Transfers

Jose Fonte and Southampton FC: the fairy tale that’s come to a crashing end

Ugh. We’re here again. In this current moment it’s looking increasingly likely that Jose Fonte will complete his move to West Ham United, with reports stating that the two sides are close to agreeing a fee in the region of £8M; my only question surrounding this latest advancement however, is why? Just why?

On the 9th of January 2010 Jose Fonte decided to depart from Championship outfit Crystal Palace, in favour of a League one side that had recently entered into administration and faced a ten point deduction: that side was of course our beloved Southampton FC.

For the fans, there was excitement and hope that this tough tackling Portuguese centre half would finally bring solidity to our side, but Fonte himself saw far beyond the short term goals of this transfer.

“I’ve come here with a purpose, which is to help this club move to the top divisions. I want to play in the Premier League and I think I can do that quickest by moving here.”

These were the very words that Fonte spoke on his first day in red and white, and the tale that soon followed is remarkable.

There’s that beautiful day at Wembley for the JPT final, the back-to-back promotions taking Southampton to the Premier League, achieving our highest ever Premier League finish, and even returning once again to the Europa League. Since the 9th of January 2010, it’s undeniable that Fonte has been at the heart of all our success.

But it was with the reward for these achievements that has since changed Fonte into a player that we seem to no longer know.

Understandably, Fonte received his call up to the Portuguese national team ahead of the Euro’s, and to say the least, us Southampton fans were thrilled – rather emotional in fact. After years of hard work, grit, and dedication, our club captain was representing his country on one of the biggest stages that a player can ever prove himself on. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in feeling like a proud dad as Fonte first stepped out onto the pitch to face Croatia…

However, with this start in place of the injured Ricardo Carvalho, Fonte didn’t just fill the gap, he made it his own, leaving manager Fernando Santos helpless in selecting Fonte for the quarter final against Poland, and semi final against Wales. In both games Portugal were victorious, and consequently Fonte held his place in the starting XI for the final against France – a decision that would see Portugal become Champions of Europe with a 1-0 win.

Through his ability, attitude and personality, Fonte has given so much to our club throughout his career, making it simply beautiful to witness that same man achieve his childhood dream

Every Southampton fan was supporting Portugal that night as they got behind Fonte, leaving us all optimistic for yet another season with a player capable of such fine performances. But oh how wrong we were…

Fonte returned to St Mary’s with a hero’s welcome, but shortly after it was clear for all to see that his head had been turned. Fonte had tasted success of the highest level, and now he wanted more. This lead to a summer of speculation whereby papers and online sources were filled with ideas regarding Fonte’s current situation, but in truth, only those involved with the deal know what was said over that summer.

What we do know however is that the performances that soon followed from our captain were showings of a man who was no longer stimulated. Fonte’s mind was clearly elsewhere, and on the fifth of January, that was confirmed by Les Reed:

“He’s had several opportunities to improve the situation and he’s reserved his right not to do that.

“He’s made it very clear he would like to explore the opportunities for a transfer.

“That’s where we are at the moment, Jose wants to leave the club. He’s formally asked for a transfer.”

These quotes were hard for every Southampton fan to swallow. We’ve heard it all before in regards to other stars from years gone by, but hearing such news about our club captain and a man who has been with us through every step of our journey was gutting. Just gutting.

With Fonte’s agent being Jorge Mendes – the same agent as Cristiano Ronaldo – this decision to hand in a transfer request was surely used as a means to alert the big boys. Fonte clearly wanted more silverware, and had his eyes firmly placed on a move to either one of Manchester United or Liverpool.

But it seems that Fonte didn’t take into account a particular circumstance; that neither club wants him. Which funnily enough, is exactly what’s happened.

Since realising this, Fonte has been the subject of two bids from two mid-table Premier League sides, West Bromwich Albion and West Ham, with Southampton reportedly close to accepting a bid from the latter.

Fonte has played his hand, and with brutal honesty, it seems to have backfired in the most embarrassing of ways. Not only have Fonte’s dreams of a ‘big move’ amounted to absolutely nothing, but it seems that he is now completely incapable of swallowing his pride and reconciling with the club and us Southampton fans. It appears that for this reason, Fonte harbours no ambition to make life work on the south coast. So much so that I believe if Fonte knew only West Ham and West Brom were interested from the start, his notice would have remained firmly in his pocket.

I will always love and adore Fonte for the years of service and crunching tackles as a member of our original League One side, there is no doubting that. I just hate that this against all odds fairy tale will be tarnished with the same brush of so many other departures from Southampton FC in recent years.

The real reason Southampton must find a finisher this January

Since the devastating shoulder injury to Charlie Austin in early December, we’ve been left without a real goal-scoring threat. (Besides Virgil Van Djik, of course.) We can turn tough draws into hard-earned victories if we use the January transfer window to snap up a useful forward, but another crucial reason as to why we must buy a striker – and buy one NOW – is to allow Sofiane Boufal to flourish.

It’s undeniable, Sofiane Boufal is class. He can receive a pass, turn, and glide past defenders with supreme confidence, all whilst boasting the ability to put the ball into the back of the net from the most ridiculous angles. On top of this, he also shows a hunger out on the pitch that leaves him constantly demanding the ball to be played into his feet, and why wouldn’t you with magic feet like his? 

via GIPHY

But what happens if that confidence disappears?

There are plenty of examples of talented wingers who burst onto the scene only to experience a prolonged dip in form. Even some of the very best in Riyad Mahrez, Pedro, and Eden Hazard have succumbed to spells of bad play. Granted, Boufal is yet to set the Premier League alight like the aforementioned names, but I believe he possesses the talent and tenacity to become a legitimate star. 

And yet his chance to make a name for himself could be snuffed out well before he truly begins. That’s because the confidence of creative players like Boufal is strongly linked to positive play in the attacking third, something Southampton have undoubtedly lacked since losing a goal-scoring threat. 

There are only so many times a footballer can beat his man on the left flank, then proceed to look up for a cross or slicing through ball, only to have no one available – or worse, complete a pass to a player that is incapable of finishing. This type of play is tiring in its own right, but when the fruits of labor are nowhere to be seen and there is no positive reinforcement, it’s also quite demoralising. A player with dazzling skill can become frustrated at his team and lose confidence in himself – something that with a player as naturally gifted as Boufal, we cant allow to happen. 

