After eight long months of turgid football, abysmal results and mindless team-selections, Mauricio Pellegrino has at last been relieved of his duties as Southampton manager.
But whilst the Southampton fanbase feel that their chances of survival have been given somewhat of a boost, the small matter of identifying the man who should steer us clear of relegation remains.
If reports from the Telegraph’s Jeremy Wilson are to be believed, then it seems that Mark Hughes is set to become that man. The report claims that the former Stoke boss has been offered a contract until the end of the season, before any long-term decisions will be made on Pellegrino’s replacement.
My initial thoughts on this potential deal were that of disappointment and a distinct lack of inspiration. Going from Europa League football to chasing Mark Hughes in a relegation battle over the space of two years is a frightening thought.
It’s understandable for many Southampton fans to feel that they deserve more. That we’re better than this.
But the sad reality at this moment in time is that we’re not. Our recent history and current crop of players may be stronger than those around us, but if we’re unable to communicate and work together as unit, then it all counts for nothing.
Those who still feel unsatisfied with the link to Hughes have blasted the direction of the club, demanding a ‘modern manager’ who fits in with our so-called philosophy to take the reigns. But what promising and forward thinking tactician would ever think of coming to Southampton in these current circumstances?
Southampton’s most successful managers in recent years (Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman) would have turned their noses up at the club if the board approached them in such a high-risk situation.
As for as I’m concerned with our next manager, we can forget about long-term planning, youth development and whether they’ve got a history of taking their previous club to the next level (Europe). The bottom line is that if we don’t nail this next managerial appointment, there’s simply no Premier League future to plan for.
The reality is that we’ve got eight games remaining to claw our way back to safety, with numerous sides around us gaining momentum as each game week passes.
Southampton’s only aim at this moment in time should be finding someone who’s capable of inspiring a depleted squad. Someone who can quickly install confidence, implement an identity and command respect; three things that Pellegrino failed drastically at achieving.
Hughes is no revelation. We won’t be playing the expansive fast-paced football that many Southampton fans so desperately desire – let’s get that out the way. But knowing that Hughes has only got eight games to make an instant impact on our side, I’ll be willing to guarantee that he simply won’t allow a repeat of last Saturday’s performance.
He’s been known over his previous tenures for adding a gritty, physical and aggressive style to his sides. Something which in fairness, we’ve severely lacked since Koeman’s departure in 2016. We’ve been all too nice for far too long now – in the physical sense and in front of the opposition’s goal.
He’s also always looked to form a physical partnership at the heart of his midfield, which could be good news for Oriol Romeu and Mario Lemina, in addition to welcoming attacking flair in wide areas. Nathan Redmond and Sofiane Boufal are desperately in need of a manager that understands and appreciates their qualities.
Many have jumped at the chance to criticise Hughes for his collapse with Stoke City earlier this season, and that’s certainly a worry to consider. But they conveniently chose to ignore the fact that he inherited an anti-football Tony Pulis side, and helped them on their way to three consecutive finishes in the top half of the table. All whilst showcasing the best football they’ve played since their return to the Premier League in 2007.
So why have a number of fans shown so much resent to the idea of recruiting Hughes?
In my mind, fans are fearful of what such an appointment means for the club. That by recruiting Hughes, we’ve become just another Premier League side that fails to think for themselves.
Over the last five years, we’ve taken pride in the fact that we innovate and continue to buck the trend by way of player and manager recruitment. Since 2014 we’ve served as a model club for those in the Championship and those facing relegation.
But those players, leaders and managers that helped to form that reputation are no longer here. It’s time for us to come to terms with the fact that we’re no longer that same side.
Now by no means am I suggesting that we stop innovating and trying to push the boundaries of what’s possible as a mid-table side. Far from it. But what I am suggesting is that now is not the time to roll the dice in a bid to rediscover ourselves.
We’re in grave danger. Crystal Palace and Stoke City remain just one point below us in the relegation zone, whilst Swansea City who were once considered down and out, now sit three points above.
I’m willing to welcome the physical, gritty and no-nonsense approach that Hughes offers, solely because this current Southampton side are in a downward spiral that’s shown few signs of slowing down. Let alone stopping.
When the players have talked about finishing this current season in the top half of the table we’ve criticised them for being naive. For thinking too far ahead while danger continues to stare them in the face.
So let’s not be naive enough to talk about the long-term future with regards to Southampton’s next managerial appointment.
Until we book our place in the Premier League for the 2018/19 season, putting points on the board must remain our only focus.