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Could Southampton Move for Nicolai Muller This Summer?

Nicolai Muller isn’t a household name in European football but he could mature into a top talent should he move to the Premier League this summer. Southampton have been linked with the 29-year-old for well over a month now but those links have intensified now that Muller has rejected a contract extension with current club Hamburg. He has been on Southampton’s radar for some time and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Mauricio Pellegrino’s side make a concrete bid for the winger.

Back in 2015, he scored one of the most important goals in Hamburg’s 128-year history; a winner against Karlsruher that helped the club avoid relegation. Since then, Muller has blossomed into a fan favourite with the Hamburg faithful but he is out of contract next summer and the club may push to sell the wantaway winger in the next month.

With 14 goals in 49 appearances over the last two seasons, Muller has been a key figure for Hamburg but it is now time to move on. At 29 years old, Muller has to move now or he’ll never go. According to various reports, Saints and fellow Premier League outfit West Ham were interested in signing Muller back in July and a move to St Mary’s could materialise if Pellegrino is still interested.

At the time of writing, Hamburg are priced at 2/1 for relegation this season according to Bundesliga betting odds and Muller might want to get out now in order to preserve his reputation. According to various reports, Wolfsburg and Schalke, arguably better placed to avoid dropping down to Germany’s second tier, have shown interest in signing the winger and a move to a rival could be on the cards.

Hamburg want to keep the player but the club are in a difficult position. Should Saints come in with an offer that they can’t refuse, Hamburg will almost certainly accept. From there, it is a matter of convincing Muller to leave his native Germany for England and the Premier League. If Pellegrino can convince Muller that he will be a valuable member of his squad, he could push to join Saints before the end of August.

Saints could do with somebody like Muller to keep defenders on the back foot. Yes, he is a relatively unknown quantity but that could work in Pellegrino’s favour – signing the Hamburg man might be straightforward if Southampton can fend off West Bromwich Albion. His pace and tenacity out wide would certainly give Saints an edge and new dimension going forward and Shane Long could prosper from Muller’s blistering speed.

Hamburg have been flirting with relegation from the Bundesliga for a few years now and Muller knows that the club are on a downward slope. Muller was hampered by injury last season and he was sorely missed – they always tend to perform better with the 29-year-old in the side. With five goals and six assists in 22 Bundesliga appearances, Muller had a solid year statistically and Saints would benefit from his impact. Over to you, Mr Pellegrino…

Southampton F.C. – a plethora of attacking talent

Since the beginning of the summer transfer window, we as fans have been inundated with attacking talent in the Premier League – It’s truly a neutral’s dream-league of world-class strikers, wingers and attacking midfielders ranging from all areas of the table.

Teams like West Ham have brought in a proven goal-scorer in the form of Javier Hernández, Manchester United have purchased arguably the best striker in the league in Romelu Lukaku, Chelsea have bought a very promising Spaniard in Álvaro Morata, whilst other teams such as Man City and Tottenham have retained their star strikers Harry Kane and Sergio Agüero.

But whilst this has left many football fans up and down the country excited with their new signings, I’ve seen some Southampton fans lose sight of the talent that we have sitting before our very eyes.

I personally believe that at St. Mary’s, we too have a lot of attacking flair – arguably even more than in seasons gone by – and as I have already alluded to in a previous article, some of those players will have their first full pre-season at the club.

The Finisher

I have my reservations about Charlie Austin’s talent as a footballer on the whole; he is not very athletic, quick, or even entirely skilful. However, the man is a finisher. In the 2016/17 season, Austin scored six and assisted once in 11 premier league starts, and in the 2014/15 premier league campaign, he scored 18 times and assisted five times in 35 starts, for a QPR side that was relegated. Whilst I do not like to heavily rely on stats, no one can argue with Austin’s finishing ability and I am definitely of the opinion that he can score 15+ PL goals, should he play most games.