But if Southampton can use this transfer window intelligently and purchase a recognised out and out forward, then we’ll not only perform better as a squad, but we can unlock the potential of one of our most talented players.

Interview: Talking Mamadou Sakho with Sam McGuire

Another transfer window, and yet another Southampton player wanting out. Incase you missed it earlier this week, Les Reed confirmed that Jose Fonte has made it clear that he wants to explore the possibility of a transfer, having rejected both an improved and extended contract. Once again, this places Southampton in the forever recurring position of having to find a suitable replacement for one of their stars, but just like always, Southampton already appear to have their eyes on someone.

According to Paul Joyce, Southampton have shown great interest in the availability of Mamadou Sakho, who has been told that he can leave the club after falling out of favour with manager Jurgen Klopp. The report states that the French International is supposed to be keen on a move down South, despite interest from Sevilla and Galatasaray.

Eager to find out more about the French International, I spoke with Sam McGuire – writer at TheseFootballTimes and podcast member at Anfield Index – to find out if Sakho is the right man for Southampton Football Club.

Let’s start with the positives; what strengths do you see in Sakho as a player? He’s what most top teams seem to crave these days; a ball-playing centre-back. He break the lines with passes, he’s incisive and positive with his use of the ball. The reason he doesn’t get the plaudits he deserves is because of how awkward he looks when doing it. He’s commanding in the air, he’s a leader and he’s got that grit you sometimes need to get you over the line. In the Europa League match against United at Old Trafford many forget the home side had us on the ropes in that first half and Sakho put in a MOTM performance to keep them out.

Some might say his biggest strength, and possibly the greatest compliment you could pay him, is the fact Alberto Moreno looked fairly solid beside the Frenchman.

What weaknesses has Sakho shown?

His decision making can sometimes be questionable. As in when he attacks the ball and when he lets it bounce. If you’re squeamish you probably won’t be a fan though. As mentioned earlier, he’s not the most graceful on the ball and sometimes it looks as though he’s played himself into trouble but more often than not he’s got it under control.

There’s also question marks over his off field behaviour. He did storm out before a derby after not making the squad, he did put his career in danger after taking a supplement the club didn’t know about and he was sent home for being a disruptive influence on the tour.

Paul Joyce has claimed that Sakho is keen on a move to Southampton; how reliable do you deem Joyce regarding Liverpool news?

If Paul Joyce says something Liverpool related it’s usually true. This is a guy who leaked the Sevilla team news the night before the final by posting it as his Twitter picture.

What exactly has helped Sakho become such a fan favourite at Liverpool?

He bought into Liverpool as a city and in return the fans realised he was one of their own. He’s an adopted scouser. He does a lot of work in the community and goes beyond what’s expected of him and we as fans have a lot of time for players who do that. He showed us respect and we returned it with interest.

At times it was like having a fan on the pitch because he wanted to win as much as we did.

It’s safe to say that Jurgen Klopp and Mamadou Sakho seem to have their differences; what has happened between them and how would you summarise their relationship?

It’s difficult to comment without fully understanding what happened because there’s got to me more than meets the eye. Even after the drug debacle I think Sakho had a future at the club but he had to regain Klopp’s trust. It’s unlikely the club would have given the player a new squad number if he was always on the way out. But then something on the tour, he was late for a few things and disruptive in general.

Klopp sent him home as a way to show who was boss and you have to respect that.

There is a reported £20M price tag to acquire Sakho’s this window; do you believe that he is worth such a fee?

Definitely. He only recently signed a new deal at the club, he’s 26-years-old and he’s still a quality defender.

Obviously the likes of Romagnoli, John Stones, Eric Bailly and your own Virgil Van Dijk don’t come with the baggage Sakho does but in a world that they’re all worth £50M plus Sakho is comfortably worth £20M.

Finally, what would be your overriding thoughts if Sakho leave’s Anfield this window?

A mixture of regret and resentment.

Had he not been a fool on the tour he could have been part of the Liverpool squad. I know we’re second in the league but there are still defensive problems, especially when it comes to lapses in concentration and distribution of the ball, and it’s something you can’t help but feel Sakho would be able to fix, or at least play a part.

I trust Jurgen Klopp but sometimes you see Lucas/Lovren/Klavan do something ridiculous in defence and just let out a sigh knowing Sakho is at home. It’s just best for all parties if he leaves now though.

 

January: It’s time to invest, but in who?

We’re now just over halfway through the 2016/17 Premier League season, and it hasn’t quite been the season many fans had hoped for thus far.

After another preseason of change, we once again saw some all too familiar traits from years gone by. Key players seeking pastures new and our manager moving to a rival Premier League club; giving Les Reed and the board a much busier summer than they would have anticipated. Key decisions had to made to try and push on from a sixth place finish and Europa League qualification – that is quite the task of a club playing in the third tier only five years ago. They chose a relatively unknown Frenchman to take the reigns from a record setting, Champions League winning Dutchman.

Claude Puel was appointed on the 30th of June to replace Ronald Koeman on the recommendation and advice of a certain Arsene Wenger no less. Prior to the former Monaco midfielder’s appointment, Saints had already sold Sadio Mane to Liverpool and Victor Wanyama to Tottenham Hotspur for an estimated combined total of £46 million. Saints were also in extensive talks with Chinese club, Shandong Luneng, for the transfer of Graziano Pelle, with the move being completed a few weeks into Puel’s tenure – leaving him with the unenviable task of meeting his players, assessing them, then going into the transfer market to fill the gaps. With not a huge time-frame from his appointment to the opening game against Watford, himself and the club decided to not bring in any recognised strikers and to put faith into Shane Long, Charlie Austin and Jay Rodriguez. Puel also stated his intent to use new recruit, Nathan Redmond, as a striker – comparing him to former French protege Thierry Henry.

Redmond started life on the South Coast perfectly as he bagged Saints’ equaliser in the opening day draw against Watford, but since then, he’s gone on to score only twice more. Since the start of the season, Redmond has been a figure commonly placed in the starting eleven, meaning Puel has chopped and changed his starting partner. During the opening games of the season, the Frenchmen preferred Long to start alongside the former Norwich man, and rightly so too. After the Ireland international’s impressive goal scoring feat during 2016 he was more than deserving of his place in the starting eleven. But as the opening games of the season unraveled, Long couldn’t rediscover his form of the back end of last season as he failed to score in each of the matches he featured in.

