As we enter the busy Christmas period, it’s safe to say that Southampton’s season has been underwhelming so far. After our 3-0 defeat to Liverpool last week, there seems to have been a social media frenzy, with most of the fans singing the same tune; something needs to change.
Whether that be management or re-shaping the board, we know the way in which the club has been operating in the past two years isn’t working. On paper, Mauricio Pellegrino has had the easiest opening games of any Southampton manager since our promotion back to the Premier League; yet we find ourselves closer to the trap door than Europe’s elite. Who’s to blame? Is it the manager and his style of play?
Southampton have only scored nine goals in twelve Premier League matches so far this season and the Saints have the second worse shots to goals ratio in the league. There’s two ways we can examine this, firstly style of play and motivation. Is Pellegrino getting the most from our players? Is he motivating them? Or is he just simply out of his depth?
The second way that we can look at it is through recruitment. Are Les Reed and the mystical Black Box struggling to unearth talents in the same way that they used to?
The decision to sack Claude Puel at the end of the 2016/17 season was the correct one, but it was the manner in which we did it that was wrong. Puel was relieved of his managerial duties on the 15th of June 2017; almost a month after the season finished in May. By the time we finally terminated the Frenchman’s contract, we had limited ourselves in terms of options. Marco Silva had already taken up the post at Watford, Rodger Schmidt had made his big money move to China, and many managers who were on the market, were quickly being swept up.
Were the board waiting to see if Puel would get another job so we wouldn’t have to pay him off? Or were they just simply too indecisive when coming to that decision?
Mauricio Pellegrino was appointed as Puel’s successor with Les Reed saying he had the quality to play “exciting, attacking football, taking the game to our opponents by playing a high intensity game.” This has not been the reality. I’m not saying Pellegrino must go immediately, but if he refuses to change and remain stubborn in his tactics then there’s a chance we’ll be staring a relegation battle in the face. And that would only lead to one thing for the Argentinian boss
The Southampton Way; the blueprint for Saints’ meteoric rise up through the divisions and into European football. This vision has acted as the foundation of Southampton’s success in recent years, helping them to cement their place as THE model club for any newly promoted side in England’s top division.
Throughout this time we witnessed the appointment of Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman, as well as the additions of Sadio Mane, Graziano Pelle, Toby Alderweireld and Virgil Van Dijk. Helping the club to secure back-to-back Europa qualification and a record points total; it was the perfect plan.
But can the same be said now? As previously mentioned, the recruitment has been below par over the past three transfer windows in the frontline.
Nathan Redmond is a worthwhile project for the club, but he’s failed in even coming close to Sadio Mane’s output. Sofiane Boufal has also shown flashes of talent, but again, I’m sat here talking about what could be from the Moroccan, rather than what I’m seeing. In one single window Southampton sold their two top goalscorers, and in that time the club have only recruited one recognised goalscorer – Manolo Gabbiadini – on top of selling Jay Rodriguez.
How many players in our squad can we truly rely on to reach ten goals plus in a Premier League season?
You can’t deny all the good work Les Reed has done for this football club, but perhaps the clubs priorities have shifted too far toward success off the field, in turn harming performances on the field.
Ralph Krueger was appointed as the chairman of Southampton to replace Nicola Cortese in March of 2014. He announced big plans to globalise Southampton and its brand, alongside bringing success on the pitch. You must give credit where it’s due at this point, as Krueger has boosted the club in both America and Asia.
Southampton’s kit is manufactured by America’s second largest sports brand, Under Armour. However, my overriding feelings towards this focus is that it’s great to commercialise and build the clubs brand, as long as the football on the pitch isn’t compromised; and for the first two years of Krueger’s tenure it wasn’t. In fact it was the best football I’d seen at St Mary’s and we could really see the progression as fans.
But if we look back on the season under Puel and the current one, the football is certainly being compromised. The club need to re-vamp and adapt the Southampton Way now so it can once again work to its full potential, because if not, why harp on about a failing strategy?
This ties in to the recent complains about a lack of transparency from both Krueger and Reed, who assured Southampton fans that their opinions are greatly valued. They claimed that they would hold fan forums and ensure communication was maintained between the club and it’s supporters, but this has failed miserably. Leading many to question why they are so reluctant to do so.
Saints are more than capable of pulling themselves out of this slump, it’s just a case of rediscovering what made these players tick so well in the past. The players need to be re-inspired and motivated to take a hold of the current situation, and Mauricio Pellegrino needs to prove to the fans he’s the man that can do it.
There’s ways to lose a football match with your head held high, and with my hand on my heart, I can say that I’m yet to experience that this season. Being beaten by Burnley in the most predictable fashion one week, and then failing to register a single shot on target against Liverpool the next, is quite frankly embarrassing.
We’ve had a brief taste of European football and perhaps our expectations as fans have greatly increased over the past few years, but what’s wrong with that? That same belief and ambition from the board is what got us into Europe in the first place. Now it seems that they are playing catch up.
As fans we don’t expect to be dining at Europe’s top table every year, but what we do want to see is fight, determination and an identity; something I can’t say I’ve seen from Pellegrino’s side so far.
This weekend presents a season defining fixture for Southampton Football Club, so for the sake of our entertainment starved fans, something simply has to change. I can only hope that’s achieved without waving goodbye to Mauricio Pellegrino.