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Season Preview: Gallagher, Turnbull and Stephens Season Ahead

Another pre-season goes by, another loan move for some of Southampton’s promising youngsters. Jack Stephens and Jordan Turnbull have once again moved out on temporary deals – Sam Gallagher is set for his first loan spell – but what does it mean for the careers of these potential stars?

Equally what does it mean for the future of Southampton’s squad?

Last season, Stephens and Turnbull were loaned out together to Swindon Town. The young pair went on to form a top partnership, in a side who narrowly missed out on League One promotion. Such a feat can only stand them in good stead. In fact, Turnbull left County Ground having won young player of the year, as Swindon failed in the play-offs. The long hard campaign and playing at Wembley would have worked wonders for the two young centre backs. Having become a fan favourite, Turnbull has since been loaned out once again to Swindon Town, where he will look to finish the job he started. However, Jack Stephens being older than Turnbull, has been loaned out to big spenders Middlesbrough, who under the safe hands of Aitor Karanka will look to win the Championship. With such pressure applied to the 21 year old, this will massively aid Stephens progression and help him reach the next step in his career, Southampton’s first team. The final bonus of Stephens’ selection is working under a manager of Karanka’s calibre; since joining up with the Spaniard, Middlesbrough have shown a clear philosophy of passing out from the back – similar to that of Ronald Koeman’s Southampton.

Then there’s Sam Gallagher who broke into the first team during Mauricio Pochettino’s ruling at Southampton. Granted, he got two goals during a string of substitute appearances and the playing time against Arsenal will no doubt prove valuable over time, but those on the South coast knew he wasn’t ready. He wasn’t a superstar and he wasn’t going to score 15 goals in the Premier League at such a young age, but that’s to be expected.

Despite this, he still found the development league too easy, scoring goal after goal when fit. His most glorious of all coming in the form of a 25 yard strike to win the Premier League cup final against Blackburn.

So, loaning him out makes sense. Southampton have found that level in-between the two.

Loaning him out to a progressive side such as MK Dons, who play beautiful silky football, under a young talented manager like Karl Robinson, is a master stroke. Benik Afobe and Patrick Bamford are clear evidence of MK Dons’ success with young forwards; Robinson has taken young talented players and turned them into sought after proven goal scorers. With Afobe smashing in goals at Wolves and Bamford now at Palace in the premier league, sending Gallagher to the Dons is a considered move by the club. A move that COULD turn Gallagher into the superstar that his potential promises.

Something that is strikingly similar about all three loanees, is that they feature in positions where you need to be ready for the highest standard of English football. As a striker you have to score goals regularly, its as simple as that. Goals win games and you only see young strikers thrust into the hustle and bustle of the Premier League if they are extremely talented.

The same goes for centre backs. These are two key positions, where you very rarely see youngsters. Sadly, the only time many clubs show their young players any sort of “trust” is when injury strikes, thus leaving the squad paper thin. So, for Southampton to send these 19, 20 and 21 year old’s out on loan is certainly no negative move by any stretch of the imagination.

It must also be noted that these are two positions where Southampton are rather strong; with another senior centre back still to come in and the likes of Pelle, Rodriguez, Long and Mane for competition, the youngsters would struggle to get worthwhile minutes under their belt. At the stage that Southampton so clearly see these players, it will only halt their progression if they refuse to offer game-time – nice move Southampton.

Finally, we have to take a look at who they have played with and where they have come from; after-all, this is the Southampton way. In the immediate first team squad you currently have 3 top quality youngsters who are showing early signs that they are ready for the top. James Ward-Prowse, Harrison Reed and Matt Targett are the most recent crop of fully fledged senior players. With Matt Targett comfortably slotting in at left back for the injured Ryan Bertrand, Ward-Prowse becoming a stat man’s golden boy and Reed injecting a so desired fight in the midfield, many now wonder who is next to stamp their place on the first team. The academy youngsters have worked with one another throughout their childhood, so to see their fellow friends be given that opportunity to succeed, shall only motivate them further ahead of their loan moves. With Southampton deeming Stephens, Turnbull and Gallagher worthy of high quality Football League game time, is it a sign of what may be their next step? That next step being the opportunity that Ward-Prowse, Reed and Targett have embraced.

For those however who still have their doubts about Stephens, Turnbull and Gallagher ( For being sent on loan ) then just take a look at some of England’s current hottest prodigies, Harry Kane and John Stones. Between 2011 and 2013, Harry Kane found himself on loan at Leyton Orient, Millwall, Norwich City and Leicester City; Gallagher is currently just one year older than Kane was upon the Tottenham boys first loan move.

Throughout 2011 and 2013, Everton defender and Chelsea target John Stones gained his experience through two tough relegation battling seasons in the Championship with Barnsley; Stephens and Turnbull will arguably be featuring in more expansive sides at a similar age.

The point being that through Stones and Kane’s time in The Football League they gained invaluable experience, game time to match their current ability and the know how to make the step up to the Premier League.

