Southampton are now three games into the new season and still find themselves searching for their first win. But this situation is far from unfamiliar for Southampton FC, and with the return of a man who has captured the heart of every Southampton fan, history suggests that this slow start will soon be put to an end.
This same time last season, Southampton had played three games and found themselves with just two points on the table. Worry was beginning to creep into the minds of the onlooking Southampton fans, and with a further three fixtures, Southampton had secured just one win in their opening six. The papers were lapping it up with their early reports of a meltdown occurring on the South coast, but Ryan Bertrand had other ideas. Having been absent in Southampton’s opening six fixtures due to injury, Bertrand returned to the starting XI against Swansea City on the 26th of September – of course, Southampton won 3-1 and proceeded to go their next five fixtures unbeaten. So, with Bertrand once again missing from our opening three fixtures, is it any wonder that Southampton have struggled?
With the return of Ryan Bertrand, Southampton will once again have an outlet on the left flank that is capable of contributing to all phases of play. Few defenders in the League hold the defensive understanding, physicality, discipline, consistency and attacking mindset that Bertrand possesses in abundance. To those who have watched Puel’s system, they will know just how valuable a fullback of such quality can be.
Whilst in Bertrand’s absence I have enjoyed watching Matt Targett – a product of the Southampton academy – prove his worth, I would be lying if I said we weren’t a far weaker side without Bertrand. In situations where other fullbacks have that split second of doubt when looking to advance, Bertrand drives to the byline, and when other defenders are caught between two minds against an attacker, Bertrand has already put his body on the line. The England International fills all his surrounding teammates with confidence, helping the side to play the exciting and expressive football that they’re so capable of.
But whilst Bertrand’s ability has been above and beyond what any of us expected, there is a side to Bertrand that as Southampton fans, we have come to admire and appreciate – his attitude. Having joined Southampton in 2014 from Chelsea – after a rather underwhelming loan move to Aston Villa – it appeared that Bertrand almost instantly appreciated the joys of regular football in an organised side. Since then, Bertrand has jumped into every last 50/50, chased down any loose ball and can be seen applauding the fans at any possible moment. His efforts haven’t gone unnoticed either, having been awarded the Terry Paine MBE award, a spot in the Premier League’s 2014/15 Team of the Season and an all but guaranteed spot in the England squad.
What I find best about Bertrand’s humble and determined attitude however, is that it’s always focused on the bigger picture. Whenever he’s forced into making a sacrifice or putting those extra miles in, he’s doing it so that Southampton Football Club can continue to grow – nothing illustrates this better than his attitude regarding one particular demand from Ronald Koeman last season. After a barren run over the Christmas period, Southampton desperately needed change and stability. So, Koeman opted for Southampton to switch into a 3-5-2 formation. Despite the Euros taking place in just a number of months, Bertrand placed his own personal ambitions to the side and impressively operated as a centre back throughout January, February and March of 2016. Not a single complaint, worry or issue arose from the situation. In this modern age of the game, it would come as no surprise to me that if that same situation occurred to Bertrand’s England team-mates, numerous agents would have been put to work.
Southampton gambled with the signing of Ryan Bertrand back in 2014, and in return, the club have been rewarded with a fine footballer who has been desperate to pay back that trust. Ryan Bertrand knows what it means to be a Saint, and after transfer windows of the past, we must ensure that he never forgets how much we appreciate it.