Transfers

Charlie Austin’s fitness will be key in our upcoming season

Many Southampton fans are unhappy with how the 2016-17 season turned out, but should they be? There were many clubs that performed below par last season, and none more so than the former Champions Leicester City. Other teams like Manchester City, Stoke City and West Ham will all be looking for a big improvement on last term too. 

Southampton manager Claude Puel has come under criticism, but it’s kind of weird how a successful season comes back to haunt a club. Southampton came 6th in the league in the 2015-16 season and finished on 63pts. In the major football betting markets last season, the betting firms were clearly not fancying the Saints to repeat that. The problem that Claude Puel faced was twofold.

Had the Saints Peaked?

The fact is that Southampton are not a “top six” club despite coming 6th in the 2015-16 season. Their financial resources are far behind the traditional big six in England, so it was always going to be difficult for the Saints to replicate their previous form. Secondly (and something that went largely unnoticed) every single team in the top six finished last season with more points than the previous season.

This acted like a syphon on the rest of the division and led to many clubs being compressed in terms of points totals. An absolutely staggering 94pts more were earned by the top six clubs in the 2016-17 season, than in the previous year. This is a factor that must be taken into consideration when we look to assess Puel’s first season in the top flight of English football.

Southampton Faded

Many Saints fans were unhappy at how they finished the campaign, but they were not the only club to tail off towards the end. Southampton finished the season winning only two form their final nine, and it’s safe to say that such form is worrying for onlooking fans. However, there are a number of key factors that would have no doubt played their part in this poor run.

The shoulder injury to Charlie Austin was a big loss to the Saints, having fired in six goals in just thirteen appearances wearing the red and white stripes. A big negative for the Southampton fans over the 2016/17 season was their lack of goals overall, and this is an area that Puel (if he stays beyond this season) needs to correct.

Austin finished the season as the clubs highest scorer, and that is staggering considering he spent five months out injured. It’s clear that the Southampton fans expect greater contributions from players such as Shane Long, Jay Rodriguez and even Manolo Gabbiadini to some extent.

Long is a hit and miss striker and his stats are there back that up. Just 18 goals from 89 appearances won’t give opposing defenders sleepless nights before a game. As for Rodriguez, there are glimpses of his former self as games go by, but to tell the truth, he’s never been the same since that injury in 2014.

Gabbiadini arrived in the January transfer window from Napoli, where he scored 15 goals from 56 games, and a grand total of 42 goals during the entirety of his time in Italy. He kicked off life on South coast in immense form, scoring six from his first four appearances, but then ended the season on that same tally.

Do the Saints have the quality they need?

The fact is that Southampton clearly cannot go out and buy the top quality strikers like other clubs can. They need to stumble on a new “wonder kid” or another gem using their black box method to recruitment, and whilst the jury is still very much out on just how good Gabbiadini is, fans will want to see a greater involvement from the Italian come next season.

This makes Charlie Austin key to their chances of a successful year in the 2017-18 season. Austin has scored 93 goals in 183 games for Burnley, QPR and Southampton, and that goal every other game strike rate is exactly what the Saints need. They can’t just go into next season relying on Austin though, and they need better back up beyond Gabbiadini. Is it time for both Long and Rodriguez to move on?

Free-flowing attacking football has been engraved into the DNA of Southampton Football Club in recent years, and in order for fans to look back on the 2016-17 season as a strong building block, that needs to be corrected; I’m certain that Charlie Austin will play a vital role in doing so. 

Saint-Etienne optimistic in acquiring Claude Puel

Ligue 1 outfit Saint-Etienne remain confident in securing Claude Puel this summer, but only in the event of Southampton dismissing the Frenchman.

The latest update regarding Puel’s current situation on the south coast was reported by France Bleu, who claim that whilst Puel hasn’t been in touch with Saint Etienne personally, his lawyer has been acting on his behalf.

With thanks to Patrick Kendrick’s translation, we are able to bring you the details of this France Bleu report.

The article states that Puel rejected an offer to take over from Christophe Galtier just two weeks ago, but Saint Etienne are now preparing a revised offer; it’s been said that Puel is far more interested to hear what Les Verts will offer this time round.