With the way Southampton produce the young stars of the future, it should be a set of loan moves that fans can trust are at the heart of the clubs best interests. Surely it wont be too long before we see the majority of our squad once again being young, talented English players from our esteemed academy.

Talking Point: Why Southampton Fans Shouldn’t Be Disheartened By Lack Of English Signings

 

Unsurprisingly, this summer has been yet another busy one for Southampton; seeing three familiar faces leave and six new bodies enter the building, Steven Caulker is the latest recruit that has Southampton fans talking. Whilst business to build and replace in the squad has been swift, some fans have voiced their displeasure over Caulker being the only English recruit. So, are Southampton losing their English core that they have become so famed for owning?

Judging by Southampton’s outgoing transfer business it would be hard to argue any other case. In the past two summer windows Southampton have waved goodbye to England stars Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, Callum Chambers, Luke Shaw and most recently Nathaniel Clyne – Fraser Forster and Ryan Bertrand being the only incoming English talent on permanent deals. Point taken, Southampton have let go of a first team English core – through an incredible set of business worth £85.5M – and it’s understandable for fans to want English replacements, that is of course until you ask “With who?”.

Southampton are a club who strive for progression and success. A club that prides itself on never settling for less. Following that theory, any transfer should therefore be an upgrade.

In positions such as right back, attacking midfield, wingers and especially defensive midfield, Southampton would be searching for English players who simply don’t exist.

In terms of a realistic English signing, Charlie Austin could be considered the only upgrade. Whilst that would be a move that I welcome with open arms, Graziano Pelle’ is the focal point of Koeman’s side and removing the Italian from the starting XI is something of a large risk. On paper, Charlie Austin would bolster our attack; however, in terms of the team’s final position come the end of the season, I’m not so sure.

The Dutchman has implemented a style of football that requires a very specific forward with incredibly demanding needs, this has allowed for other forwards and midfielders to thrive from Pelle’s service. Sadio Mane for example recorded an impressive 10 goals during his debut season, thanks to the space Pelle’ helps to create.Whether Charlie Austin could fulfill these   tasks is a question that for now will remain un-answered.

But is it all so bad losing these oh so treasured English stars when Koeman and co continue to discover some of Europe’s biggest gems?

Sadio Mane, Victor Wanyama and Dusan Tadic are players that have surely doubled their market value since playing for the South coast club.

As for new recruits, the early signs are that Cedric Soares could be an improvement on Clyne, Juanmi is already amongst the goals and Maarten Stekelenburg has shown his worth in experience during a crucial period against Vitesse.

But back to the financial talk, a topic that is often first to arrive when talking about English talents.

Cedric is a portuguese International at 23 years old, Clasie is a Dutch International at 24 years old and Juanmi is a Spanish International at just 22 years old. All of these talents collectively reached a fee of £20.3M, you certainly wouldn’t be insane to suggest the fee would be in the region of £50M if they were to be English. Simply put, If Southampton wish to continue to strive to join the big guns, then they must conduct their business overseas.

The lack of English signings however, does not mean that the club will lose its English core, for we are Southampton football club; with that name comes our world famed academy. To onlooking lovers of football, Southampton are considered the “Model club”.

Year on year, new talents emerge from the academy and grace the hallowed St. Mary’s turf.

The faithful fans on the terrace dream of watching local lads fly their sides colours, and this season, Southampton’s youngsters shall be doing so in Europe.

Harrison Reed, Matt Targett, James Ward-Prowse, Ryan Seager and Sam Gallagher are just a few academy stars who made first team appearances last season.

Best of all, these English talents were handed appearances through hard work and talent shown in training, ensuring that Southampton continue to strive for excellence within the academy. With Southampton academy products Callum Chambers, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gareth Bale going on to make appearances for their National team, it’s no far fetched thought to believe that Southampton could build a first team in years to come with 50% home grown players; after all, that’s just another step in the five year plan…

Markus would be pleased.

Talking Point: Why Cant Yoshida Shake Off The Past?

Why is Maya Yoshida still shackled to the past? With what many would have labelled as a shaky first season in England’s top flight, Yoshida has since come on in in leaps and bounds – Yet that season 3 years ago continues to haunt the Japanese International. Why is this the case when others who had also struggled in their first season – most notably Jose Fonte and Jay Rodriguez – are now free of their past?

On the 30th August 2012, Southampton announced the signing of Maya Yoshida from Dutch Eredivisie side VVV-Venlo for a fee in the region of 3 million. At the time it seemed an impressive signing, Southampton had acquired a Japanese international who came with a reputation as one of the best centre back’s in Holland; at only 23 years old he was showing great signs of promise for the future.

At least that is what we thought… The start of his Southampton career was, to be said, a train wreck. He made his debut during a 6-1 mauling at the hands of Arsenal, coming on after 28 minutes to replace Dutchman Jos Hooiveld. To say that he was out of his depth wouldn’t even begin to describe Yoshida’s first showing in the red and white stripes. On more than one occasion, he was shown up – his poor positioning and apparent lack of pace was instantly clear to fans. A loss of this magnitude did not help to adhere Yoshida to the Saints fans and neither did the 1-1 draw with Swansea. Yoshida produced an under-hit back pass to rookie goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga, which allowed former saint Nathan Dyer to equalize. Two vital points had just been thrown away and the Northam end did not take kindly to Yoshida’s misgiving’s.

