in the season before. But over two and a half years later, Bertrand has arguably become one of Southampton’s most reliable performers, proving to be a true professional along the way too. He’s shown himself to be a capable player in all areas of the pitch, allowing us to play the positive and fluid football that us fans so desire. His fine form has even helped him regain a place in the National team.

DM: Ah, the one that got away. It may sound odd to others, but I’ve never known a player to grab the hearts of so many fans in the same way that Morgan Schneiderlin did. With the combination of his crunching tackles, the fact that he rose through the divisions with us, and never left the field without giving 100%, we all truly saw him as one of us. Over countless occasions we would witness Schneiderlin single handedly dominate the midfield, and still to this day, I’m gutted for him that his big move didn’t pay off. It would take one hell of a search to find a defensive midfielder as effective as Schneiderlin during his time at Southampton.  

DM: And here we have Schneiderlin’s partner in crime: Victor Wanyama. The Kenyan midfielder slotted in alongside Schneiderlin at the start of the 2013/14 season, and right from the off, we all knew what he was about. Wanyama may not be the most technical or aesthetically pleasing player, but over his three seasons at Southampton, he proved himself to be one of the Premier League’s finest in protecting the backline. How many other players can you name that have knocked Yaya Toure, Kouyate and Fellaini to the floor in a single season?

LW: When Adam Lallana departed for Liverpool, any football fan could see that Southampton had a colossal job of acquiring a suitable replacement; and in the form Dusan Tadic, Les Reed and co found just that. The Serbian International has been the creative Spark behind Southampton’s progression over the past two seasons, recording 21 assists in 81 Premier League appearances. Tadic’s greatest form for Southampton came with Graziano Pelle in the side, but with a new Italian in town – Manolo Gabbiadini – Tadic looks to have formed a new on the field bromance. When deployed as the main creative outlet for the side, Tadic is capable of tormenting any side with his defence splitting vision and deft execution.

AM: Given the manner of which he left the club, I was debating whether to select this man for my starting XI. However, I just can’t deny plain and simple talent once I’ve seen it with my eyes. Regardless of how you view Lallana for his actions, It’s undeniable that he was a sensational player for Southampton. He could play with either foot, was capable of leading the team as a captain, and had the ability to switch a game on it’s head with just a single touch. Not to forget the many Cruyff turns too…

RW: Southampton have had the joy of possessing some pacy players over the years to work the channels and overlap, but not a single player can match Sadio Mane for pace. When he first joined the club, he was used by Ronald Koeman to solely hunt for space and ask questions of the defence. But once he found his feet in the Premier League, he soon adapted into a controlled dribbler that was capable of finding the back of the net from the tightest of angles.  Since entering English football in late 2014, Mane has scored 32 times in just 89 Premier League appearances. Further testament to his talent is that Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool simply aren’t the same side without him, as their poor form in 2017 shows.

ST: To not place this man in my ultimate XI would be wrong on almost every account possible. Rickie Lambert is, and forever will be loved by each and every Southampton fan. From that first Premier League goal against Manchester City, right through to scoring in his last ever game in red and white against Manchester United, Lambert never once let us down. The man was a natural born goalscorer who certainly wasn’t short of technical ability for a big man, and his penalties weren’t half bad either. It’s fairly safe to say that Rickie Lambert will never have to buy another pint in Southampton again.  

 

Preview: Sunderland vs Southampton

Following on from six defeats in our last seven fixtures, this would normally be the perfect time for any team to face a side in the bottom three. But when that side has just picked a point and a clean sheet against Tottenham Hotspur, before going on to fire four past Crystal Palace, completing that challenge is far easier said than done.

So, we spoke to www.wearewearside.com to find out what we can expect to see from Sunderland this coming Saturday.  

Firstly, what are your thoughts on Sunderland’s season so far?

It has been a bit of a disaster in all honesty, in keeping with the start of our last four seasons. We lost our manager in pre-season because Roy Hodgson couldn’t beat Iceland, our Chief Executive told his we are skint and to top it all off we ended up signing Joleon Lescott! However, there have been periods where Sunderland have looked a decent team, most notably last week as we tore Crystal Palace apart.

How do you believe David Moyes wants his Sunderland side to play?

Moyes has spent most of the season trying to figure that out I think. We have finally settled on a system which is working decently. Right now Sunderland usually line up with three centre backs and wing backs, so the usual approach is to soak up pressure and try to create space for Jermain Defoe on the counter. We don’t have that much pace, so you normally see quite a few players trying to get forward.

How does this seasons squad and performances compare to previous years?

Not much has changed in that respect. Sunderland start the season poorly, sack the manager (looks like we will be spared that ritual this season) and win our last five games to stay up! We are closer to safety than we usually are at this time of year, so I’d say it’s going better in that respect.

After a draw at Spurs and a thrashing of Crystal Palace, are Southampton facing a Sunderland side in their best form of the season so far?

It’s hard to say really. Whilst both of those results were excellent, we are missing a lot of players through injury right now. Earlier in the season we won three games in four matches against Bournemouth, Hull and Leicester.

As an outsider looking in, what is your perception of Southampton this season?

I’ve been very surprised by the lack of form, Southampton always strike me as the very consistent top-ten sort of team. Like one of the Evertons of the Premier League, always doing well but struggling to reach that next level. You won’t get relegated, so the question I’d ask myself as a Saints fan is would I swap a top half finish for a cup final? Of course I would. Enjoy Wembley, there is nothing like it.

If you could take any Southampton player, who would it be and why?

That’s easy, Virgil van Djik. I’m convinced he is the best defender in the league, or at least one of them, and it still irks me to this day that Sunderland thought £10m was too much for the Dutchman when we courted him the year before he went to St Mary’s. Then we go and spend £8m on Papy Djilobodji instead, deary me.

Minus Jermain Defoe, who has been your player of the season?

With the exception of Defoe most of our players have had very inconsistent seasons. The only two exceptions to that are Jordan Pickford and Victor Anichebe. Because he is a local lad I’ll plump for Pickford and trust me this boy is going to be a top keeper very soon.

Do you believe that you have what it takes to beat the drop once again?

We’ve performed greater escapes than this so absolutely. If the last four seasons have taught me anything it’s never to write Sunderland off regardless of how crap we are.

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

This is the kind of opportunity we usually spurn. Get into good form, play a team out of form and lose. However, I can’t shake the optimism that first half against Palace has filled me with so I think it’ll be a draw which won’t be much good for either of us.

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.