When the early sale of Virgil Van Dijk went through, fans initially took comfort in the fact that we’d have £75M to correct and amend the issues within the squad. Yet here we are on the other side of the window with a team that’s arguably weaker than before.
First and foremost, however, it must be said that this squad shouldn’t have ever needed investment for the reasons that currently stand – to avoid relegation. There are certainly areas of weakness within the squad and a number of players in the market that could have provided qualities we simply don’t possess, but this investment should have been made for ambitions of Europa League football. Not as something to mask Mauricio Pellegrino’s managerial incompetence.
The Argentinian has failed to implement any recognisable style of play, develop and nurture any individual, or even fit into the ethos of the club. We appear destined for the Championship under the guidance of Branfoot 2.0, but in the form of some news signings, fans were hopeful that the Saints could be given a much-needed boost, with new life, ideas and options added to the squad.
So where did we go wrong? And what positives can we take from this window, if any?
The subject of Van Dijk’s departure seems like a suitable place to begin, given that’s how we kicked off the January Transfer window before it had even started. Outsiders looking in may lazily say that this is just another example of Southampton selling their best players, but I strongly believe we handled this saga incredibly well.
After standing strong in the summer – as so many fans, pundits and ex-pro’s have demanded – we hoped that his mind would once again be focused on Southampton, ready to earn his ‘big club’ move the following season. But this simply wasn’t the case.
Despite holding the armband and therefore being a role model to many within the club, Van Dijk threw his toys out the pram and downed tools for his ‘dream move’. I’ll be the first to admit that he’s without a doubt world class quality, but when that comes at the cost of damaging the dressing room and undermining the club, action has to be taken.
Out of fear that our transfer window would fast become the latest episode of the VVD saga, we waved goodbye to the Dutchman for the small price of £75M – a world record transfer fee for a defender.
Southampton finally had a clean slate to work from; the ‘dark cloud had passed’, we had £75M in the bank and 31 days to conduct our business. Any side outside the top six would bite your hand off for such a platform to work from. Yet somehow, we’ve managed to fall flat on our face with our pockets loaded and our Premier League status in serious jeopardy.
Southampton have been widely criticised for continually selling their finest assets over the years, but one thing that they can’t be knocked for is their ability to replace them.
Remarkably in this window, however, Southampton only wished to play their part in the first half of this often effective, yet painful cycle. Despite selling our best defender (and arguably best player) we simply opted to stand still in the market and come to the conclusion that no replacement was needed.
The excuse from the board will no doubt be that they wished to hand the vacancy to Jack Stephens, a product of the Southampton academy since the age of 17. But I can’t help but feel this is a cop-out of spending another £15M-£20M.
I’m a massive fan of Stephens and think that he has a serious future in red and white – he’s calculated in his tackling, an incredible carrier of the ball and more than capable of operating as a ball-playing defender. His inability to dominate in the air is just about his only clear weakness at this moment in time.
But compare the partnership of Stephens and Wesley Hoedt to our defensive partnerships of the past and it’s a clear downgrade. I refuse to believe that the addition of a new centre-back would block the pathway for Stephens either. Instead, we’d have heightened competition and some extremely useful options in the common eventuality of injuries, bad form or suspension. Not to mention rotation.
Failing to replace your best player must always be considered a failure in the transfer window – it doesn’t take a genius to work that one out. Which brings us on to the topic of Spartak Moscow’s Quincy Promes – a player that I would have considered to be Sadio Mane’s long overdue replacement.
Over 18 months on from selling Mane and I’ve once again been left in disbelief that we’re yet to add a second recognisable goalscorer to our starting XI. It’s despicable that we talk about ambitions of Europa League football, yet on the pitch at any time, we only have one player that’s capable of 10+ goals per season.
Pellegrino’s negative tactics have no doubt played a vital part in hindering the development of numerous attackers, but nevertheless, our squad’s been screaming out for a winger that’s able to take up the responsibility of hitting 10+ a season. Someone that can partner our striker in the final third. Someone with a proven record of finding the back of the net.
Dusan Tadic is there for eye of the needle passes, Sofiane Boufal’s there to operate between the lines and bring the magic, while Nathan Redmond should be used as an impact sub to stretch our play. We shouldn’t be placing such high goalscoring responsibilities on these players, who’ve simply never taken up such roles before. It isn’t and hasn’t ever been their game, and it’s harming them in return.
I want them to be able to focus on what they do best; stretching play, beating their man and threading passes. I think the board bit off more than they could chew in terms of thinking they could develop Boufal and Redmond into goal machines.
In the form of Promes, however, we’d have had someone who’s more than capable of playing in such a role. It’s safe to say that in recent years Promes has consistently produced in the final third, registering 13, 18, 12 and 15 goals in each of his last four seasons. Totalling 53 goals in 101 for Spartak.
From the outside looking in he appears to be perfect for Southampton’s current shortcomings; he’d act as our second biggest goal threat, add some much-needed pace close to our lone striker and add a direct style of play to our frontline.
I’m well aware that his £30M valuation made this transfer a nightmare to get over the line, as well as Spartak’s need for a replacement, but if the club were aware of this from the start, why did they place all their eggs in one basket? Especially just a few days before the transfer window ended…
It’s not all doom and gloom though. If Pellegrino does stay on until the end of the season, as many are currently fearing, the addition of Guido Carrillo to our frontline will hopefully suit the Argentinian’s more physical demands of a centre-forward. He stands at 6ft 3, is a proven threat in aerial duels and has become known for his effective flick-ons during his time at Monaco. If we manage to utilise our new number nine in the same way as Charlie Austin earlier in the season, then it’s certainly a welcome addition to our squad.
Pellegrino’s football may have failed to convince the vast majority of the Southampton fanbase, but if the board really do believe that he’s the man to keep us up, at least he’s being given the tools that he wants for the job.
One can only hope that this spells the end of Shane Long’s days as a lone forward.
This January window was arguably Southampton’s most important since returning to the Premier League – we currently reside in 18th place with teams around us starting to strengthen with managerial changes and new signings. There’s simply no denying that the club have fallen short of fans expectations, both on and off the field.
I’ll continue to back the Saints each and every week as I always do, but at a time when our manager continues to be mindlessly backed as each horrific gameweek passes, this transfer window was an opportunity missed for the higher forces to show the fans that they still see eye-to-eye.