Southampton: Huge Upheaval, But Still Promise

It has been a summer of great change at St. Mary's but, whilst new signings will take time to settle, there is no real reason for overwhelming negativity...

Last Updated: 11/08/14 at 12:51 Post Comment

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LAST SEASON
Premier League
8th, 56pts, +8 GD FA Cup Fifth round League Cup Fourth round Top league scorer Jay Rodriguez 15 Bookings 61 (10th) with no red cards

Manager Ronald Koeman (since June 2014; age 51) Odds on being first out of his job 16-1 (7th=)

Players in Dusan Tadic (Twente, £10.9m), Fraser Forster (Celtic, £10m), Graziano Pelle (Feyenoord, £9m), Saphir Taider (Inter, Swap), Ryan Bertrand (Chelsea, loan)

Players out Luke Shaw (Manchester United, initial £30m), Adam Lallana (Liverpool, £25m), Dejan Lovren (Liverpool, £20m), Calum Chambers (Arsenal, £16m), Rickie Lambert (Liverpool, £4m), Tom Leggett, Isaac Nehemie (both Aston Villa, undisc), Danny Fox (Nottingham Forest), Andy Robinson (Bolton), Lee Barnard (Southend), Matt Young (Sheffield Wednesday), Jonathan Forte (Oldham Athletic), Dani Osvaldo (Inter, Swap), Jordan Turnbull (Swindon, loan), Lee Barnard, Joe Curtis, Giuly Do Prado, Andreas Sony (all released)

Club turnover in 2012-13 £72m, 14th

Wage bill in 2012-13 £47m, 18th

Has any club not in the throes of potential bankruptcy lost so much talent in the course of one summer? With four players sold at £16m, £20m, £25m and £30m, plus a key veteran for £4m, while the manager has taken a step up too, Southampton 2014-15 will bear precious little resemblance to the side that finished eighth in 2013-14.

Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Dejan Lovren have joined Liverpool; Luke Shaw has gone to Manchester United; and Calum Chambers to Arsenal; while Mauricio Pochettino is now Spurs manager. It could be worse, with Morgan Schneiderlin agitating to rejoin Pochettino at White Hart Lane and the injured Jay Rodriguez has been linked with a similar move.

Ronald Koeman has been busy since his arrival with recruitment of replacements but if the exodus continues then it will be miraculous if the Saints can fine a decent level of cohesion until deep into the season. The Dutchman has warned Schneiderlin that he has to accept he is not for sale. "No, it is not unfair [that he must stay]. Unfair is signing a new contract and wanting to go, that's unfair." But how many times have clubs issued strong denials that a player is on his way and then caved in, accepting that an unhappy player is not worth the trouble?

On the positive side, much of the money has been reinvested. Graziano Pelle scored at a fantastic rate for Koeman at Feyenoord, first with 27 in 29 on loan and then with 23 from 28 to be the Eredivisie's second highest scorer last season. If he can reproduce that form here then £9m will seem cheap. The Italian striker will be familiar with the playmaking abilities of Dusan Tadic, signed from Twente for a couple of million more; and Fraser Forster is the latest recruit, for £10m. There has been creativity in the market, too, with Osvaldo trading places with Saphir Taider of Inter, while Ryan Bertrand comes from Chelsea on loan as the left-back to replace Shaw. Current transfer rumours regarding more players coming in include links with Steaua Bucharest centre-back Florin Gardos and left-back Marcos Rojo from Sporting Lisbon, while Arsenal's Serge Gnabry is wanted on loan.

Usually the list of players leaving is trimmed to take out the lesser known but it is worth seeing the full scale of Southampton's changes. There are bound to be more player movements before deadline day, too. They are at risk of being sued for trademark infringement by the Welsh Premier League's champions, The New Saints (formerly Total Network Solutions).

Yet Southampton are no strangers to disruption and change in recent years. It is barely five years since they went into administration and were relegated to League One, starting the 2009-10 season with a 10-point deduction. Since then they have won at Wembley (the Johnstone Paints) and finished close enough to the play-offs that they would have reached them but for the lost points; had their owner (Markus Liebherr) die on the eve of the 2010-11 season; gone on to secure successive promotions under Nigel Adkins; then sacked him in favour of Pochettino; had the man who made that decision, Nicola Cortese, depart after an "irreconcilable rift" with Katharina Liebherr, who had inherited the club from her father; and appointed as chairman a German ice hockey coach from Canada. Not since legendary 80s yachting drama Howard's Way has there been such improbably varied storylines on the south coast, with Portsmouth's financial travails more a case of spiralling down from the 2008 FA Cup win than lurching between highs and lows.

Last season was definitely a high on the pitch, even if Pochettino's side could not maintain the start that left them third in the table with 11 games played. They won just once - at Cardiff - in the next nine, and the only victories against sides that finished above them were away to Liverpool and at home to Everton. Defeats in both domestic cups to Sunderland represented wasted opportunities, perhaps.

Koeman begins his career in English football away to Liverpool at Sunday lunchtime, in a game sure to feature some prime Saints talent in both sides - and on the home team's bench, too. A repeat of last season's win may is unlikely but a home game against West Brom and a visit to West Ham are more promising in August, before homes games with Newcastle and QPR sandwich a trip to Swansea. Opening Sunday aside, Koeman has been given a friendly enough welcome.

Saints fans are being asked to place a great degree of trust in the board and manager, but with administration and League One fresh in the memory they will know that the money brought in from sales will help stabilise a club who looked to be going the same way as Pompey. It would have been wonderful if a club of Southampton's size could have kept their talent and even added to it but there are worse things in football than raising a quick £100m. If the academy that hones most of the sold stars and also developed Gareth Bale keeps on producing, then there could soon be more reasons for smiles at St Mary's.

Philip Cornwall

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