On top of potentially receiving a salary in the region of €3.7 million a year, the former Nice boss will also have the luxury of being nearer the south of France – a destination that he loves to visit during his time off.

Not to mention that Saint-Etienne themselves are willing to embrace new ways of playing, allowing Puel to take over a similar project to that of his time at Lille and Nice.

The only reported stumbling block between the two parties appears to lie with Puel, who wishes to take over control of all aspects at the club whilst in charge. If Puel becomes available, then Saint-Etienne will have to budge if they want to secure their top target.

From the outside looking in, this looks to be a far more comfortable proposition for Puel, who in truth, has had a torrid time in winning over the Southampton fans and adapting to the Premier League.

The bottom line however is that with Puel unlikely to leave of his own accord, any chance of a shuffle in management this summer starts and stops with the Southampton board.

Over to you, Les.

 

Southampton offered cash and Christensen for Van Dijk

Surprise surprise, we’re here again. According to an exclusive from The Sun, Chelsea currently lead the race for Virgil Van Dijk this summer, having blown away Arsenal’s offer of £150,000 a week.

Whilst Southampton are obviously reluctant to sell Van Dijk, the game-changing aspect of the offer is the fact that Andreas Christensen is also included in the deal.

Christensen spent the majority of his youth career at Danish outfit Brondby FC, before being snapped up by Chelsea at just 16-years-old. From here, he worked his way up through the academy and after two years of fighting for a chance in the first team, it arrived at the age of 18-years-old. The Dane then went on to feature once again in the League Cup, before making his first Premier League appearance on the 24th of May 2015 – just like many other Chelsea youngsters though, the opportunities stopped here.

This prompted both Chelsea and Christensen to look for game-time through a loan move, and in the form of Borussia Monchengladbach, Christensen has found exactly that. Two seasons and 76 first team appearances later, and Christensen has proved to be a stellar piece of business for the Bundesliga side.

During his two seasons with the club, Christensen has placed himself at the heart of the Gladbach defence, showing himself to be an extremely intelligent defender, who is more than capable with the ball at his feet. Quick concise passes around the defence and midfield are a regular feature of Christensen’s play, as he aims to push the team further up the field.

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Christensen is also extremely aware of his surroundings, and whilst there is still some work to do with the clumsiness of his close quarters tackling, time is on his side at just 21-years-old.

All in all, I have to say that if Southampton do go through the heartbreak of losing Van Dijk this summer, a cash plus Christensen deal would certainly soften the blow. Not only does the player suit Southampton’s style of play, but his age also helps him to be a suitable signing and a valuable asset.

It’s worth noting that we are approaching the summer transfer window, however, so with papers needing to be sold and articles hunting for clicks, it’s always worth taking each rumour with a pinch of salt. Southampton were linked with Nathan Ake and Christopher Jullien only earlier this week.

Whilst the potential acquisition of Christensen excites me, this certainly isn’t the first time that I’ve heard a report like this, and I’m certain that it won’t be the last.

Christopher Jullien joins Southampton’s centre-back shortlist

According to the Sun, Southampton are watching over Toulouse defender, Christopher Jullien, as a potential target for this summer transfer window.

Standing at 6 ft 4 inches, the 24-year-old plys his trade in Ligue 1, and has built up a reputation this season as a reliable and commanding centre back.

Despite this being the Frenchman’s first year in the top flight of his home country, he has missed just three game this season, featuring in 31 League fixtures – this has helped Toulouse climb up to 11th place in the table with four games still to play.

This season has been somewhat of a breakthrough year for Jullien, who prior to becoming a dependable first choice Ligue 1 centre-back, has been playing at a much lower standard.

Jullien started his senior career with Auxerre in Ligue 2, having fought his way into the first team through the academy. But after just two years with the club, the Frenchman was snapped up by Bundesliga side FC Freiburg on a free transfer. He failed to make an impact with the first team however, and went on to play 49 games for the second team, before being loaned to Ligue 2 side Dijon for the 2015-16 season. It was here that Jullien truly started to impress, and as a result, Toulouse offered him a four-year-deal in the top flight at the end of the season.