Subsequently, Puel has rotated his frontline, featuring most commonly Austin as a strike partner with Redmond. Since the Englishman’s first start against Sunderland, Austin has netted on nine occasions in all competitions as he stated his claim as Saints’ best goalscorer. Things were going tremendously for Austin as talk of an England call up became common ahead of Southgate’s announcements. Unfortunately for him however, the call from newly appointed Southgate never came and during Saints’ final Europa League game against Hapoel Be’er Sheva, he landed awkwardly when rising for the ball and dislocated his shoulder. After Saints were eliminated by the Israeli champions, it was revealed that he would need surgery and could miss up to three months of action. This sent Puel back to the drawing board as Saints’ only prolific goalscorer so far will be sidelined for a substantial amount of time.

In comparison to this point last season, as many know, Saints have been far less clinical in front of goal. Before Saints’ game against Norwich on the 2nd of January last season, Ronald Koeman’s men had scored 45 goals in 26 games – averaging 1.7 goals per game. Whereas this season, Saints have scored 30 goals in 29 games – averaging 1.03 goals per game. When examining the stats it’s not hard to see why we haven’t been scoring as much as we could have.

Prior to the trip to Carrow road, Mane had been involved in 15 goals over all competitions; registering seven goals and eight assists. Shane Long had scored seven goals and registered two assists, whilst the beautiful Italian, Pelle, had netted nine times and assisted three times. In comparison to this season, Long has notched just one goal in all competitions, and Nathan Redmond has grabbed just three goals. As previously mentioned, Austin has scored nine goals in all competitions and Jay-Rod has scored four goals, two prior and post his injury – including a wonder strike to seal all three points away at Bournemouth.

As we are now entering the early stages of the January transfer window, it doesn’t take a mysterious black box to highlight what we need to invest in this winter; however, the black box will be able to identify the players we do need. With every transfer window, there will be guaranteed speculation of players coming in and players leaving the club, that’s just the way it is at St Mary’s. With Southampton’s lack of goals it hasn’t been hard for the press to link strikers to a move down south. Two of the names that have been linked are Liverpool striker, Daniel Sturridge and Napoli forward, Manolo Gabbiadini.

Daniel Sturridge is a name every fan in England is aware of. The 27-year-old Englishmen has been one of the most prolific forwards in the Premier League and on the international scene. During his greatest goalscoring season, Sturridge grabbed 25 goals in all competitions as Liverpool narrowly missed out on the title. Last season, the Englishmen grabbed 13 goals in all competitions as he played a bit-part role under new manager Jurgen Klopp. This poises the question ‘Why wouldn’t Liverpool want to keep hold of a player with such great talent like Sturridge?’ Well, the main cause for concern with Sturridge is that he has been plagued with injuries ever since Luis Suarez left Liverpool in the summer of 2014.

Since the end of the 2013/14 season, he has featured 68 times for club and country as regular hamstring injuries seem to be the cause of a lack in game time. Another perception Sturridge carries is that his commitment for the team isn’t the greatest. Jurgen Klopp’s style of play is much like that of Mauricio Pochettino’s. Both men like to establish a high pressing game to give the opposition as little time on the ball as possible. This could be one of the reasons why Sturridge is lower than Roberto Firmino and Divock Origi at Anfield as perhaps Klopp doesn’t feel he works as hard as the Brazilian and Belgian off the ball. The likelihood of this transfer being completed is very slim. Jurgen Klopp was quoted in saying he “doesn’t want Daniel to leave the club.” Another factor could be location. With a few London clubs interested in the striker, including West Ham, Sturridge is believed to prefer a move back to the capital; where he once played for current league leaders, Chelsea.

As previously mentioned, the second player Saints have been linked with is Manolo Gabbiadini. Gabbiadini is a 5ft 9 forward who can player as a striker or as an attacking midfielder. The 25 year old is an Italian international who has scored one goal in his six appearances for the Azzurri. The Italian forward failed to reach double figures for Napoli last season as he bagged nine goals in all competitions. So far this season, he has netted five times, so could be on course to reach double figures if he stays put. The reason why many clubs in the Premier League have been linked with Gabbiadini is due to his immense goal scoring form during the 2014/15 season; where he spent half of the season at Sampdoria before joining Napoli for €13 million. Whilst at Sampdoria, he scored eight times; prompting Napoli to fork out on such a high transfer fee. Life at Napoli started well for the Italian as he scored a further 11 times for his new club-including one against his former employers. There is a possibility Saints could sign him as he’s been linked with a move to the South Coast in a variety of news outlets in Italy. However, like always, Saints aren’t the only club interested in his services. Wolfsburg appear to be the frontrunners for him as they look to replace the now PSG man, Julian Draxler. My issue if Saints do complete the signing of Gabbiadini is that he lacks Premier League experience. At this point in the season I believe we need someone who knows and is adapted to the pace of the Premier League.

One man who is certainly that is Jermain Defoe. Former England international, Defoe, has been prolific in every Premier League season he’s featured in. With eight goals already at a struggling Sunderland side, it proves how clinical he can be when not having much quality around him. His 18 goals last season proved pivotal in Sunderland’s battle against the drop and he’s on course to match that again this season. In 276 league appearances for Tottenham Hotspur, he netted 92 times and since joining Sunderland in January 2015 he’s scored a further 27 goals in the Premier League.

Sunderland boss, David Moyes, was quoted saying that Sunderland need to decrease their wage bill if they are to bring in any new players this winter. Defoe is earning over £50,000 at Sunderland, so Saints could definitely test their resolve. Defoe would be the quick fix of goals we need from now until the end of the season, and at the age of 34, he’s certainly coming to the end of a fantastic career. The one problem many fans may have if we try to bring in the Englishmen is his ties with our South Coast neighbours. Defoe joined Bournemouth on loan from West Ham in October 2000 and scored 18 goals in 29 league appearances. Defoe has also played for the blue side of Hampshire, joining Harry Redknapp’s Pompey for £7.5 million in 2008. He scored 15 goals in 31 games for Pompey before leaving after just one season to rejoin Tottenham and Redknapp at White Hart Lane. Southampton haven’t been linked with a move for Defoe, but I would like to see Defoe bag the goals we need in the red and white stripes.

