“We don’t just buy success, we breed it” as Ralph Krueger, the chairman of Southampton Football Club continues to voice. But over the past two years, it’s questionable as to what we are breeding. The academy conveyer belt has apparently been halted and the spine of players who truly understand Southampton Football club, are nowhere to be seen. The success of last season masked the lack of breeding, with results turning, its possibly come to the surface. Breeding is one thing, retaining is just as important.
Take a look at two squads that have recently been the focus of the media; Leicester City and AFC Bournemouth. What do these two clubs have in common? Togetherness forged by success achieved by the group: Bournemouth’s promotion and Leicester’s survival. That same warmth and sense of belonging that has slowly diminished piece by piece, since our second season in the top flight. All fans love to make that journey home knowing that their side has clinched all three points; but that feeling of doing so is all the more special when players and fans share that family feeling. Southampton fans know that better than most.
That is exactly the thrill that AFC Bournemouth are currently experiencing, having defeated Chelsea and Manchester United in seven days. On ability, both fixtures should have been a simple 3-0 drubbing to the big guns. Football is a mad game however, and the Cherries came away with six points. Why? Each and every one of Eddie Howe’s men would throw their body on the line for a fellow team-mate. Even the new boys that have been drafted in are onboard with what it means for the club. Despite being down to the proverbial “bare bones” and deprived of their finest talents through injury, the core remains. AFC Bournemouth are breeding that family feeling throughout the squad. I’m not sure how many of our players understand Southampton Football Club anymore; how could I blame them? How many remaining players have that feeling?
The importance of a tight knit squad is illustrated perfectly by Chelsea and Manchester United. Despite all the talent and money thrown around during previous windows, if the dressing room is gone, the performances go too, leaving their fans looking quizzically at the paupers of Leicester and AFCB.
Perhaps this signals a time when Jim White will report excitedly on Deadline Day ™ on players signing contract extensions, as opposed to multi-million pound transfers.
By no means am I saying to stop signing players. Bringing in new talent can inspire a squad, add dimensions that you have never held before and perhaps leave a tasty looking bank balance when they move on. Players such as Sadio Mane, Toby Alderweireld, Dusan Tadic and even Dejan Lovren have provided Premier League moments that will live long in the memory of our fans.
However, when results aren’t going your way and you no longer hold that core, motivating and bringing the fight out of a squad made from new faces can prove difficult. We must find that balance before it’s too late, leaving the club to potentially come tumbling down like Lovren’s career post Southampton or *cough* Newcastle *Cough*.
“Where were you at Tranmere away?” screams Jose Fonte, to which only Kelvin Davis raises his hand.
The damage of selling players such as Jack Cork, Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Morgan Schneiderlin runs far deeper than just a loss in quality. They held a bond with the fans and the club, ensuring that every new signing was made to be a part of the family. It appears that the departure of Schneiderlin has proved just one too many this season, with results and performances far from that of the past two seasons. They were after all, the identity of Southampton’s rise from League One.
During Mauricio Pochettino’s reign there was a number of academy prospects with their foot in the first team door – Ward-Prowse, Matt Targett, Harrison Reed and Sam Gallagher just to name a few. The only regular youngster selected by choice under Ronald Koeman has been England U21 captain, Ward-Prowse. This certainly isn’t the “breeding” that Krueger talks about. We need to breed a new family feeling at the club.
With academy opportunities coming at a premium and familiar faces leaving, I ask you Ralph Kreuger; What are we breeding? Is it the future of our family club or just a strap line to help sell the concept of the academy and The Southampton Way worldwide?