Unsurprisingly given his size, Jullien takes up a physical and combative approach to defending, often showing his greatest strengths through set pieces and aerial duels.

Jullien has also been known for his no-nonsense style of defending, showing no hesitation in clearing the ball at any cost, and having the ability to instigate attacks with long balls up to the forwards.

Jullien isn’t just effective in his own box either, as he’s managed to conjure up an impressive five goals in all competitions this season too – the same tally as both Jay Rodriguez and Shane Long!

But whilst many many be hoping that this transfer would be a nice ‘addition’ to the squad, the report states that Jullien would be signed as a replacement for Virgil Van Dijk. And whilst this may well prove to be typical gutter journalism to simply generate more clicks, my opinion of such as a transfer strategy remains unchanged; any centre-back shipped in this summer should be there to join Van Dijk, not replace him.

Southampton keeping close watch on Nathan Ake

With Virgil Van Dijk expected to be a wanted man this summer, it’s been reported that Southampton have their eyes on Chelsea’s Nathan Ake as a potential replacement.

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

Southampton Football Club aren’t expected to be alone in their pursuit of the 22-year-old however, with both The Telegraph and the Metro stating that AFC Bournemouth will also join the race for the Dutchman.

Ake’s 2016/17 season got off to a frustrating start, with his loan move at The Cherrie’s providing few first team opportunities for development – in fact, Ake failed to start in any of Bournemouth’s opening 11 League fixtures.

But with the AFC Bournemouth defence continuing to leak goals and results showing no sign of improving, Ake was called into the starting XI, and from here, their fortunes instantly changed.

Eddie Howe’s side were once again capable of playing their free-flowing football, with Ake operating as the main ball player in the back line. Better yet, results were on the up too, with wins over Stoke, Liverpool, Swansea, and Leicester, coming in quick succession.

Sadly however, just days after a thrilling 3-3 draw against Arsenal, Ake’s loan was cut short in the January transfer window, and since then, his season has come crashing down.

In the space of just a few months, Ake has gone from starting Premier League games week in week out, to becoming a third choice centre back that is yet to feature in a single minute of Premier League action. It’s safe to say that this career decision hasn’t gone to plan for Ake, and if this continues, he will surely be left with no other option but to seriously consider his future this summer.

If reports are to be believed and Ake is available this summer, then I personally would love to see Southampton make a move for the versatile defender. Not only is he strong in the tackle and mature beyond his years, but he also possesses great technical qualities that would allow him to fit seamlessly into Southampton’s back four.

When you consider that the Dutchman boasts undeniable technical ability and is also left footed, it’s worth noting that Ake could prove to be an extremely valuable asset with the recent trend of five at the back defensive systems. If Ake can reach his promised potential, then Southampton could certainly command a monstrous fee in a number of years.

One problem I hold over these reports though, is the suggestion that Ake would be Van Dijk’s replacement – let’s not forget that in January, Southampton sold club captain Jose Fonte, and failed to find a replacement. If Ake is shipped in this summer, then I would wish to see him line up alongside his fellow Dutchman come the start of the 2017/18 season.

Southampton youngster Gallagher in high demand

According to the express, Sam Gallagher will prove to be a wanted man this summer, with Aston Villa reportedly interested in lodging a £3m bid.

Steve Bruce won’t be short of competition for Gallagher’s signature however, with Sunderland, Sheffield United, and Cardiff also rumoured to be in the race to sign the 21-year-old.

Gallagher has been in fine form so far this season, netting 10 goals in 35 Championship appearances, placing a number of experienced players out of the the Rovers starting XI.

This goal record is made all the more impressive when you consider that this is only Gallagher’s second pop at the Championship, and he’s doing so in a relegation dog fight. Many would suggest that in such a situation, experienced players are the ones you should turn to, but Gallagher is certainly proving to be an exception.

During a recent interview with Rovers playerHD, Rovers boss Tony Mowbray heaped praise upon the young talisman’s performances in blue and white. 