The final striker we’ve been linked with is FC Utrecht’s Frenchmen Sébastien Haller. Since joining the Dutch outfit from Auxerre he has scored 37 goals in 67 appearances. He’s only 22 years of age and is giant in stature as he stands at 6ft 2. He’s was linked with a deadline day move to Saints in the summer but a move never materialised. So far this season he has netted nine times in all competitions. This is probably the most likely transfer to be completed as Haller is familiar with Claude Puel. He has also been seen following Nathan Redmond on twitter – if that means anything!

With Haller being so young at 22 he can definitely adapt and fulfil his potential in the Premier League. My concern however would be the immediate amount of goals he would get and how long it would take him to adapt to life in England.

Claude Puel has kept his cards very close to his chest saying that Saints won’t be completing any signings during the January window; but as Saints fans know, this could mean anything. Saints have always liked to keep the transfer business in secretive fashion for as long as possible. For example, when we signed Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg in the summer very few media outlets reported we were interested in him; then all of a sudden it was announced that we had completed the signing. The reasons Saints do this is to minimise the competition and price we have to pay. If very few clubs are aware of our interest, then those who may be interested won’t feel obliged to start a bidding war over the player, thus preventing the price to rise and rise.

I also believe Claude wouldn’t come out and say we need players so publicly for a number of reasons. Firstly out of respect for the other clubs in the Premier League. The Frenchmen appears to be a man of dignity and compassion, therefore speaking about other club’s players would go against his morals. Secondly, not to add pressure on the current squad and to keep the squad harmony high. For example, if you say that you’re perfectly happy with the squad then the current squad will feel that their efforts are being noticed and welcomed by the manager.

I’d love us to sign a striker with great Premier League pedigree, but if the board feel as though a deal will not be financially correct for the club then the last thing I’d want to see is us bring someone that we can’t afford. We also need to remember that the Southampton board like to bring in players who understand and represent the ethos of the ‘Southampton Way’, and if there aren’t any players who can fulfil that this window, I won’t begrudge a lack of activity this winter.

Thoughts on the 2016/17 season so far

We know that it’s part and parcel as a Southampton fan to experience the highest of highs no sooner than being put through the lowest of the lows; the 2016/17 season so far has certainly been no exception.

After 17 Premier League games, Claude Puel’s side have found themselves sitting handsomely in 7th, whilst also booking themselves a place in the semi-final of the League Cup.

Now, to the average football fan, this sounds like a promising start to the season – and they would be right in thinking so – but these facts don’t even begin to paint the picture of Southampton’s season so far.

Since Claude Puel has taken charge of Southampton Football Club, we’ve been treated to some of our most dominant and defensively resilient performances in recent years. Games have gone by where the opposition have forgotten what a touch of the ball feels like, and Fraser Forster has had the privilege of picking up clean sheets that even Paulo Gazzaniga could protect.

Watching on, I’ve been left astounded by our side’s understanding of Puel’s defensive demands on multiple occasions. At all times our defence and midfield are communicating, ensuring that each and every player is in position and alert.

With Puel’s guidance, Virgil Van Dijk has been touted by many as the Premier League’s best defender, Cedric Soares has recently come into outstanding form, and unsurprisingly, Ryan Bertrand has remained as consistent as ever. For me, It seems that defensive stability is at the forefront of Puel’s demands of a Premier League side, and boy is he doing it well.

To add to this, I’ve also witnessed numerous dominant midfield performances that would have never been possible under previous manager Ronald Koeman. Granted, Koeman liked to keep the midfield tight and he carried this out on many occasions, but never did I see the Dutchman’s midfield play with the same expression that Puel encourages.

Like the defence, each midfielder knows exactly where to be and when, whilst also boasting the confidence to remain composed on the ball and maintain possession effectively. Since our return to the Premier League, I’ve never seen Southampton’s midfield so drilled and confident whilst on the ball.

Through this, Oriol Romeu is playing the best football of his career, James Ward-Prowse is being utilised more effectively, and even Jordy Clasie has had his best game in a Southampton shirt.

These showings have seen us beat West Ham 3-0, draw 1-1 against Manchester City, beat Arsenal 2-0, and just last weekend, beat our good friends AFC Bournemouth 3-1.

However, as I finish talking about the defence and midfield, we now come to the attack, and this is where my and many other fans frustrations lie. We can stand strong, we can dictate play, and we’ve even shown that we can forge plenty of chances for ourselves; but when it comes to sticking the ball into that big white netted structure, we crumble.

Perhaps what is most frustrating about this flaw in our side however, is that it was so preventable. Southampton have been hailed countless times for their ability to replace talent in the past, but last summer, we failed in the attacking department. It’s as simple as that.

This doesn’t mean to say I’m not happy with the signings of Sofiane Boufal and Nathan Redmond – because i’m delighted with that business – but what I am saying is that when you sell your two top goal-scorers and decide not to sign another striker, you can’t complain when the goals aren’t flowing. I can’t help but wonder that if we are in 7th place despite being the League’s fifth lowest goal-scorers, how many more points could we have salvaged with the help of some extra fire power?

For a club as ambitious as ours, failing to sign another striker was a poor footballing decision, and it’s one that must be amended this January. Ultimately, it could now also be argued that it was a poor financial decision too, as throughout our Europa League campaign our inability to finish was the reason for our group stage exit – an exit that has forced us to miss out on plenty of revenue and exposure.

However, whilst the board may have failed here, they most certainly didn’t with one particular aspect of Puel’s management – his trust in youth. It’s now common knowledge that Koeman isn’t a fan of promoting from within, and this has become even more evident with the appointment of Puel.

Since joining, Puel has handed multiple opportunities to Harrison Reed, Jake Hesketh, Josh Sims and Sam McQueen; all of which were deemed by Koeman to not be ready for first team football.

Puel hands these opportunities out through merit, not out of desperation, and through this well-placed trust, he is able to receive a confident, determined and talented young player in return.

The development of young talent is in the fabric of Southampton Football Club, and with Puel, that philosophy appears to be in safe hands.

All in all, I’m delighted with the style of football that Puel is implementing, the use of the academies talent, and our current position in the League and League Cup. But, the last thing that I want come the end of the season. is for my mind to still be riddled with questions about what could have been with the investment of a real goal-getter.

So, please Southampton Football Club, let’s back Puel’s promising start to life on the South Coast this January with investment, to ensure that we can once again stick two fingers up to those who doubted us. 

