Old Philosophy Is Dead, Long Live The New Philosophy

It's been a long time in the making, that Southampton Philosophy. And in one summer, it's all been ripped asunder. Has it been replaced by another or the same old?

Last Updated: 17/07/14 at 11:48 Post Comment

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There is an obsession in football circles these days about having a 'philosophy'. It has crept into the lexicon like a deadbeat pal who was supposed to be staying on the couch for a few nights, but is somehow still there six months later.

Much like 'project', it's one of those words that has seemingly replaced 'having a plan' when one is trying to describe a club who basically know what they're doing. There's a clear line of thinking. They've thought this through. They aren't appointing a manager at great expense (Spurs), placing all faith in his methods (Spurs), spending millions on new players (Spurs) to fit those methods, only to bin him halfway through the next season (Spurs) and replace him with the polar opposite.ý

It would understandably be comforting to support a club who appear to know what they're doing, who even when they make curious decisions are doing so with a sense that there is logic behind it, that this has been thought through. Doubly so when that plan achieves a degree of success - it makes winning games seem more intentional, more the result of logic paying off and less a random collection of events that the universe has just thrown together.

Over the past couple of years Southampton have been seen as the very epitome of the Philosophy. They know what they're doing, and what they're doing is working. Add to that the bonus of 'what they're doing' including a selection of young(ish), sometimes home-grown and (most importantly for some) English players being at the heart of their success, and it's easy to see why they're the darlings of people who like to see things done the right way.

With Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw, Rickie Lambert et al, they dragged themselves up from League One, played some delightful football along the way that included this hitherto mystifying and curious concept of 'high pressing' (or 'closing down' for the philosophy generation), and finished eighth last season, which these days is depressingly considered to be a great success for a club of their size.

But now what? In the last six months they have lost the chairman/chief executive behind much of the Philosophy, the manager that helped to implement the Philosophy, and half of the players that made the Philosophy possible. Shaw, Lallana and Lambert have all been sold, with Dejan Lovren and Morgan Schneiderlin rather understandably regarding the frantic scramble for the exit door around them, and trying to join the scrum themselves.

Southampton's squad is starting to resemble news footage of supermarkets shortly after predictions of extreme weather, their shelves bare as people panic and desperately buy canned goods in anticipation of the coming apocalypse. It's hard to recall another comparable example of a small, successful English team being taken apart so rapidly and mercilessly by the bigger clubs - to extent the food theme, it's a little like when a cartoon dog is given a ham, and there's a brief flurry of teeth and slobber before a single bone falls to the ground, completely stripped of any meat, and the dog lets out a satisfied belch. Southampton are bare, and the rest of the Premier League are dabbing the corners of their mouths with a napkin.

Of course, this is about more than merely a collection of good players leaving a team. Recent months have changed Southampton as a club, because how could it not? All the people behind the previous way of thinking are gone, so things will inevitably change. No matter how much Ronald Koeman and Ralph Krueger may think they can simply continue where Mauricio Pochettino and Nicola Cortese left off, a change in approach cannot be avoided.

This is simply too much change for the Philosophy to be adhered to as it was before. New men will inevitably bring with them their own ways of thinking, their own styles and own ways of dealing with people. A new manager will have a different idea of what players he wants to manage, and thus far Koeman seems intent on shipping half the Eredivisie over to the south coast, which as we all know is the daddy of the 'could go either way' transfer policy.

And of course this new plan might work. This might be the start of a new, successful way of thinking. The Philosophy is dead, long live the Philosophy. But it won't be the same as before - Southampton are no longer the plucky underdogs made good, but a team like any other, taking gambles on misfit foreigners and desperately trying to cling onto the odd young players they produce.

Still, at least Les Reed has stayed. And their kit is back to red and white stripes this season. So that's something.

Nick Miller - follow him on Twitter

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