“The supporters won’t necessarily know his personality but he looks you right in the eye and he wants to work hard, he wants to be a better footballer, he wants to listen and try and improve every day.

“They are fantastic qualities for a young guy to have really, he knows he’s not the finished article, he’s not sure about when to play deep away from defenders, when to use his physicality up against them, and when to use his speed.

He’s got some fantastic attributes that are going to make him a hell of a footballer in a few years time. A guy who can do everything, out-strength you, out-run you. Hopefully he can become cleverer with his movement, he is going to be some player.”

Mowbray even went on to praise Southampton’s handling of the youngster, stating “I think his club have done right in letting him go and play games, otherwise the development is not as fast in the Under-23 league. So we are delighted we’ve got him.”

The bottom line however, is that Gallagher is obviously still a Southampton player, and therefore, there is a big decision to be made this summer.

Southampton Football Club prides itself on it’s youth development, and if they had their own way, then Gallagher would of course be successfully eased into the first team. But Gallagher can only be as good as the opportunities handed to him, and with a current frontline of Manolo Gabbiadini, Shane Long, Jay Rodriguez, and Charlie Austin, opportunities would certainly be arriving at a premium.

It’s also worth considering the fact that Gallagher has thrived upon regular competitive football, which is something that he is highly unlikely to receive at Southampton. Returning to his parent club may in fact stunt his development.

On top of this, with Claude Puel’s need for a more technically able striker in the side, Ryan Seager may well be the preferred option in Southampton’s current system.

When this summer arrives, I simply hope that Southampton can find the greatest path for Gallagher to continue his recent development – something I know that our club will whole heartedly be behind.

One lion in and one lion out?

We may have over three months until the summer transfer window officially opens, but rumours are already circulating regarding two England Internationals – one reportedly coming to St Mary’s, and the other departing.

According to numerous sources – including the Sun – Southampton are plotting a move for England’s number one, Joe Hart, in the event of Fraser Forster leaving the club this summer. And whilst this is a report that lacks little substance at the minute *cough* The Sun *cough*, It’s certainly an interesting topic to debate.

It goes without saying that over the course of the season so far, Forster has been far from impressive. In fact, I would go so far as to say that he’s been our most disappointing player over the 2016/17 campaign.

On multiple occasions this season Southampton have dominated the match, finally snatched their reward, and then just moments later, witnessed it crumble before their very eyes. Time and time again, Forster has failed to step up in those all important game-changing moments, and quite frankly, it’s cost us dearly this season.

With the acquisition of Hart however, I strongly believe that those problems would be no more. Since 2006, Hart has made 266 top flight appearances for Manchester City, proving himself to be one of the Premier League’s top keepers in recent years. He’s received two Premier League winners medals, has won the golden glove on four occasions, and has been voted into the PFA team of the season twice over. 

Admittedly, Hart has shown from time to time he is prone to a howler, and he did have a horror show during the Euros of 2016, but his countless game saving performances of the past can’t simply be forgotten. The 29-year-old has certainly bounced back to form with his loan move at Torino, too. 

On top of this, Hart has shown great professionalism during his saga with Pep Guardiola, and a quality such as this would certainly be welcome at Southampton.

It’s also worth noting that Dave Watson, Southampton’s goalkeeper coach, was part of the England staff from 2012 to 2016, so has personally worked with Hart over each International break. Such a figure could be helpful in recommending Hart to Claude Puel, whilst also recommending Southampton to Hart.  

At this moment in time, Forster boasts the lowest save percentage for any goalkeeper in the Premier League, and if this form continues, then we will be left with few other options than to sign a replacement this summer.

Between now and the end of the season, I would love nothing more than to see Forster once again strike confidence into the Southampton defence. But if this isn’t the case, how can we possibly be expected to not swoop for a player of Hart’s pedigree?

The ultimate 2012-17 Southampton XI

The good news is that the League Cup final is now less than two weeks away. The bad news however, is that Southampton don’t have another fixture until that season defining day. But with all this spare time until we travel to Wembley, it got me thinking about just how fortunate I’ve been to experience such a remarkable journey. From the dark depths of League One in 2009, up to the Premier League in 2012, qualification for the Europa League in 2015, and now, a League Cup final in 2017. When you take a step back and look at how far our club has come, it’s really quite remarkable.