Jack Wilshere: what would he bring to Southampton FC?

We’re edging closer to that time of the year again when drama is inevitable, rumours are plucked out of thin air, and the back pages are needing to be filled. I’m of course referring to the January transfer window, and already, it’s beginning to take over my mind. Just the other day I spotted an article produced by Jamie Carragher regarding Jack Wilshere’s future, and it got me thinking, could the current Cherries loanee worm his way into our Southampton side? 

Above: Jack Wilshere wearing the Mansion sponsored AFC Bournemouth shirt – Mansion are the owner’s of the online casino platform Casino.com

Wilshere is a player that in recent years, has without a doubt caused split opinion amongst football fans. There are those that will continue to defend him until the final day of his career, and on the flip side, there are also those that would implode at even the thought of complimenting one of his performances.

But to me, there is one aspect of Wilshere’s game that any football fan should be able to recognise; his technical qualities.

Be it as a number ten or as a central midfielder, Wilshere boasts the remarkable ability to perform inch-perfect through balls, drilled passes, and deft flicks as a means to unlock the oppositions defence. This has seen Wilshere become Bournemouth’s most creative player, and by some distance too, averaging 2.01 key chances created per 90.

Wilshere also possesses the close control and dribbling skills required to create space, which in turn allows him to make the all important passes mentioned before.

To tie all of these technical skills together, Wilshere has received an education in football under Arsene Wenger – as a midfielder, it really doesn’t get much better than that.

This has allowed him to become an extremely intelligent player when maintaining possession, and looking to break down the oppositions defence – you didn’t think that Wilshere’s tendency to find himself in game changing positions was a coincidence, did you?

So, having covered Wilshere’s greatest strengths, what exactly is it that Claude Puel is looking for in a central midfielder?

To tell the truth, he is looking for a player with qualities similar to that of Wilshere.

Since arriving at the club, Puel has placed great emphasis on his Southampton side being dominant in possession, and given Wilshere’s passing ability, he would have no trouble in carrying out that task.

In addition to this, Puel wants a midfielder with bite, grit and determination whilst out of possession, but this cannot be at the expense of positivity and flair. It seems that Wilshere fits the billing here too.

Since the start of the season, the Southampton midfield have shown inconsistencies in their ability to provide a positive approach to the the game; one week they are fluid and brave, but the next they are stagnant on the ball and fearful of mistakes. With an attack minded midfielder like Wilshere who is willing to take risks, maybe that issue could be put to an end?

Admittedly however, there are some widely known issues with the 24-year-old; his goal record is hardly threatening, his weekly wage is extortionate, and of course, there is the endless list of injuries.

Whilst Wilshere’s lack of goals wouldn’t be an issue if he’s playing as a central midfielder (rather than as a number 10), I simply cant look past the wage demands. The board of Southampton Football Club are known for their astute business, and if these demands were to be maintained until the end of the season, there is not a chance of us making a move. It’s as simple as that. As for the injuries, if Wilshere continues his current run of game-time in the Bournemouth side, then I would most certainly be interested.

All in all, I would love for Southampton Football Club to possess a player of Wilshere’s quality and potential, but given the undeniable risks and abuse of our business model that would come with the signing, I am forced into forgetting that this could ever happen.

Jose Fonte: the subject of Southampton’s latest transfer saga?

We’re fast approaching the January transfer window, and as a Southampton fan, this is a time of the year that we have grown to fear.

Reports have stated that Southampton captain Jose Fonte has been given the green light for a move away from the South Coast this coming January; but what exactly are the current details of Southampton’s latest transfer saga, and what do I make of it all?

Firstly, let’s take a look at the reports.

The Guardian stated that Fonte has turned down the clubs latest contract offer and is unwilling to commit to an extended stay with Southampton Football Club. However, the Daily Echo has a conflicting report with quotes from the man himself.

“I don’t know what they’re talking about,” Fonte said. “There’s no contract on the table.

“It is what it is, there’s nothing on the table that I didn’t sign. There was nothing there, to be honest.”

He added: “There was in the summer, they offered me a pay rise. They didn’t offer me a new contract.

“They offered me a pay rise which I’m entitled to discuss with my agent and entitled to say no to as well.”

The report from the Daily Echo then goes on to mention how Fonte has become frustrated with Claude Puel, after failing to feature in all five of Southampton’s Europa League fixtures.

“Of course I’m disappointed,” Fonte said. “I want to play every game. I’m fit to play every game. I’m always on the dance floor – I’m always fit.

“I worked really hard last year to play Europa League.

“I worked really hard and obviously I’m disappointed, but I have to accept the decision from the manager and be ready when I am called to play.”

Finally however, reports from Portuguese website MaisFutebol have stated that Southampton are willing to let Fonte leave the club in January, after deciding that they will not offer the captain a contract extension. This same report states that contrary to what some may think, Fonte in fact wants to prolong his stay with Southampton Football Club.

In addition to this, Fonte has also taken to social media to deny the reports that he rejected a contract extension from Southampton FC (as seen in the comments on a fan pages account below). 

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So, that is a collection of all the important reports regarding Fonte’s current situation, and you can make of it what you wish, but here are my thoughts…

The board of Southampton FC don’t like to be bullied during negotiations. They wish to carry out business in the way that they believe best suits the football club, and therefore, if negotiations begin to swing away from the best interests of the club, they will often cut their interest there.

It’s interesting to note that Southampton FC have now on two occasions offered a financial increase to Fonte’s contract, without offering an extension past his current deal that runs until 2018. Fonte rejected these financial offers and therefore, my thoughts here are simple; Fonte want’s his contract extension to be offered now, whilst Southampton will most likely be wanting to make their offer at the end of this season. The reason being is that with Fonte nearing 33-years-old, offering a long term contract extension is risky business. At this age, performances can suddenly drop off, injuries are more threatening, and fitness naturally decreases too. Look around at other clubs in Europe and you will see that contract offers made to players over 30-years-old, typically become more calculated and risk-free in comparison to younger players. It’s smart business, something that the Southampton board knows plenty about.

If reports are to be believed and Southampton have told Fonte that he can leave this coming January, then I imagine that they have made such comments as a statement to Fonte. Perhaps they are wanting to remind Fonte their beliefs in negotiations and just who is in charge?