The season came to an end and Southampton survived through the skin of their teeth thanks to Maurico Pochettino, the Argentinian took the club to a 14th place finish. However it must noted that steady improvement started under Nigel Adkins, due to Maya Yoshida being replaced in the team by Jos Hooiveld.

He did not have the maiden season in the premier league that many had expected and the Southampton fans were not keen on the Japanese International. Yet he was not the only player to have a poor first season in the Premier League. Club captain Kelvin Davis was simply shocking, being replaced by Artur Boruc. As for the now Portuguese international, Jose Fonte was continuously in and out of the side, making costly mistakes and errors that proved he was not ready for the Premier League. Then their was new signing Jay Rodriguez, who only managed six goals in the premier league (although he showed great improvement under Mauricio Pochettino).

These players have since gone on to become key figures for Southampton, with Artur Boruc solidifying his first team spot for a full season before leaving for Bournemouth. Jose Fonte then became one of the best centre backs in the premier league, as well as taking on the roles of captain, leader and sweetheart of the club. Even Jay Rodriguez progressed in the side, scoring 15 goals in the 13/14 season of the premier league. They’ve all been forgiven for their poor early showings in the premier league… all except Yoshida, who simply cant shake off his unreliable tag.

Like those mentioned, Yoshida has shown steady improvement during his time in the Premier League and to those who can forget that first season, he is now a reliable centre back. Thanks to Ronald Koeman, Yoshida has taken his game to a level that many would have never believed he could reach; he can always be relied upon to step up to the plate when needed and he’s also versatile, plugging in the gaps at left/right back when Southampton have been struck by injury. But most importantly he always gives 100% for the cause and has not once complained, even when being forced to the bench through better competition. When others have gained super stardom and left St.Mary’s, Yoshida has remained faithful. The faith shown by the players who chose to stay at the club during the summer exodus will forever be appreciated by the fans.

When it seemed no one else would stay and that the journey of 6 years was crumbling before our very eyes, Yoshida was working toward the new season. There’s never been stories of Yoshida refusing to train, having disagreements or finding himself in trouble…he’s a saint (pardon the pun). He was one of the few players that Southampton fans knew they could count on.

A testament of his improvement under Koeman is the new deal he signed in January, extending his stay until at least 2018. With Alderweireld deciding to move on to Tottenham and Gardos facing a long spell out with injury, maybe now is the time to finally let Maya Yoshida step up and prove himself that he can be Jose Fonte’s centre back partner.

Hopefully, what ever the outcome, the Southampton faithful will finally realize that Maya Yoshida has flourished into a dependable Premier League centre back.

With a huge opportunity to further showcase his talent with the introduction of the Europa League this season, we can only hope that he will win over that minority of Southampton fans who think otherwise. After all, Ronald Koeman of all people will know a centre back when he sees one.

Talking Point: What If A Southampton Villain Returned?

With Toby Alderweireld’s departure and injury to Florin Gardos, Southampton’s defence has been reduced to it’s bare bones, which has coincided with tabloid comments about a certain villain who once played at St Mary’s.

Last season Southampton boasted the second best defence in the league – conceding just 33 goals all season – an achievement that Ronald Koeman and Southampton fans have taken great pride in holding. Sadly however, with the current players that are at the Dutchman’s disposal, it would prove an incredible task to repeat. So much so, that Koeman himself has told the media how the defence is “Too small with Maya and Jose” and that another two centre halfs are required.

Meanwhile some 6,278 miles away from Stadium De Kuip, there has been yet another horror show for Liverpool outcast Dejan Lovren.

How much of a horror show I hear you ask? Being left for dust by a binman named Patrick Ronaldinho to be exact. Fans of the Merseyside club can be heard begging Southampton to take back the Croatian they now label as a “fraud”.

On the surface this looks to be an interesting talking point for any football fan; Southampton need a centre half and Liverpool want shot of Lovren for the right price. That same Lovren who Southampton fans hailed and supported as one of the finest defenders in the league.

So, what if Southampton were to take him back? Would we?

Dejan Lovren’s £20M transfer during the 2014 summer exodus was one that brought a number of emotions to Southampton fans. Anger was the overriding feeling due to the way the Croatian International conducted his transfer; Lovren not only refused to train in order to force his “dream” move but he also made a number of snide remarks about the club. Stating “don’t let small minds ruin big dreams” in reference to the board and even worse, telling fans “My mind is already at Liverpool” whilst under contract at Southampton.

With the current positive feeling and togetherness that has been moulded into the club, bringing in such a hated player will only leave a sour taste in the mouth of fans.

Then came the inability for Southampton fans to hide their spite. That came about purely because we had lost what we believed to be an irreplaceable defender, the man who would end the inconceivable task of fixing Liverpool’s defence.