So, in the spirit of enjoying the next chapter that Southampton FC holds for us, I decided to pick my ultimate Southampton XI since our return to the Premier League.

GK: Despite his recent slump in form, there is still no doubt in my mind that Fraser Forster deserves to stand between the sticks in my ultimate XI. Since signing in the summer of 2014, Forster has produced some sensational goalkeeping displays (much to the annoyance of every Arsenal fan), whilst also writing his name into the Southampton history books – totalling 708 Premier League minutes without conceding a goal. The 6ft 7in shot stopper has helped Southampton to better their highest ever PL finish twice over, and is it any wonder when he’s recorded 28 clean sheets in 73 Premier League appearances?

RB: Signed for just £2.15M ahead of our return to the Premier League in 2012, Nathaniel Clyne went on to not only help us steer clear of relegation, but also become a fully fledged England International. Blisteringly quick, dangerous on the overlap, and surprisingly strong in one-on-one defensive situations, Clyne takes the right back spot with ease.

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CB: Given that Virgil Van Dijk is arguably one of the most sought after defenders in European football at the minute, it will come as no surprise to you that he’s placed in this side. Not only is he an incredibly intelligent tackler, but he’s also capable of spraying 40-yard diagonals with ease, whilst possessing the strength to make Christian Benteke look like Nathan Dyer – as aerial threats go, there are few better in football than Van Dijk. If Southampton can retain the Dutchman this summer, he’s as big as any signing we could possibly ship in.

CB: We may have only been able to enjoy the services of Toby Alderweireld for a single season, but my god, what a player we had on our hands. Within just three performances in the red and white shirt, I remember turning to my Dad and simply asking, “How on earth have we got this man?”. Alderweireld boasts many similar qualities to Van Dijk, but perhaps what he loses in natural physical strength, he makes up for with his exceptional reading of the game. It’s for all to see that the Belgian International has received a footballing education at Ajax.

LB: When Southampton first signed Ryan Bertrand, it’s fair to say that there were doubters. Not only had Southampton just waved goodbye to Luke Shaw, but their replacement was a loan player who had failed to shine for Aston Villa in the season before. But over two and a half years later, Bertrand has arguably become one of Southampton’s most reliable performers, proving to be a true professional along the way too. He’s shown himself to be a capable player in all areas of the pitch, allowing us to play the positive and fluid football that us fans so desire. His fine form has even helped him regain a place in the National team.

DM: Ah, the one that got away. It may sound odd to others, but I’ve never known a player to grab the hearts of so many fans in the same way that Morgan Schneiderlin did. With the combination of his crunching tackles, the fact that he rose through the divisions with us, and never left the field without giving 100%, we all truly saw him as one of us. Over countless occasions we would witness Schneiderlin single handedly dominate the midfield, and still to this day, I’m gutted for him that his big move didn’t pay off. It would take one hell of a search to find a defensive midfielder as effective as Schneiderlin during his time at Southampton.  

DM: And here we have Schneiderlin’s partner in crime: Victor Wanyama. The Kenyan midfielder slotted in alongside Schneiderlin at the start of the 2013/14 season, and right from the off, we all knew what he was about. Wanyama may not be the most technical or aesthetically pleasing player, but over his three seasons at Southampton, he proved himself to be one of the Premier League’s finest in protecting the backline. How many other players can you name that have knocked Yaya Toure, Kouyate and Fellaini to the floor in a single season?

LW: When Adam Lallana departed for Liverpool, any football fan could see that Southampton had a colossal job of acquiring a suitable replacement; and in the form Dusan Tadic, Les Reed and co found just that. The Serbian International has been the creative Spark behind Southampton’s progression over the past two seasons, recording 21 assists in 81 Premier League appearances. Tadic’s greatest form for Southampton came with Graziano Pelle in the side, but with a new Italian in town – Manolo Gabbiadini – Tadic looks to have formed a new on the field bromance. When deployed as the main creative outlet for the side, Tadic is capable of tormenting any side with his defence splitting vision and deft execution.

