Ralph Hasenhuttl has been at the Southampton helm for over three months and the signs are suggesting ‘The Southampton Way’ is returning.
When you think of ‘The Southampton Way’ you see a strategy that consists of promoting youth team players and developing transfer window buys whilst producing an exciting brand of football. It’s safe to say Hasenhuttl has invested into this.
During and after Ronald Koeman’s time at the club, it appeared that the production line of hungry talented youngsters had stopped as the chances and trust in our academy players seemingly vanished.
Regardless of targets, whether it be European qualification or relegation survival, in recent times Southampton needed quick and immediate success and couldn’t afford the time it would take to develop our future stars.
However, since the Austrian replaced Mark Hughes at St Mary’s, we have seen first team debuts handed to Callum Slattery, Tyreke Johnson, Kayne Ramsay and Marcus Barnes; despite Saints being in a relegation battle.
This not only shows the faith Hasenhuttl has in his own ability; but the faith he has in the ability of our academy.
Not only have we seen academy prospects make their debuts, we’ve seen more established academy players play prominent roles in our upturn in form.
Through a combination of poor managerial appointments and a lack of opportunity, many thought James Ward-Prowse’s days were numbered at Southampton. However, since the Austrian’s arrival, Ward-Prowse has arguably been in the form of his career; scoring six goals in nine league games.
Eyebrows raised when Hasenhuttl allowed Cedric Soares to join Inter Milan on loan in January; leaving Southampton with the in-experienced Yan Valery and Kayne Ramsay as our options at right-back.
However, in the weeks that have followed, Valery has proven Hasenhuttl right with performances that have shown promise and ability. A goal-of-the-season contender against Manchester United and a crucial equaliser against Tottenham Hotspur has shown his growth in quality and confidence.
Time will tell if the decision not to buy any players in the January transfer window will prove to be a hindrance but the names we were linked with may suggest a shift in transfer policy from the club.
Saints were actively pursuing Birmingham City’s Che Adams who has scored 21 goals and registered three assists so far this season in the Championship. A deal never materialised on deadline day as Gary Monk kept hold of his star striker.
Alongside Adams, we were linked with Brentford pair Ollie Watkins and Chris Mepham and Genk’s Joakim Maelhe.
With Watkins being the oldest out of these players, 23, this suggests the club will actively pursue younger players from the UK; especially as the signings of Nathan Redmond and Stuart Armstrong have proved to be more successful than the signings of Mohamed Elyounoussi and Sofiane Boufal.
Apart from Koeman’s successful appointment at the club, the appointments of Claude Puel, Mauricio Pellegrino and Mark Hughes had taken us from sixth place in the Premier League to 17th. The board knew this was their last roll of the dice to keep us in the division and to reconnect and reignite fans’ interest.
By appointing a manager who only achieved fewer points than Bayern Munich across the past two Bundesliga seasons, it felt like a move the club would have made under the stewardship of former chairman, Nicola Cortese.
Despite question marks over Gao Jisheng’s ownership of the club, it finally feels like we’re moving in the right direction and instead of turning up at St Mary’s feeling uninterested, excitement is beginning to build.
The atmosphere inside the ground and around the club has changed significantly; with both fans and players sparking reactions from one another.
After seeing Mauricio Pochettino and Koeman depart St Mary’s following success at Southampton; we know Hasenhuttl won’t be here forever. But after seeing he foundations he’s beginning to lay already; I’m much more optimistic about our future.