Oh how times change.  The transfer turned out to be the opposite of what the pundits and fans had predicted. Lovren had built up a formidable partnership with Jose Fonte and yet a year later he still has to make is mark on the Liverpool team, increasingly finding himself on the bench and being pulled off early for poor performances. His time at Liverpool appears to be rather different to what he had imagined, In a recent interview Lovren even seemed to be reminiscing of his time at his previous club, saying  “At Southampton it was different. There was a good atmosphere and I was happy. If I am not playing well, I cannot be happy. I didn’t pretend.”

It’s been fairly evident to Southampton fans as to what has been at the root of the lowering in the standard of Lovren’s performances since arriving at Anfield. During his time at Southampton, Mauricio Pochettino placed strict demanding philosophies on defensive play and ensured clear instructions were made to Lovren. Under Brendan Rodgers however, it has been argued by many that he has shown naivety in recent years over defensive play and many would argue that no single defender has flourished whilst under his management. With this in mind, footballing wise, a return to st Mary’s may not be a bad move – In fact it would be a strong signing, even more so with Ronald Koeman’s management; the Dutchman would not only share his expertise in defence, but also give Lovren the arm around the shoulder that he once had and so desires.

However I strongly emphasize that the transfer would only prove beneficial in a theoretical sense, this is because of a new found weakness in his game… confidence.

Whilst playing for Liverpool it has become known that Lovren crumbled under the new found pressure of being the club’s most expensive centre half ever. With such a large price tag, comes large expectations and Liverpool fans were willing to offer no support when the Croatian failed to hit the ground running. This proved to form a vicious cycle of unhappy fans leading to a fragile Lovren, resulting only in failure. You can therefore only imagine and worry how poorly he would respond to abuse from Southampton fans, if he were to rejoin the Saints with shattered confidence.

In summary IF Lovren does regret the move, IF he wants a fresh start, IF an acceptable deal for all parties can be struck, IF he were to be offered a clean slate, we MIGHT all benefit and the brilliant centre half that saints fans were so sad to lose MIGHT be seen again. Quite frankly there are too many IF’s and MIGHTs  to lead to any other conclusion other than we are halfway through the transfer window and there are newspaper columns to fill and mischief to be had.

Season Preview: Why Saints Fans Can Be Confident Of Seasons Ahead, Despite Departures

Its become a regular occurrence for all Southampton fans, summer after summer something dramatic happens. Be it manager, star players or even chairman, some one leaves. If Carling did ‘Meltdowns’ all they’d have to do is buy Southampton. So why are fans bemused when something happens, surely they are used to it? And why the panic?

If last summer is anything to go by, we have learnt that as a club, Southampton can survive when most would fail.  After losing their chairman, manager and 5 key players all in one summer, Southampton defied the odds in what was a record finish season. So many other sides would have dealt battle with relegation until the death or booked their early ticket in England’s second division for the next season, but not Southampton.

Why is that? First up is the clubs board, the men behind the scene. The newly formed hierarchy of Les Reed and Ralph Krueger – installed in the 2013-14 summer exodus – have worked wonders; from the very start they made sure job of keeping everyone at the club calm and focused, whilst they rebuilt the club from top to bottom. That included the re-organisation of the clubs shaky finances, hiring a new manager and dealing with transfers, both in and out.

They did it the same way they run the club day to day, with due diligence and careful planning. Examples of this are everywhere around the club since it was bought by Markus Liebherr. These ideas implemented by the saviour of Southampton are what saved the club in troubled times, pushed the club for back to back promotions and spurred on continual growth. Everything is carefully planned and all situations are covered; the perfect example of the clubs organisation is having a list of potential candidates earmarked to step in for Ronald Koeman, if a surprise departure were to occur.

The recruitment and analysis building is another example of the clubs careful planning – better known as the “Black Box” – this is a room where match footage and statistics of potential signings are collated into one system. Staff are employed to watch players game in game out, carefully analysing every touch, ensuring they follow the clubs philosophy. This allows Southampton to set requirements that their transfer target must meet, resulting in what should theoretically be, a perfect fit. With such attention to detail is it a great surprise that Fraser Forster, Sadio Mane, Dusan Tadic, Toby Alderweireld and Graziano Pelle hit the ground running?

Boasting such an incredible transfer record, Southampton fans can only see it paying off once more this summer. New recruits such as Cedric, Juanmi and Stekelenburg will have been researched months before their transfer to the South coast club. Any other signings brought in this summer will be done with the same precise planning, helping to ensure that both the club and player will have the best possible chance to thrive and be successful.

The only issue this is bringing to Southampton is that when the player reaches their peak, they move on, thus making Southampton a “Feeder Club”. This is a fact that many fans will simply refuse to believe, but why does the term feeder club have to be a bad thing?

Fans should look to sides such as Porto, Benfica and Ajax to realise that being a feeder club, can have its benefits. Like Southampton, Porto and Benfica get decimated year on year but it doesn’t affect their seasons, they still go on to win trophies and compete in Europe because of the way the club is run. They plan for every possible eventuality and earmark their next potential players, always cashing in on massive profits and thriving under this system. Selling high, buying low and then repeating the cycle is the way it goes.  If they can do it season after season, why cant Southampton follow the same model? Why must their luck run out soon?