Krueger and Reed

For me, its understandable why Southampton may be hesitant to offer a contract extension just yet, but at the same time, I can also understand Fonte’s decision to reject the financial increase on his contract. The reason being here is that Fonte still believes he is a fit, dependable, and high quality defender, so therefore, he wants to hold out for the security of a contract extension. In my view, Fonte’s decision to reject the offer of an increase wage was used as a means to pressure Southampton into offering him a contract extension, and to that I say well bloody played Jose (if of course that is true).

For now however, we must wait. It appears that in this current moment we have no other option but to wait for either one of the two parties to make their move.

In an ideal world, I would love for Jose Fonte to spend the remaining years of his career at our club, with the Portuguese International being appropriately eased out of first team action according to his performances. However, in this current situation, who knows. Nothing is concrete at the minute and there are still countless pages of paperwork to be filled in and filed before any definitive decision has been made.

Regardless of the outcome however, it doesn’t change that Jose Fonte will go down in history as a hero of Southampton Football Club.

Academy watch: Sam Gallagher at Blackburn Rovers

Whilst academy prospects James Ward-Prowse, Josh Sims and Sam McQueen have been shining in the first team, the fine goalscoring form of Sam Gallagher at Blackburn Rovers has been going under the radar of many Southampton fans. So, we spoke to Richard Sharpe – Blackburn Rovers writer at the Lancashire Telegraph – and  Oscar Jepson – owner of Talk of Ewood – to find out more about Gallagher’s rise in form. 

What were your initial thoughts when Blackburn Rovers signed Sam Gallagher on loan?

Sharpe: He came at a time when Rovers were struggling for forward options, but as he joined, aided by arrivals of Danny Graham, Anthony Stokes and Marvin Emnes, the forward line suddenly had some promise.

Highly-rated, on loan from a Premier League club, and with both top flight and Championship experience, his arrival seemed like a good fit, and that is how it has played out so far.

Jepson: In complete honesty, I was pessimistic about the signing of young Sam. I didn’t see a real reason behind it, so shortly after we had just bought two other strikers. Also, after doing research I began to become a bit wary over Gallagher after finding out about his time at MK Dons. With family trouble and a lack of goals, his time down in London wouldn’t be one to savour for him and a move to Blackburn Rovers – who had just signed a couple of experienced, first team goal-scorers – wouldn’t help him. After a lot of thought, I came to the conclusion that Sam would be a good third choice for us and that he could only get better. Therefore I was content with the signing in the grand scheme of things.

What are your personal views regarding Sam Gallagher’s performances this season?

Sharpe: There has been something of a burden on Gallagher for goals, given the unavailability of Rovers’ other three senior strikers at various stages of the season.  That has been eased somewhat, particularly since the return of Danny Graham, but they have struck up something of a good partnership in their few outings together.

He has scored seven of Rovers’ 20 goals this season so he could have done very little else to aid their campaign.

Jepson: Sam Gallagher has been absolutely sublime this season. He hasn’t set a foot wrong in his displays and puts 110% in week after week. His pace, power, determination, finesse and desire can take him very far. I personally feel that Blackburn’s recent turnaround in form wouldn’t have been accomplished without him, his ability to dig us out of a hole when the going got tough kept us afloat and the morale reasonably high. Honestly I think we have relied far too heavily on Sam at times this season yet he has brushed that aside like it was no ones problem!

How have Rovers fans taken to Gallagher?

Sharpe: They have – but that has certainly been helped by his goal return.  He’s not afraid to put himself about, and has also shown he has a discipline to play different roles away from home when needed, not least against Newcastle last weekend where he often found himself in more of a number 10 role.

Jepson: Unquestionably. Gallagher is a fans favorite. We even resurrected a Blackburn classic song of ‘Ooh Aah Gallagher’ previously used for Kevin Gallacher. A lot of fans have noticed his importance to the side and with him getting on the score sheet as often as he has, he wasn’t going to go un-noticed! Now, i’m 100% sure if you asked for a Rovers fans opinions on Sam, not a single one would be negative.

What weaknesses has Gallagher shown?

Jepson: I feel like I am being a bit bias here but, none! He was raw towards the beginning of his loan spell – offside too often – but now he has everything; Pace, skill, defensive work-rate, attacking work-rate, strength, headers, finesse, you name it, Gallagher has it. There isn’t much I can say other than: No! He has it all!

Would you want to keep Gallagher beyond the current loan spell if possible?

Sharpe: Owen Coyle has already made it clear that he would like to keep Gallagher beyond his loan spell, but unless he is reclalled, or Southampton look to move him to another club, then having him signed up until the end of the season already gives Rovers some security.

Gallagher has always been tipped for bright things, so whether he feels now is the right time to leave Saints I’m not sure, particularly given his comments here

But if he did, he wouldn’t be short of suitors.

Jepson: Of course! I was thinking about this the other day, if he goes back to Saints and isn’t close to the first team, in my opinion he needs another loan. He has only had one good season of senior level and more goals and confidence will do him the world of good. Again, I might be being bias but, Rovers is the best option for him. If we stay up, which i’m pretty confident we will, coming back to Blackburn where he has good memories, he is comfortable and knows well enough is a lot better to a whole new start. So yes, i’d do anything to get him at Rovers permanently.

And finally, do you feel believe that Gallagher is currently playing at a suitable level, or do you believe that he could show his talent in the Premier League?

Sharpe: He’s still only 21, and will undoubtedly get better as he gets older, but to continue his development, he must continue to get games under his belt.  He’s started 14 of Rovers’ 18 games this season, and come off the bench in the other three, and that’s clearly aiding his development.

Given his build, and his ability in front of goal, as well as being at a club who has shown faith in their young players, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see him flourish in the Premier League.

Jepson: Gallagher certainly has all the qualities to get in the prem. If you look at your lad, Josh Sims, and how well he has fitted into the side then Gallagher can do it no doubt. He isn’t bullied either. Some of the battles he has had with some of the best Championship centre backs; Ciaran Clark, Chancel Mbemba, Magnusson, Danny Batth and Matt Mills, in which he has mostly won are exceptional to watch, he is a real talent across the board. 

Where do Southampton need to improve in the upcoming transfer window?

With 12 games gone in the Premier League this season, Southampton F.C. currently  sit 10th in the table. This means that now, we can start to see where our strengths and weaknesses lie in this new-look Saints side under Claude Puel.