AM: Given the manner of which he left the club, I was debating whether to select this man for my starting XI. However, I just can’t deny plain and simple talent once I’ve seen it with my eyes. Regardless of how you view Lallana for his actions, It’s undeniable that he was a sensational player for Southampton. He could play with either foot, was capable of leading the team as a captain, and had the ability to switch a game on it’s head with just a single touch. Not to forget the many Cruyff turns too…

RW: Southampton have had the joy of possessing some pacy players over the years to work the channels and overlap, but not a single player can match Sadio Mane for pace. When he first joined the club, he was used by Ronald Koeman to solely hunt for space and ask questions of the defence. But once he found his feet in the Premier League, he soon adapted into a controlled dribbler that was capable of finding the back of the net from the tightest of angles.  Since entering English football in late 2014, Mane has scored 32 times in just 89 Premier League appearances. Further testament to his talent is that Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool simply aren’t the same side without him, as their poor form in 2017 shows.

ST: To not place this man in my ultimate XI would be wrong on almost every account possible. Rickie Lambert is, and forever will be loved by each and every Southampton fan. From that first Premier League goal against Manchester City, right through to scoring in his last ever game in red and white against Manchester United, Lambert never once let us down. The man was a natural born goalscorer who certainly wasn’t short of technical ability for a big man, and his penalties weren’t half bad either. It’s fairly safe to say that Rickie Lambert will never have to buy another pint in Southampton again.  

 

Martín Cáceres: what do we know?

Despite finishing the transfer window with a Jose Fonte shaped gap in the heart of their defence, it seems that Southampton have finally found their man.

According to numerous sources, Southampton have scoured the free agent market and believe that former Barcelona and Juventus defender, Martín Cáceres, could be the answer to their problems.

Jeremy Wilson of the Telegraph – a reputable source for Southampton news – has claimed that Cáceres has already visited Staplewood for his medical, and with just a quick look on Instagram, Southampton fans will be delighted to see that Cáceres follows just one account: Southampton FC. The only remaining tasks now, involve the club waiting on a work permit, and according to Adam Blackmore, the finalisation of his weekly wage. The deal is yet to cross the line, but quite frankly, I’m delighted.

The reason being is that Southampton finished the January transfer window with a weaker defence than when the window opened; something that a successful and ambitious club should never allow to happen. But with the nearing acquisition of  Cáceres and a slice of injury-free luck, the Uruguayan International is more than capable of filling that gap. Here’s why…

When he’s on the pitch, Cáceres’ quality is evident. It’s why he spent many years with Juventus and why he’s been capped by Uruguay 68 times.

If you take a look at his career WhoScored numbers, Cáceres has averaged 2.0 tackles, 1.6 interceptions and 2.7 clearances per game, while giving up 0.7 fouls per game. Compare that to Jose Fonte, who averages 1.7 tackles, 2.3 interceptions and 0.8 fouls per game. Quite comparable, if you ask me.

But here’s the big difference: our ex-captain averages a whopping 6.8 clearances per game, however, much of this can be attributed to the teams of which these two footballers have played for. Cáceres has played for European giants Barcelona and Juventus, and is used to dominating possession. Fonte has simply had to do more defending during his time with Southampton, therefore, a higher number of clearances would be expected.

Despite his injury woes, Cáceres was able to draw attention from top clubs across Europe throughout his career, and much of that was due to the wonderful development of his passing.

Taking yet another look at his stats from WhoScored, the Uruguayan massively improved his passing accuracy, beginning at Juventus with just over a 77% completion rate and ending his last season with over 94%. That brings his career average to 84.5%. Virgil van Dijk has averaged 83.1% passing accuracy for a career, and he is often lauded for his capacity to pass out from the back.

What’s more, Cáceres improved his accuracy by nearly 20% while also showcasing a solid ability to hit the long ball, averaging up to 4.0 per game during one season in Italy. His long passes per game haven’t remained consistently high, but it shows he is a willing and capable passer, depending on how his team asks him to perform.