Seeing pundits and fans exclaim ‘it wont keep working, it will hurt them eventually’ is an argument with very little structure. Why cant it be a successful business model for Southampton when it is for other top European clubs?

Its not who you sell or who leaves that affects you, but how you deal with the aftermath. Like Porto, Southampton are careful and plan everything, throwing good money for players that can only be called panic buys, simply isn’t a feature of the club. Trying to keep players who dont wish to stay (Financial issues) and aiming to sign big players without real scouting or planning, doesn’t work. Tottenham and Liverpool proved just that and they are now fighting to cut their losses on deadwood players who were not suited to their club. Throwing big money at player after player would be financial suicide for Southampton, its not the Southampton way. Our philosophy and organisation is why fans should be confident that we will survive any situation and every player mass exodus. We are ready for the eventuality, we have a disaster plan.

A world class academy set up that produces on a consistent basis is hard to come by, Southampton are often mentioned by many in the same breath as Barcelona and Ajax *gulp*. The academy that has produced stars such as  Bale, Walcott, Shaw, Lallana and Chambers is yet another reason for Southampton fans to not worry, better yet, there are still more to come. McCarthy, Targett, Reed, Ward-Prowse, Seager, and Gallagher among others look to have the world at their feet. Whether they stay and become club heroes or move on for the clubs financial gain, they will play a part in the Southampton’s future and help the Saints go marching onto the next step. They have become an integral part of our business model and being from the esteemed ‘Southampton academy’ means they will always go for a premium, their one of many back up plans the club has for when things get a bit rocky.

From what fans have seen over the past few years, and so far this summer with Reed and Krueger, we are in safe hands. If they can get us through the summer of hell last season, attract a manager of Ronald Koeman’s calibre and push us on to an improved 7th place finish, I’m sure they can do it again. They’ve proved with Morgan Schneiderlin that they can hold firm and put their feet down, they don’t bend at the knee by any means. That got us just a measly extra fifteen million, not too shabby.

Players will come in to replace the outgoing faces and their will be a few more to cope with what will be a busy, busy season thanks to the Europa League. Once this window passes our season will be in the hands of Koeman and his team to prove pundits, fans and bookmakers alike that we will march on.

Europa League Overview : Were All Going On A European Tour

After a seventh place finish in the Premier League last season, Southampton exceeded all expectations of everybody outside the club. Couple this record league performance with an Arsenal win in the FA Cup final and the South Coast club find themselves in European competition for the first time since the 2003-04 season. With fans of clubs such as Everton and Swansea labeling the Europa League a hindrance on league form, Ronald Koeman and Southampton fans will be wondering how they can avoid this growing curse.

The Europa League can be seen as something of a poisoned chalice for clubs due to playing matches on Thursday nights and Sunday afternoons, but is this really a massive disadvantage to teams playing in the competition?

Everton certainly found the congested fixtures hard to manage, finishing eleventh in the league last season after a previous fifth place finish. Yet Borussia Mönchengladbach, Wolfsburg and current Europa champions Sevilla had terrific league campaigns; all three clubs now find themselves in the Champions League this coming season.

The Saints will encounter a lot of different styles in Europe and will have to adjust the way they play to combat their opponents. English teams have really under performed in Europe of late, partially by not adapting to the continental style. Examples of this are Arsenal against Monaco in last year’s Champions League and Tottenham against Benfica in the 13-14 Europa League. The English teams played the “Premier League way” in these games and were exposed over two legs.

To succeed in Europe you need to be a lot more patient and less gung-ho. This is where creative players such as Dusan Tadic can come in handy for the Saints. His technical ability is superb; he can hold the ball well and has an eye for a killer pass, making him well suited to the style of European football. Perhaps even Gaston Ramirez could come into his element through the Europa League.

The players will be up against opposition which they won’t have played against before, they will need to learn quickly what to expect from a big and burly Russian forward for example. The squad will no doubt be given more time to look at the traits of these less familiar opposition players and whilst other sides may hold less quality, they could posses a player who must be contained in a certain way.

Therefore, the preparation will differ from recent years at Staplewood, as they more or less know what to expect from a Premier League rival after three years of experience.

Saints will also encounter some monumentally different atmospheres. Playing in countries like Turkey and Greece are a polar opposite to weekend games at Old Trafford and Anfield. The fans of these clubs can be nothing short of animalistic in their enthusiasm for their teams and pyrotechnics are nothing out of the ordinary.

Koeman and his team have been around the block, boasting previous European experience as both a player and a manager. So, fans should be confident in Koemans decisions throughout the competition, as well as being sure to stand by some of the players who will be getting their first taste of European action. At the end of the day, this Europa League campaign is a reward for last year’s efforts and should therefore be enjoyed every step of the way.

Transfer Views: Who Could Be Alderweireld’s successor?

