Saints’ summer exodus has reopened the debate around the St Mary’s outfit being a selling club. Tom Simmonds urges the naysayers who think they can’t possibly keep thriving to study recent history.
When, in 2007, Southampton sold a 17-year-old left-back called Gareth Bale to Tottenham, they were not doing so from a position of strength. In 2006-07 under George Burley, their Championship play-off place (they went on to lose to Derby on penalties in the semi-final) was achieved amid financial uncertainty. The Scots boss admitted after the event that Saints had bet the farm on being promoted and that Bale had to be sold to alleviate immediate financial problems.
That sale, along with that of the likes of Theo Walcott and Kenwyne Jones, didn’t work. Relegation to League One in 2009 was compounded by administration, a period where staff worked without pay and a 10-point deduction for the start of the 2009-10 season; that’s even after the now-deceased Swiss businessman Markus Liebherr bought the club and made it financially viable again.
However, a look at some of the players who came through during those dark times give a clue as to why Southampton will probably ride this latest set of departures out. Adam Lallana, Morgan Schneiderlin, Andrew Surman and Jack Cork were all playing for Southampton during their nadir in 2008-09. Lallana and Schneiderlin remained throughout the League One days, and a young Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was lurking in the wings ready to emerge at this time too.
The point is that Southampton, owing to their famed youth academy and the way in which it came through for them even in their darkest hour, shows the structural strength of the club. It was, therefore, no surprise when they defied the doom-mongers to finish seventh in the Premier League in 2014-15, given how smartly they recruited replacements. The following summer saw Liverpool return to sign Nathaniel Clyne and Schneiderlin move to Manchester United and yet Southampton managed to absorb this unflinchingly to finish sixth last season.
Making predictions at this stage of pre-season is a hazardous business, particularly when a club is managerless, but the precedent is firmly in place for Southampton to repeat what they have done for the last two seasons again in 2016-17; provided Claude Puel (if it is him who inherits the St Mary’s hotseat) proves competent.
The nature of this summer’s business bears the hallmarks of previous sales. As good a player as Mane is, he is massively overpriced at £34million and I suspect Southampton’s board know that they would have been silly to turn it down rather than risk not having that money and keeping an unhappy player. The inflated fee they got from the Reds for Dejan Lovren two years ago makes this episode feel like history is repeating itself.
On the flipside, an example of Southampton’s smart recruitment is the signing of Nathan Redmond from Norwich, which has gone under the radar while Euro 2016 dominates the sports news. Redmond played with fellow Saints James Ward-Prowse, Matt Targett and Jack Stephens in this summer’s Toulon tournament and looks ready-made to slot straight in and provide another highly-potent attacking option.
Southampton do succession planning well, even in the absence of a permanent manager. This clear-sighted strategy allied to what is still a high-quality squad containing the likes of Fraser Forster, Dusan Tadic, Graziano Pelle, Steven Davis and a 20-goal striker in Charlie Austin if he can stay fit. Combine all these factors and Puel, or any manager, has a job at a club with an infrastructure and players that give them a great chance to emulate the success that Pochettino and Koeman enjoyed there.
Saints fans: Do you think that the losses of Koeman, Mane and Wanyama are a bridge too far for you, or do you agree with Tom that you’ll be just fine again next season?
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