By Megan Harris
Third in the Premier League, the best defensive record in the country, October’s manager of the month and three players named in the England senior squad – it isn’t a bad time down at St Mary’s at the minute.
Mauricio Pochettino’s men have made the best ever start by a Southampton team in the top flight after 11 games. With 22 points they are sitting comfortably in the Champions League positions which surpasses the previous 21 point record set in the 1983-84 season – and just for the record they finished second that year!
On current form you could be forgiven for forgetting that it was only three years ago that they were just returning from financial wilderness, plying their trade in the third tier of English Football.
It’s no coincidence that since the late Markus Liebherr took over and his shrewd appointment of Nicola Cortese as chairman, Southampton’s fortunes have drastically transformed.
Back in 2009, shortly after Coutese was trusted with reviving the football club he made this bold statement:
“I realise that there are great expectations and I will ensure that every effort is expended to meet these expectations, but effectively we need to restructure and create a solid base from which we can build and become successful. This will take time. We will take our example from our supporters, who already are what we aim to become – Premier League. With their support we will again become a Premier League Club.”
As we now all know that was exactly what he achieved.
The realisation of his initial ambition might have been enough for many football clubs but Saints haven’t rested on their laurels or accepted the mediocrity of Premier League survival, they have pushed on.
Even after Nigel Adkins performed the seemingly impossible, masterminding back-to-back promotions to the Premier League, it wasn’t enough to keep his job. Instead Cortese relieved him of his duties and replaced him in favour of Pochettino, a relatively unknown, non-English speaking Argentinean.
The 41-year old has installed a refreshing, quick-paced, attacking style of football, with a real emphasis on ball retention and high pressing. After just ten months at the helm he has certainly gone a long way in silencing the doubters (in which I include myself) – An appointment that seems to epitomise the saying ‘taking a team to the next level’.
It’s not just the on-field exploits that have been so impressive, but off the pitch Cortese’s vision is equally as exciting, not merely for Saints’ fans but for the English nation too.
His aspiration revolves around making the club’s academy more of a focal point. Albeit enormously idealistic, Cortese’s statement will nevertheless be music to the ears of Greg Dyke’s consortium:
“The academy is very important to become a sustainable business. We would want to see a starting XI in the Premier League that is fed from our youth development.”
The club have quantified the Italians wishes into a more tangible goal; setting a target to produce 50% of their first team from their academy structure.
The first step to achieving this became evident last season, with the club fielding more English players in the Premier League than any other.
The second step came last month with the news that New Forest District Council agreed a £15m plan to revamp the club’s Staplewood training ground into one of the most vibrant and ambitious football training centres in the world.
These ambitious plans are forming a blueprint for the future, which already has firm foundations, with recent youth team graduates including Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Bale.
If you wanted any further proof of the clubs progression you don’t have to look beyond Roy Hodgson’s latest England selection. Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez have all been named in the 28-man squad. Meanwhile Luke Shaw is on the cusp of the seniors and the highly rated Calum Chambers and James Ward-Prowse are tipped for big things – it seems Southampton have taken West Ham’s crown of England’s feeder team.
It was the inclusion of Rodriguez that formed the basis for this blog (digression aside there is meaning to my madness) with England’s new boy a third generation carrier of The Football Gene. His father Kiko had a brief stint at Deportivo La Coruna, before spending time at Burnley, although it was the semi-professional circuit where he made is name as a prolific striker, whilst his grandfather had trials at Real Madrid.
Luckily for Jay the gene appears to get stronger by generation and from what I have seen this season he is more than deserving of his England call up and likewise Adam Lallana. I hope both lads get the cap that their recent performances warrant.
It’s 27 years since Saints had three players pull on an England shirt in the same game (Wallace, Shilton and Wright against Egypt in 1986). It might not happen this week but with the clubs strategic approach starting to reach fruition I will be surprised if it doesn’t happen in the near future and continue for years to come.
Time will ultimately tell if Southampton Football Club are to be successful, but one thing is for sure, they’re certainly trying to do things the right way.