Yesterday morning it was confirmed that Toby Alderweireld will not return to St Mary’s next season. Instead he’ll form a partnership with fellow Belgian International, Jan Vertonghen at Tottenham Hotspur. Southampton fans have become accustomed to such heartache over recent transfer windows and this was one of the more complicated examples. Now with this saga over, fans will be looking at who can fill the boots that Toby left behind.

Aleksandar Dragovic could be considered a like-for-like replacement. At just twenty three years old he has proved himself to be an incredibly smart, strong and tactically aware centre half. He has built a reputation as a tough tackling defender with technical ability in abundance. Any who have watched Dynamo Kiev, will be aware that they play a fast paced brand of football, Dragovic plays a key role in that link up between defence and attack.

Such a role can be physically demanding on a player, even more so in the Premier League. Dragovic has natural stamina and an ability to dig deep in the dying moments, lazy last minute lunges and tired legs are not a feature in his game.

It is reported that West Ham placed a £12M bid earlier this summer that was instantly rejected; they were then given a quote of £20M to acquire Dragovic’s services. However, fans should not be disheartened. As the the Hammers are known to have substantial financial backing, Kiev are no doubt looking to relieve them of a large element of those funds.

£15M should be enough to prise the Austrian away from Dynamo Kyiv.

A second option comes in the form of a man mountain, Omer Toprak. The Turkish International currently plays for Bayer Leverkusen and has built  a reputation as one of the Bundesliga’s most consistent defenders. His most notable strengths are his concentration in defence and presence at the back.

Any Southampton fan will tell you that if you wish to play under Ronald Koeman as a centre half, technical ability will be required; A great feature of Toprak’s play is comfortably bring the ball down and looking to recycle play along the floor, yet another reason why he is perfect for the spot.

Whilt most strong centre halfs lack natural pace, Toprak is an exception. This pace will avoid him being targeted early on and help him adapt to the Premier League’s fast style of play.

The 25 year old is said to be valued at £12M by Leverkusen, a bid of up to £15M could take him to St Mary’s and prove a wise investment.

The final option is Celtic’s Virgil Van Dijk. This is a player that many Southampton fans will be familiar with, having been linked to the Dutchman in previous windows. Standing at six foot four inches tall, he is a dominating and strong figure in defence, with world class distribution of the ball. These diagonal long passes have become a noted aspect in his play, as have his surging runs from deep to join the attack.

Those from Celtic Park are not the only fans who have enjoyed his style of play and performances either. Dutch fans have made it very clear they believe he should start for the first team, especially ahead of a now ageing and error prone Ron Vlaar.

Van Dijk has come to the end of his second season at Celtic earning his plaudits along the way; at 24 years old he will surely be open about taking the next step in his career, as will Celtic provided they receive a bid of over £10M.

There is no hiding the difficult task in replacing Toby Alderweireld. To find a player of his quality would prove to be a challenging task and ultimately an incredible signing. However, no matter who the signing may be, Southampton fans should feel comfortable, knowing that one of the classiest centre halves to every play the game is at the reigns of the club.

If anyone were to know who to sign, Its Ronald Koeman.

 

Gaston Ramirez: Third Time Lucky?

It appears that Gaston Ramirez will get one last chance to impress at Southampton as pre-season begins.  Having failed to impress Koeman last year, we take a look at the make or break season that is in store for the Uruguayan International.

After signing for a then club record fee of around £12 million, Ramirez had an unusual first season, being largely inconsistent. He produced 5 goals and 3 assists in 26 appearances, showing flashes of brilliance in the process. That’s considered a good block to build with for a first season in a foreign country, but when you consider the fee and the hype around the player, much more was expected. More was also expected of Ramirez when fellow South American, Mauricio Pochettino,  replaced Nigel Adkins as manager. Sadly, Pochettino failed to strike a regular tune out of Ramirez in the remaining months of the season.

The start of the 2013/14 season was looking to be a big one for Gaston, with pressure building on the Uruguayan to finally put his stamp on the Premier League. The season ended up being more of a disappointment for both Ramirez and the fans, who so loyally supported him in hope he found his best form. He only played 18 games in the Premier league that season, 8 less than the season before. The attacking midfielder managed to produce three assists and muster up just the one goal in this time; his only goal came in the form of a beautiful long range effort against Everton. In both the league and cup competitions he managed 3 goals and 4 assists, fans on the south coast were beginning to have serious doubts.

Providing worse form than his debut season, clearly he was struggling to settle. Many blamed it on the fact that he was too lightweight for the division, countless times he was simply bullied to the floor. There was also the argument that his style of play simply did not suit the Premier League, he was clearly a player that needs space and time on the ball to work his magic – something you very rarely get in England. Whatever the problem behind it, he wasn’t performing. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he then continued to be on the end of niggling injuries, reducing his game time. This resulted in less time to prove himself to the hopeful fans in St Marys Stadium.

