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.