I do have a few worries with Austin, though. Primarily, I’m not sure he fits into Mauricio Pellegrino’s high-pressing style of play: he isn’t quick enough nor does he have the stamina to press a top-flight defence and latch on to loose balls. I hope that his lust for goals can sway Pellegrino onside, and to push us on in the hunt for more European football.

The Space Finder

His Italian heritage isn’t the only thing that makes many pundits connect him to Filippo Inzaghi; Manolo Gabbiadini’s sheer ability to find pockets of space and get beyond defenders despite his lack of natural pace is astonishing. With four goals in his first three premier league games, we thought he could set the league on fire before his injury at Tottenham, after which he struggled to find the net. However, considering he slotted straight into the side without having a chance to fully train with his teammates, and without any knowledge of the English language, he was an absolute hit. My hope for Manolo is that he uses the full pre-season under the new manager to fully comprehend the language and style of play, whilst also developing cohesive relationships on the pitch with the other players. Solely based on his first four games, including a stellar EFL cup final performance, we could see 15-20 Premier League goals from the Italian in the 2017/18 campaign.

One other point on Gabbiadini is his versatility: he can provide goals as a lone striker, he can cut inside from the right wing as more of an inside forward to compliment Austin, and I believe that with his abilities he could play just behind a striker in the “number 10” role, as more of a shadow striker. His capability to play a number of roles and positions will make him one of Pellegrino’s favourite players, and scare the life out of PL defences.

The Back-up Speedster

Whilst last season he was more the villain of the year rather than star of the season, Shane Long provides much needed cover for our main two strikers. In the 2015/16 season under Ronald Koeman, he played a crucial role in securing Europa League football for the Saints, by chasing down loose balls, pressing defenders and through some instinctive finishing, so his value must not be forgotten. I believe he will be an asset to the squad, playing mostly EFL and FA cup games, providing depth and competition for the aforementioned strikers.

As I have also mentioned, Long is ideal for systems that look to press defences in order to cause mistakes and create more chances. Pellegrino may find that Long is his perfect striker for this system, and I am hoping that under a new, more attack-minded manager, the Irishman can get back to his best form.

The Young Target Man

We also have a young, hungry, English academy graduate who plays a different role to the three above. Sam Gallagher can provide a completely different striker, and one that we were missing last season after Graziano Pellè’s departure: the target man. Last season, he scored 11 goals in 35 starts for the now relegated Blackburn Rovers in the Championship, and I am hoping that he manages to translate this potential into performances when given the opportunity at St. Mary’s next season. His aerial prowess and physicality gives us a different dimension to our attacking line, should he be given game time.

Although I would keep in mind that he lacks Premier League experience and is only 21 years of age; it is unlikely that he will play many games, but like Long, he adds competition and cover for our frontline, but he is also an academy graduate, something us Saints fans are hugely proud of.

The Midfielders

Most Southampton fans can be forgiven for being underwhelmed by our attacking performances under Claude Puel last season, but in spite of our lack of goals from strikers, I think that some of our midfielders need to step up and play more of a role in creating and scoring goals. Nathan Redmond was the standout, and I am hoping that he can provide more goals and assists from the wings, with his pace and determination. I also believe that Dušan Tadić must improve on last season, and create more clear-cut chances for our strikers, which is something the Serbian was lacking under Puel.

Finally, my diamond in the rough for the season is Sofiane Boufal. With a full pre-season under a new manager and the opportunity to form new attacking relationships with his teammates, I’m sure that Sofiane can only improve – especially when you consider that he joined us having missed pre-season whilst also nursing an injury. I hope that he can be the signing we all wanted him to be last summer, and that there is still a huge amount to come from him, including a new found sharpness in front of goal.

These are the many reason why we haven’t rushed to sign another forward, and why in my opinion, we probably don’t need one.

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.

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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.  

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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…

Review: Southampton’s summer so far

Like many of you reading this, I spend a large amount of time in my day-to-day life checking the saintsFC hashtag on twitter, trying to find the latest news about all things Southampton F.C.