The Saints have not set the world on fire, nor have they been totally under-impressive, but we all knew that it would be a tough transition period after Koeman’s departure. With that said, there have been some who have performed to an excellent standard. Virgil Van Dijk has arguably been the best centre-half in the Premier League, Oriol Romeu has been fantastic over the last two months in defensive-midfield and the ever-reliable Charlie Austin has the highest goal tally of any English, Premier League player this season – so where do we need to improve?

Firstly, Austin needs some support.

Shane Long is yet to find his first goal of the season despite a very successful campaign last term. In addition to this, Jay Rodriguez has struggled to get into the side even when fit and, lastly, Nathan Redmond has only scored three after his conversion to a striker under Puel.

In a formation where we are relying on two strikers to get our goals, we simply haven’t scored enough goals. Jay Rodriguez’s Southampton career could be over after the summer fiasco, and if Long does not start scoring soon, unfortunately the same could be said for him as well, having fallen to the bench under Puel. We need to buy a fresh young European striker, who can provide more goals and healthy competition in the hopes that Shane Long and Jay Rodriguez could start to fire again.

For this position, look no further than 22-year-old Andrea Belotti of Torino, who has manage to record ten goals and three assists in the Serie A this season. With a shot conversion rate of 65%, Belotti is an all round strong centre-forward, with decent pace, strength and most importantly, a clinical edge in front of goal. He may command a hefty fee given his age and attacking prowess, but if Southampton truly want to push on into the upper echelons of English football, they need more goals. With regards to prizing him away from Torino, Southampton would provide a club that nurtures young domestic and foreign talent, a club with ambitions of hitting the heights of European football and a springboard for him to push on to other clubs if he desires (as has happened with Clyne, Mané, Schneiderlin etc.)

Secondly, in spite of the fact that we hold great quality in the heart of defence with Virgil Van Dijk and Jose Fonte, we must be prepared for the future. The reason being is that whilst Fonte is still a fantastic defender for us, I think all fans can admit that a decline is underway (even if it is a small one at that). On top of this, Van Dijk has been receiving praise from all angles in recent weeks and in such fine form, a bid from a big club cant be too far away. For these reasons, it would be valuable and worthwhile for Southampton to snap up a young defender that can provide competition and be eased into the side at the time of Van Dijk’s potential departure or Fonte’s downfall. 

Southampton are constantly linked with Rúben Semedo, a centre back who has been superb for Sporting Lisbon this season. He is a young, versatile Portuguese defender who can play both in the centre and on the right of the defence, and at only 22 years of age, he would fit the “Southampton philosophy” of signing young European talent. Not to mention that he could also settle in easily with his fellow Portuguese compatriots, in Fonte and Cédric.

He would provide cover and competition in two different positions and he has the ability to make a name for himself in the Premier League. With regards to prizing him away from one of Portugal’s biggest clubs, we’ve already done it with Cédric, and players of Semedo’s class at his age will want to push on and play in a more competitive league.

Thirdly, with our narrow diamond we desperately need to make sure that there are players in the club that can play in one of three positions; holding midfield, central midfield and attacking midfield.

We have a plethora of creative options in Dušan Tadić, Sofiane Boufal and the young Jake Hesketh, but at holding midfielder we only have Oriol Romeu. Personally, I would like to see Southampton bring in another player who can play in both the centre and the holding roles, offering cover for Romeu but also healthy competition in the centre.

Morgan Schneiderlin is the name on every fan’s lips. He is a player that is undoubtedly still a fan favourite at St. Mary’s, a player that would slot perfectly into our formation, a player that would not need time to settle into the club, and finally, a player that would probably be favourable to Claude Puel given his nationality. I genuinely believe that we could tempt Morgan to come home, offering the push towards European football that he so desired and a good contract at a club that he is very fond of. However, it’s undeniable that Manchester United would want to recoup a large proportion of the £25m+ they paid for him.

Those are my thoughts on the three areas where Southampton need to strengthen, and I believe that getting those three players along with some other additions for squad depth and hopefully more youth promotion, Saints could continue to push on and cement a Europa League place in the Premier League. There have been rumours of takeover bids at the club in recent weeks too, so maybe our money concerns will be put to rest and we could finally financially compete with the next tier of Premier League sides.

An analysis of Southampton’s attacking flair over the years

Despite the fact that Southampton FC have only been back in the Premier League for four years, we as fans have seen a number of “exoduses” – as the media would label them – and an influx of new players every Summer. We have lost players in every position and consequently, we have been forced into rebuilding in every position; in some cases we have recruited younger, more talented players at a cheaper price, but there have also been some players who have not lived up to expectation, despite the club’s continued progress and development.

However, I would like to focus on the role of the attacking midfielder at Southampton Football Club. In the last month, Saints have broken their record club transfer fee with the signing of Sofiane Boufal for a reported £16million from LOSC Lille, a player who entices the St Mary’s faithful greatly. We have also this week been linked with Hatem Ben Arfa, who has just signed for Paris Saint-Germain. In my opinion, however, this is simply lazy journalism from several media outlets; Puel was praised with saving HBA’s career and HBA has fallen out with Unai Emery, so putting those two together makes for an easy story. Finally this week, young Jake Hesketh put in a stellar performance against Crystal Palace in the EFL cup, coming in for Tadić in the number 10 role, he made some fantastic passes and even scored a well-taken goal. Now with all of these players, rumours, performances and most importantly, our emphasis on a narrow system with the number 10 being the main creative outlet, I wanted to discuss the role of the attacking midfielder at Southampton FC since our return to the Premier League.

The first and probably most controversial of these players would be Adam Lallana; a fan favourite for many years whose reputation was tarnished after leaving to Liverpool. Despite the fact that many Saints fans will still despise Lallana for the way he left, none can deny his quality and malleability. He can play on both wings, behind the striker and can play in almost any tactical system.