The final and most important thing that Cáceres can bring to Southampton is the experience that he has gained through winning major trophies across Europe.

He joined Barcelona in 2008, playing behind Rafael Marquez, Carlos Puyol and Gerard Pique – helping the Catalan side lift the Champion’s League trophy and complete the treble.

Cáceres then went on to have loan spells at Villareal and Juventus, but eventually wound up with the Italian giants on a permanent basis in 2012. He helped Juve go on to win five consecutive Serie A titles, as well as the Coppa Italia two times.

All things considered, we know that Martín Cáceres can bring several things to Southampton: talent, success and an elite club history (as well as a top-notch man-bun). And provided Southampton are capable of keeping Cáceres fit – a hurdle that in the past, he has struggled to avoid – then I am convinced that this deal has the potential to make amends for our nightmare of a January transfer window.

Backs to the wall

Within the space of a single week, Southampton FC have booked themselves a place in the League cup final and completed the biggest deadline day signing in the Premier League. Yet still, despite these undeniable positives, us Southampton fans were left feeling awfully frustrated as the transfer window slammed shut at 11:00 pm last night. A feeling that for the sake of our club’s success and progression, should have been avoided.

Coming into this January transfer window, our top priority was securing a forward; the fans could see it, Puel could see it, and now we just had to hope that the board could see it too. But on the 20th January, Southampton waved goodbye to Club Captain Jose Fonte, and consequently, handed themselves another priority in the market with just 11 days remaining.

Fonte clearly had his head turned after a remarkable Euro winning summer, and since joining back up with the Saints squad, he no longer seemed to be the same player; it was a sad choice to let him leave, but ultimately, it’s one I have to agree with. The club had dug themselves a hole by allowing Fonte to depart, but provided we filled that gap and acted instantly, I could just about bare losing the last remaining member of our Johnstone Paint Trophy winning side.

There was a part of me at the time that was worried we wouldn’t replace Fonte adequately, but I continued looking to the following quotes from Les Reed in faith of the opposite:

“He certainly won’t leave on the basis that he can just go. We would not consider releasing him unless there was a decent transfer fee, and secondly, that we were in a position to replace him.”

But as we now all now know, that replacement is nowhere to be seen.

In plain and simple black and white text, Southampton have finished the January transfer window with a weaker defence than when the window opened; something that a successful and ambitious club should never allow to happen.

In the modern age of football even standing still can be dangerous, let alone regressing.

First and foremost, we needed a new centre-back because of Fonte’s departure. Not only has he proved to be one of the Premier League’s most reliable defenders in recent years, but he is also a natural leader both on and off the field. Such personalities are hard to come by in football, and in my eyes, can’t be discarded without thoughtful and precise planning. Maya Yoshida has shown a remarkable rate of development under Claude Puel so far, but the Japanese International is certainly a downgrade. There is no two ways about it, a player of higher quality should have been recruited to rise above Yoshida in the pecking order.

Secondly, with Virgil Van Dijk putting in performances that could be expected from a ball-playing Barcelona defender, it’s perfectly reasonable to suggest that we could lose the Dutchman this summer. If that may prove to be the case, then Southampton will now be tasked with the challenge of building an entirely new centre-back partnership from scratch this summer. Pushing for a signing this January would have most certainly helped the transition if/when it occurs, as one of the defenders will be aware of his surroundings and demands at Southampton.

Finally, we have the simple fact that competition and depth will bring about the best results for any club. With Fonte now being a Hammer, we have seen that with just one simple injury to Van Dijk, Southampton’s defence has been stripped to its bare bones. And whilst I’m still all for players such as Jack Stephens earning their chances in the side, it shouldn’t have to happen out of desperation. Chances should be handed to less-experienced players in the right moment with the help of fellow experienced defenders around them (both on and off the pitch), and with the signing of another high-quality defender, Southampton would have been able to continue doing so in a controlled manner. 

In the same way that I have praised Reed for his astute business and calculated transfers over the years, I must now also criticise him here for damaging our resilient defence and failing to follow his word.