Over the past six weeks, things at Saints have been, in some ways, as turbulent as ever – our captain has declared himself mentally unfit to play, we have a new manager and there are constant links to European gems. However, in many ways, it has been a much quieter summer than in years passed, so I’d like to jot down a few feelings that I believe many Saints fans will share, and I’m going to break it down into four sections.

DISCLAIMER: Like all football fans, I am reactionary to a lot of news, and I have no insider knowledge at the club, as some other fans believe they do.

The Manager:

From his first interview as new Southampton manager, to his handling of the Virgil Van Dijk saga, I have been thoroughly impressed by Mauricio Pellegrino. Solely based upon the way he has spoken and his demeanour in interviews, we have seen his calmness, we have been engaged by his desire to play pressing, attacking football (something found wanting under Puel), and he also managed to convey the fact that he will take each game as it comes, playing to our strengths but accepting when to take a more conservative approach (something he was highly praised for at Alavés). Our pre-season friendlies have not set the world on fire by all accounts, but we must keep in mind that these matches are organised for team cohesion, fitness and adaptation to the new manager’s philosophy. His tendency to play a 4-2-3-1 has intrigued me, as it has worked in the past at St. Mary’s and is probably the formation that suits our current squad best.

Mauricio Pellegrino has managed to captivate and unite a fan-base that had been heavily divided under Claude Puel, he seems to have also intrigued many Southampton players, who again were divided under the previous manager. I am truly excited to see his press conferences, his team’s style of playing and to see where we end up under MoPe next season. One final point, though, I think his spoken English is excellent. Out of our last three managers, only Ronald Koeman truly captured the fans in press conferences and pre/post match interviews. I think this could be something MoPe manages to do with the language he uses and the way he speaks English, subconsciously swaying fans onside.

The Players:

From the way in which Southampton F.C. has used youtube, twitter and other social media, it is easy to see that squad harmony is at a much higher level than it has been for the last 12 months. The players seem to have bought into the new manager, they seem much happier, and they seem much more motivated than they were under the aforementioned Puel. I have seen and read interviews with certain players, most recently with Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, who, for me, could have a breakout season if given the chance. He admitted that the pre-season has been good thus far, that the players are enjoying the new manager, and that he wants to thrive this season under MoPe. For such a young man, he’s more mature than most footballers, and I am really excited by the prospect of more appearances for him this season, hopefully whilst learning under a manager who places faith in him.

Other special mentions have to go to Sofiane Boufal, who with a full pre-season could be another breakout star. Just from pre-season I’ve seen more defensive urgency from Sofiane than ever before, perhaps in an attempt to coerce Pellegrino into believing in him?

We Saints fans are proud of our academy graduates, and with new contracts for Gallagher and Stephens, and McQueen and Sims earlier in the year, it seems like Pellegrino and the board have agreed again on the promotion of youth. Like most of you, I never particularly liked Claude Puel’s beliefs in football, but he did manage to promote a number of youth players who shone under him, something that I hope continues under the new manager.

Virgil Van Dijk:

Here we go then, the arrogant, petulant, opinion-dividing centre-back that is both our best player and captain. As with many of you, I change my opinion every single day on him. One day, I want to hold him to ransom, force him to see out the remainder of his contract, just to prove a point to the “bigger” clubs that we are no longer a selling club. Other days, I want to get rid of him for £70 million, and to reinvest the whole of that sum in 2/3 quality players who both want to be here, and will improve our squad on the whole. But now that I’ve had a chance to sit back, to think about him and to come to a reasonable conclusion; I will have faith in whatever MoPe decides to do with him. From every statement made by both the club hierarchy and the manager since his appointment, it seems as though Pellegrino will have the final say on VVD’s future. I think his handling of our captain has been excellent, trying to get him on side, but accepting that squad harmony is more important than one player’s selfish needs. It will all come to a decision after the squad get back from France, it seems.

In the case that VVD does end up going, please not to Liverpool. It’s getting boring now. But who would I have as captain? I have seen lots of tweets arguing in favour of Oriol Romeu, and whilst he was excellent last season, he’s still only had one good season from start to finish. My pick would be England international and Champions League winner Ryan Bertrand, who seems set to stay this summer, and my hope would be that making him captain convinces him to stay for the long run. If Bertrand communicates his desire to seek pastures new following this season however, then we should of course avoid handing him the captaincy – we don’t want to find ourselves in a Virgil 2.0 situation. 