A clean slate was on the table for Ramirez following the conclusion of the 2013/ 14 summer exodus, Manager Mauricio Pochettino was replaced by Feyenoord boss Ronald Koeman. Koeman gave everyone the opportunity to impress during the pre-season and win a place in the squad. After a largely disappointing pre-season where Ramirez’s contribution was making up the numbers, Southampton decided to loan him out in the hope of regained form.

Ramirez chose Hull city over Sevilla… this move appeared to be financially motivated as it was later revealed Sevilla did not wish to meet his wage demands. The Uruguayans fortunes were unable to turn even when away from Southampton; Hull City were relegated and Sevilla went on to win the Europa League. Ramirez racked up just 1 goal and 3 assists in all competitions. For the third season in a row he showed decline in his game. The only impressive side that could be said is that he isn’t shying away from the premier league, be it for money or just to live up to that fee; even if he doesn’t have what it takes.

So, after consistently failing to have any sort of impact in the Premier League, why would the Saints consider keeping him on books?

The achievement of Europa League football may well be the reason. Koeman will be well aware of the impact European football can cause and the so desired depth in order to combat the busy schedule. Afterall, many fans of clubs such as Everton and Swansea have labelled the Europa League as the killer of their Premier League season. The retention of Ramirez could allow rest for the key player’s ahead of big fixtures and with good performances, who is to say he couldn’t hold his spot in the side?

The Europa League could be used as a springboard for Ramirez’s career. The opportunity is there for Ramirez and if he wished to take it, he may finally shine in the red and white stripes. It must not be forgotten that a certain Harry Kane used the competition to give Pochettino a thing or two to think about, the youngster went on to finish as the Premier League’s second top goalscorer. If he were to seize this opportunity and recreate the form in the Premier League, he could maybe, just maybe, be worthy of his £12M price tag. Either way, this would be a smart move by the club to give him one final chance. Either to increase his price tag, keep him on or just be certain the club and player gave it everything they had.

If Koeman doesn’t deem him worthy of the squad, even for Europa League, no one would blame the Dutchman. Considering his poor form since signing for the club, the board would take what they could get for him, even if that were to be a 50% hit on what was once our record transfer fee.

With the ball back in Koeman’s court, will Gaston Ramirez make it at the third time of asking?

Gossip: Alderweireld Still On, Porto Win Race For Imbula and Two Saints Set To Leave

Welcome to this weeks gossip column! Whilst Southampton’s start to the summer transfer window may not be as manic as the last, there is still top transfer news coming both in and out. Southampton have already secured the signatures of full back Cedric, forward Juanmi and the experienced  goalkeeper Steckelenburg; Who will be next to join Ronald Koeman’s red and white army?

Southampton Face Stiff Competition For Alderweireld (Express)

Many Southampton fans have hailed Toby Alderweireld as the greatest centre half to play at St Mary’s, but they will face great competition from a host of big clubs for his services. Tottenham Hotspur and Alderweireld’s current club Atletico Madrid being the main competition.

In an interview with Southampton, Koeman stated “The player likes to stay, we like to keep the player, but it’s a little difficult… I have good hope he will stay”.

This makes great reading for Southampton fans after it’s been reported the club are preparing an £18M bid, a Southampton record fee. Southampton initially held an agreed £6.3M fee for the defender but Atletico deemed him greater than that price tag, forcing them to remove the clause at a cost of £1.5M.

However, the situation continues to grow more complicated for fans on the South coast. It was revealed early Tuesday morning that Atletico’s Miranda is set for a move to Inter Milan, making Simeone all the more eager to hold onto his Belgian star.

Through all the complications and competition I am still oddly confident in Southampton securing Alderweireld, especially with a clause that forces any other club to bid £3M more than Southampton’s efforts. It would be an incredible achievement to obtain a player of such class for next seasons campaign.

Schneiderlin Replacement Set For Porto (ForzaItalianFootball)

Southampton target Imbula looks set for a €25M deal with Porto, according to L’Equipe. The frenchman is yet to make an appearance for the French senior side but has drawn comparisons to Patrick Vieira in his time at Marseille.

With 6 departures from Marseille’s first team this summer, Imbula will be eager to force this move away from the French side.

The 22 year old was considered to be the replacement for Morgan Schneidelrin, who looks set for a move to Manchester United, but attention will have to be placed elsewhere.

Clyne Is Liverpool Bound (Mirror)

Nathaniel Clyne’s imminent move to Liverpool looks all the more likely after the England International did not report back for training on monday. Reports and sightings then revealed that Clyne was undergoing his medical to become Brendan Rodgers sixth summer signing, in a deal worth £12.5M. Clyne’s transfer will pin him down on a 5 year contract at Anfield to tighten up the so often criticised Liverpool back line. Southampton have wasted no time in searching for a replacement, signing Portuguese international Cedric Soares for just £3.5M. The sporting Lisbon right back signed a four year deal on the 18th June, well in advance of Clyne’s departure.