Jurgen Klopp seems to have him down as one of the first names on his Liverpool team-sheet every weekend too; Lallana always creates chances and even scores a few goals, despite the fact that he is competing with other brilliant players in Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mané. The way in which Lallana dribbles with the ball makes up for his lack of pace that so many other wingers/attacking midfielders rely on, and the way he can pick out a pass means he is far more reliable than other players with whom he has had to compete against. However, whether Lallana would work in Saints’ current system is not 100% certain; Puel forces the strikers out wide, with the false-9 pressing centrally when Southampton lose the ball, therefore pressing the fullbacks and centre-backs simultaneously. In addition, Lallana has a tendency to push out wide to look for space rather than play more narrowly, which is where Puel wants his attacking midfielder. I have no doubts over Lallana’s quality, but he is very different to other players who would fit in more comfortably under Puel, and others who would have been the focal point of Koeman’s system.

Secondly, we have Dušan Tadić; a player of great quality who was brought in to replace Lallana himself. His crossing and passing are second to none, with the third most assists by any player in the past two Premier League seasons combined. His ability to beat a man with his dribbling and skill is fantastic to watch, despite his lack of pace that, again, most wingers and attacking midfielders rely on. Tadić has become a fan favourite due to his ability to flourish in every system he has played in; this includes the 4-3-3 under Koeman, the 5-2-1-2 which Koeman used during a slump in his reign as Saints manager, the 442 diamond, and finally, in Puel’s new system, where he plays a very similar role to that which he played in the short-lived wing-backs formation under Koeman. However, Tadić does have the tendency to drift out wide instead of staying in the centre.  He doesn’t seem to be as comfortable pressing up the pitch, as he only wants to attack and create, but he still has great ability to drop into pockets of space between the lines, which many players would miss. His vision and footballing brain are what separates him from other stereotypical wingers or attacking midfielders, and it is also the reason that I think he is a better player than Lallana, with his stunning deliveries from set-pieces allowing more threats from free-kicks and corners. I, as a Saints fan, am very excited to see how Tadić grows this season as the main outlet of creativity, as I hope his fluid style and flair shine through, whilst also learning how to move into that pressing false-9 role when on the defence. This could be a career-defining season for Tadić, as he looks to become the complete trequartista that can bring deeper-lying players into the game, score goals and make fantastic runs, rather than just being another Premier League playmaker.

Thirdly, we have one of the brightest young talents in European football at the moment; Sadio Mané. Despite only playing for Southampton for two seasons, Mané proved himself time and time again as an explosive threat, who can provide pace down the wing, yet still play down the middle as a second striker.

He has all the makings of a brilliant premier league player; his dribbling is incredible and he is one of the quickest players in the league, but under a manager such as Jurgen Klopp, I believe that he can fine tune the things that are holding him back from reaching the same level as the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Eden Hazard; his finishing and his passing.

His movement, however, is up there with the best in the Premier League and I am intrigued to see how he develops in the coming seasons, as Mané could provide the injection of pace and the spark that Liverpool have been missing – this could potentially allow them to truly challenge for the Champions League. However, it almost seemed as though he needed the team to revolve around him, rather than every player fluidly working and communicating together to ensure that the team’s system became the priority. This is what Puel, and many other managers want in from their players, which is why the loss of Mané may not be as hard-felt as many Saints fans want to believe.  However, with that said, Puel is credited with bringing Hatem Ben Arfa’s career back from the dead; a man who believed that he was bigger than every team he played for, who wanted the system to play for him rather than vice-versa. In this regard, I would have loved to see Mané play under Puel, to see how the aforementioned Senegalese winger developed even further at St. Mary’s.

Finally, we have Sofiane Boufal – Southampton’s brand new £16million club record signing, who has come into the club off the back of a fantastic season with LOSC Lille. Of which he scored 11 goals in 29 league games in Ligue 1 from left wing. He has already been likened to Eden Hazard, Riyad Mahrez and Dimitri Payet, comparisons which are going to make Saints fans believe that he can be the “new Sadio Mané”. But with regards to Boufal’s qualities and nuances; I would never claim to be a connoisseur of French league football, as it is a league that has not interested me as much as the likes of La Liga or the Premier League. With that said, I have read about Boufal since his arrival at Southampton; he seems to be a left winger who loves to cut inside onto his favoured right foot, constantly wanting to shoot or create chances for his team. It seems that he possesses the dribbling, skills and pace that can fill the gap that Mané has left. He will look to play directly on the left wing with the intention to dictate play in the way that Hazard so often does, whilst also holding the skill set to cut inside and score.

Although, I am very intrigued to see how he fits into Puel’s narrow system; Redmond has made the conversion to a striker, Tadić has become our star central attacking midfielder and all of the strikers are learning to drift wide without the ball, so as to suffocate the possibilities of the opposition playing out from the back. Yet Boufal has been known to play as a left winger, so, in this case I am really interested to see if Puel decides to play him as our main Number 10 (even with Tadić playing well and Hesketh wanting to breakthrough) or if he is one of the two strikers who drifts out wide during the game, as he is already used to.

Quite simply, “Attacking midfielder” is far too broad of a term nowadays, as there are so many intricacies when it comes to each player. Some are strictly wingers who look to break away and win games with their crosses, and some are inside forwards who wish to cut inside and win a game all on their own by scoring after a fantastic run into the box.

Dušan Tadić will be extremely important for Southampton FC this season as they look to use the narrow system to penetrate teams under Claude Puel; I’m hoping that Tadić himself becomes a complete trequartista, who is able to dictate the tempo of a game, make passes that others would not even see, and to even make runs and score solo goals – something that his game is currently lacking. I firmly believe that Tadić will be able to take the bull by the horns and fine tune his game to become the style of player that Saints need him to be, in the puppet-master role as Kevin De Bruyne has done for Manchester City.

I am also very confident that Sofiane Boufal will hit the ground running, as Sadio Mané did before him, due to the fact that the club place a lot of emphasis on flourishing talents from not just England, but from all over the world. We as Saints fans hope that he can be the new Riyad Mahrez or Dimitri Payet, pulling defences apart on both flanks whilst allowing his central teammates to make shadowing runs and also to create from the centre too. Should these players live up to expectation, Southampton again are in for another fantastic season. to implement our brilliant academy graduates too. 

Once again though, Southampton FC have a good mix of quality and depth allowing for competition in all of the attacking midfield positions. There is pace and power, skill and dribbling, and also distinct passing and crossing ability, in addition, Southampton also have the possibility to turn to their brilliant academy. Bear in mind that others in the U23s and U18s will be looking to push on under a manager who favours young players too. Saints fans will be more than pleased come May, as I expect attractive, fluid and dominant football with lots of ball possession – which is what fans truly want to see at their football club.