Transfers:

Finally, the interesting bit… or is it? Like most football fans, I want to see my team sign new players, so that I can get even more excited about the coming season, but it isn’t that summer at St. Mary’s. Almost every player we’ve been linked with has been ruled out of a move; Vietto was shot down overnight by sources close to the club, according to Adam Blackmore, Munir and Allan I just don’t buy into, and Stuart Armstrong’s transfer has gone very quiet, too. From an outsider looking in, I believe that this is the summer where we keep our players, rather sell and reinvest. Even the VVD saga has not ended up in a bid, and should we end up selling him for a premium, that is the only moment I’d expect us to spend big; when we have already made money.

But after a lot of thought, I think this is a highly positive outcome for the club on the whole. It means that all of our players will be Premier League ready, with experience of the league. They will know each other, and the manager, after a full pre-season together. Those who missed out on full pre-seasons last summer (Boufal and Gabbiadini due to later, and January arrivals) will now have a chance to build full relationships with their teammates. It is a cause for joy that, for once, we may not sell star players, and if we do, it will only be because the manager sanctioned the deal and thought it best for all parties, rather than the club being bullied by a larger club. As always, I am expecting a couple of additions, should some players depart, but our starting XI is looking very capable as things stand, should no player leave, and I believe that no outgoings and few players coming in will be a blessing after recent years.

The early promise shown by Mauricio Pellegrino

During Ronald Koeman’s reign at Southampton Football Club, I remember racing to watch each and every press conference, desperate to hear his comments on the week’s drama and results; and following an entire season of quite the opposite, it’s wonderful to have that back again with Mauricio Pellegrino.

Southampton announced the appointment of Pellegrino on the 23rd of June, and it’s safe to assume that he’s a name many English fans aren’t particularly familiar with. Yet despite the Argentinian being in charge for less than a month, I’ve already been left excited for the project that could be under our new boss.  

We’re yet to see a ball be kicked in a single competitive game, yet solely through Pellegrino’s early press conferences and interviews, my interest has been captured and my attention grasped. It’s not a matter of accent and dialect, it’s his knowledgeable mannerisms, phrases and aura that has already created an excitement about the product we may see on the pitch.

The Saints have just concluded their pre-season training in Switzerland after a 0-0 draw with St Gallen, and the videos shared throughout the week have helped to give the fans a slight idea of how the Argentine will operate at the club. It appears that there’s been double sessions, drills on high intensity, and pressing the opposition; similar to the style of play Pochettino enforced at Southampton. If this is the case then it’s not only pleasing to watch, but it’s also an exhilarating style which the Saints fans will welcome with open arms.

One clip in particular that stuck with me was the crossbar challenge between Pellegrino and Kelvin Davis. As a fan it’s always nice to see certain figures ‘break character’, so seeing our new manager and a club legend partake in this was highly entertaining; which also helps the club to connect with the fans.

Admittedly, Claude Puel was also known for getting stuck in during training, which I personally loved, but as we later realised, player/manager relations were not as they seemed on the outside.

During Claude Puel’s short time in charge of Southampton Football Club, he guided us to an EFL cup final, developed a number of players into first team stars, and even pushed through a number of academy prospects. But whilst the headlines will predominantly focus upon our goalscoring troubles and dull football, off the field issues played an equally important part in his sacking. When a manager continues to present tedious, predictable and repetitive performances and press conferences, combined with a non existent relationship with fans, something has to give.

Which brings me onto a vital aspect of being a Southampton manager where Puel clearly fell short; unity in the squad.

This is something that Pellegrino has clearly acknowledged himself, as he proves when asked about his objectives and goals from pre-season…

“We have to create one style of playing, one model, one behaviour, and an understanding between manager and players, medical staff and us. Not just inside the pitch but always outside the pitch too.