No “Serious Bid” From Manchester United For Schneidelrin (ManchesterEveningNews)

Morgan Schneiderlin returned to Staplewood for the start of pre season with Southampton on Monday, amidst a move to Manchester United. Ronald Koeman spoke of Schneiderlin’s proposed move to Old Trafford saying “We have the situation with Morgan Schneiderlin, we will have to wait what will happen…Until now, we’ve not had a serious bid for him from Man United.”. Sky Sports reported that 10 days ago Manchester United bid for Schneiderlin, the bid was beneath the £25m expected and it was rejected. This is the transfer all Southampton fans have been dreading for quite some time, even if the club receive the £25M expected it would be some task finding a player of the same quality. The Frenchman has been the spine of our squad and unless a miracle were to happen, it seems we have seen the last of Schneiderlin.

 

Transfer Scouting: Jordy Clasie

Reports are surfacing once more regarding the transfer of Feyenoord’s Jordy Clasie to Southampton in a £10m deal – So we spoke to Feyenoord season ticket holder and editor in chief of Feyenoordpings.nl., Thomas.

The Dutch central midfielder produced yet more inspiring performances in a Feyenoord side that were quite the opposite. A fourth place finish in the 2014-15 Eredivisie season was one for fans in Rotterdam to forget.

For as long as Koeman is as the reigns of the club, it seems that this potential reunion is here to stay. Even more so with the inevitable departure of Schneiderlin from Southampton.

To find out more about our potential future Saint, I spoke with Thomas who is a Feyenoord season ticket holder and editor in chief from Feyenoordpings.nl.

1) Many Southampton fans will be unfamiliar about Clasie, what are his greatest strengths and what role does he play?

– His passing and defensive work stands out best. He doesn’t need the time to think where his next pass will go, he already knows where to play it. Therefore his nickname has become ‘The Dutch Xavi’. On the rare occasion he does lose possession, he will fight and do everything to get it back. His role at Feyenoord is to dominate the midfield,  this involves the defence looking to instantly play the ball into Clasie. The Dutch international will then look to push further up the pitch and get the team into an attacking position. However, this has also damaged his personal records. As he is so key in the centre of midfield (Like Xavi) he has just scored just 2 goals last season in 31 matches. That’s not enough.

2) What does the recent incoming of Vejinovic mean for Clasie?

– It means Feyenoord could be open to a move for Clasie. The new boss, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, admitted that if Clasie leaves, his successor is already in the club with Vejinovic. Although, they can play together as well as a partnership. The two differ in their play styles as Vejinovic is more offensive.

3) Will the under achieving season under now sacked Fred Rutten push Clasie for a move?

– Yes it could, Feyenoord haven’t qualified for European football next season so many fans would understand if the captain wished to move. However, Clasie should look to his friends Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum… They stayed for one more season at PSV to help the club win the Eredivisie title. As a result, Depay has left for Manchester United and Wijnaldum will also find himself a good club. This could therefore be a motive for Clasie to stay at Feyenoord. The club are certainly aiming for this after gaining the services of former Liverpool man Dirk Kuyt for the upcoming season.

4) Clasie has made 12 appearances for the Dutch national side, how has he performed at International level?

– In the Dutch squad he has a lot of competition in the midfield. Former Holland coach Louis van Gaal liked him, but Guus Hiddink did not look impressed by the Feyenoord captain. Hiddink (sacked by the Dutch FA on monday) had his midfield positions clear: Wesley Sneijder, Nigel de Jong and Georginio Wijnaldum. Only in the final games did Hiddink look to change the squad, but Clasie withdrew himself due to illness.

5) What can you tell us about the relationship between Clasie and Koeman?

– This is a very good one. Before Koeman’s arrival in 2011 at Feyenoord, Clasie spent a year on loan at Excelsior. When Koeman arrived at Feyenoord, he got Clasie back in the squad. Straight from the beginning he believed in Clasie’s ability, despite his lack of strength. Since the arrival of Koeman, Clasie went on to play every match. You could say that Koeman ‘made him’. When Pellè and Koeman left for Southampton, Clasie was made the new captain of the team.

6) Reports have suggested Southampton wish to bid £10M for the Dutchman, is that worthy of his ability?

– After the summer transfer window last year Clasie extended his contract until 2018. A little bit earlier in that summer, his contract was expiring in 2016 and FC Porto really wanted him. However, they didn’t want to meet Feyenoord’s asking price of €10m (around £7,12m). Now he has extended his contract, Feyenoord will ask for more. Whether he’s worth it? Thats difficult to say. Koeman worked with him for three years, he would know Clasie’s true worth. I expect Southampton will try to pick him up for less than what Feyenoord want, Dutch reports say Feyenoord are looking for €18m (around £12,82m). I personally don’t see any club paying that. £10m will be a decent price.

7) Finally, how do you believe Clasie would cope with a move to the Premier League and more specifically, Southampton?

– That’s a good question. He will not easily fill the reported space of Schneiderlin simply because he is a different type of player. For Southampton I have no doubt he would be a good signing. Despite his short height (1,69 m), he can adapt to the speed of the English game. In addition, he’s just 24 years old so could be ready to take the next step up at Southampton if they push for European football success and repeat the ranking in the league like last season.

 

Many thanks from FreshSaints to Thomas for making this piece possible.