“We have to meet how they are because in modern football today there is a lot of diversity. We are a lot of people with different behaviours and different beliefs, and you have to try to unify them to create one team on the pitch. It’s something that looks really easy, but it’s not too easy.”

Now by no means am I getting carried away or forgetting just how much more there is to prove; but just like any other fan, I’m growing increasingly optimistic of seeing us rebuild that bridge between the club, the manager and the fans.

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?

Player profile: Jan Bednarek

It’s now been confirmed that Southampton Football Club have made their first acquisition of the summer, with the purchase of Lech Poznan’s Jan Bednarek. 

The 21-year-old joins the club on a five-year-deal, for a fee that’s believed to be in the region of €6m, rising to €8M. But rather than sitting here and rambling away as if I know about our latest signing, I spoke to a man who does; Christopher Lash.

First and foremost, what can we look forward to in Bednarek? 

Well, he’s probably the best young defender in his position in Poland.  He’s relatively quick, decent on the ball, pretty good in the air, quite strong, and in general a pretty aware central defender. He only really broke through into the Lech first team this season, and he became a key defensive player as the club rose up the league after a poor start.

Are there any defenders that you would compare him to? 

He’s better on the ball than your average central defender, so in that respects you could compare him more to the John Stones/Rio Ferdinand model. But he’s also good in the air and strong, so he has the kind of capabilities required for more typical central defensive work as well.

What weaknesses has he shown? 

Lots, unfortunately. He’s been a key defender in the Polish league for Lech this season, making a lot of pundits’ team of the year and it’s clear that he has a lot of potential, but there are a lot of areas in which he needs to improve. His anticipation can go missing at key times in games and his positional play is a bit haphazard.  For a big guy, he can sometimes be bullied off the ball by opposing strikers. All of this can be coached out of him and he’s only 21, so Southampton are buying mostly based on what he could turn into, rather than what he is now. But don’t be surprised to see him make quite a large number of mistakes if he’s thrown into the deep end.

How has Bednarek performed at International level? 

He’s not made his debut for the full international side yet, although there have been strong rumours that he will make the Poland squad in the autumn as the Polish team moves inexorably towards the World Cup Finals in Russia.  He has played a lot at youth levels though and was a key member of the u-21 side in the recent European championships hosted in Poland.  He didn’t have a particularly good tournament (but then neither did the rest of Poland’s squad), getting sent off in one match and making a number of mistakes that led to goals (the non-squeamish can look up his mistake which led to Slovakia’s winning goal in Poland’s opening match).  The most important thing is Poland’s NT coach Adam Nawałka firmly has his eye on him and he should have a fine international career.

Has he had to face any challenges or great pressure in his short career so far?

Well I’d say he’s done very well to win a starting place in Lech’s first team after not being considered a key player even last summer, so that’s definitely a challenge he’s overcome.  The recent u-21 championships were a big challenge for him, but one that he didn’t really pass with flying colours. All good experience though.

What do you make of the reported €6M fee rising to €8M?

It’s a massive fee to be honest and will break the transfer record for a player transferred out of the Polish league.  In that respect there’s going to be a lot of pressure on him, especially from the Polish media who will be checking on his progress pretty intensely.  I’d say in some ways the media hype of the move from the Polish side might be just as difficult as the jump in class that he’s going to experience in the English league.  I suppose we’ll see if he has a mature head on his shoulders because he’s going to need to be level-headed to succeed with all the pressure he will be under.

Finally, what do you think of Southampton as a destination for Bednarek’s development?

Hopefully it will be a perfect match.  As you know Southampton are renowned for being a club that brings through young talent and so, in that respect, Bednarek couldn’t be headed to a better club.  The big worry in Poland is that Bednarek will go the way of Kapustka who couldn’t break through whatsoever at Leicester and looked a shadow of his former self at the U-21 championships recently. I wouldn’t expect Bednarek break through straightaway but hopefully Southampton will be able to provide him with the know-how and coaching to advance the level of his play appropriately.