Sunday, 7 June 2015

Don't Cry For Me Premier League-a

In the Summer of 2014, a storm (metaphorically at least) approached Southampton, and it brought with it transfer speculation abound. Southampton’s promising 2013/14 campaign, resulting in 56 points and eighth place, had been one of the more eye-catching mid-table stories, and as comes with the territory, England’s elite were ready to take their pick of the upstanding club’s best individual performers.

Liverpool’s interest was undeniable, and the inevitable raid, totalling around £50 million, earned them Ricky Lambert, Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren. Neither Arsenal nor Manchester United could resist a perusal of Southampton’s shop window either, and left with shopping trolleys full of Calum Chambers and Luke Shaw for reported fees of £16 million and £27 million respectively.

Liverpool bought Lallana after a dazzling season with Southampton.

Poor old Southampton? Dispossessed of the core of a side which lifted the spirits of the neutral? Not a chance.

Much like pies, you pay a little more for local ingredients, and Southampton made no mistake in squeezing the big clubs of all their gravy.

The transfer market is much like a stock market. There is a time to buy and a time to sell. Southampton had a near-perfect summer in both regards. 

Luke Shaw, at a reported £27 million has certainly lost market value since his move. Fitness questioned, appearances limited, Southampton look to have the better deal so far.

As for Liverpool’s acquisitions, Lallana at £25 million would be expected to be a midfielder with end product already apparent; Lambert at £4 million has become a rather expensive mantelpiece ornament; Lovren at £20 million, big money for a defensive installment, has come in for plenty of criticism from the stands and could arguably have halved in value. The stock Liverpool acquired has plummeted in value.

Calum Chambers at a reported £16 million has probably come closest to justifying his price tag, but it is easy to forget the value of the numbers involved. These figures become fairy dust in the football fan’s eyes, but £16 million for a largely unproven youth prospect builds a lot of training ground.  

Ryan Bertrand has gained more playing time in red and white this season.
Southampton went about their buying in much the same manner, recording successes with almost all of their notable signings. 

Dusan Tadic (10.9m) SUCCESS. Graziano Pelle (9m) SUCCESS. Fraser Forster (10m) SUCCESS. Sadio Mane (10m) SUCCESS. 
Ryan Bertrand (10m) SUCCESS. 

The club made a profit in the tens of millions from their transfer dealings, while securing arguably better and hungrier talent. It was like something right out of the Arsene Wenger circa 1999 school of transfer policy.

Fans will recall Wenger bought prodigy Nicolas Anelka for the nominal fee of around £500,000 only to sell him for the princely reported sum of £23 million, the profit of which went towards building state of the art training facilities. The zeroes do not simply line the pockets of the manager! In fact, so impressive was Wenger’s ability in the transfer market, he bought Overmars, Petit, Anelka and Vieira for a combined £12.5 million, got some great football out of them, and sold them on for a combined figure of around £66.7 million.

Southampton might well have found their own version though in the highly impressive Ronald Koeman, a man with impressive credentials.

Ronald Koeman, Dutch legend.
Eredivisie title 01/02, 03/04
KNVB Cup 01/02
Dutch Super Cup 2002

Portugese Super Cup 2005

Eredivisie title 06/07

Copa del Rey 07/08

Mr. Koeman, having successfully negotiated the transfer market last summer, also boasts an impressive collection of medals from his playing days, having won the European Cup with PSV and Barcelona, as well as Euro ’88 with the Netherlands, for whom he played 78 times. With pundits the country over cooing over poor old Southampton, entering St Mary’s looked to be arguably the Dutchman’s biggest challenge.

League Position
Goals Scored
Goals Conceded
Goal Difference

The statistics show that Koeman made league improvements across the board with the exception of goals scored, emulating Pochettino’s side of the previous season. This perhaps can be the only criticism of Ronald, whose side occasionally proved goal-shy.

However, a seventh-place finish, victories over the like of Arsenal and Manchester United, and draws against eventual champions Chelsea, tell the main story. Southampton, League One standard a few seasons ago, are about to grace Europe on behalf of England, and they do so with a manager who knows how to defend.

The early exits of Premier League sides in Europe over the last three seasons have followed a typical, and obvious, pattern. They cannot shut out big opposition over two legs. While sides such as Juventus and Atletico Madrid have broken into the last two finals with defensive intelligence, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester  United, Manchester City and Liverpool have all shown naivety at the back, with Arsenal and surprisingly Chelsea classic examples from this season.

Chelsea's usually outstanding defence crumbled against PSG.

Koeman however completed this season with an average 0.87 goals conceded per game, improving on Southampton’s average last season of 1.21 and 1.58 the season before. Had they found 30 more goals at the opposite end, such a defensive record could have graced a league-winning team. Koeman will require reinforcements this summer, but his is a talent which could thrive against the tricky nature of the Europa League marathon.

So Southampton bought and sold well, but it is perhaps their creation of stock which stands them in highest regard across the country. Their academy is an outstanding achievement of discipline and passion for the game’s virtues. Gareth Bale, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Luke Shaw and Theo Walcott are just some of the famous names to have been nurtured by the Saints’ academy, and the production line is as busy as ever, with the impressive James Ward-Prowse and Matt Targett two of the establishment’s latest hopes. The club discipline the players by restricting their game time should they misbehave, rather than fining them their wages. They talk of a 50% home grown first team in the future.

Southampton are a club in excellent shape. With Koeman at the helm, they are on the cusp of taking the next step in establishing themselves as a big name in world football. While some tipped them for relegation following what looked like an uncertain summer, the club proved itself to be shrewd, playing the transfer market perfectly. One thing’s for sure, nobody will be feeling sorry for them now. 

(All transfer fees mentioned in this article are reported, and are not necessarily entirely accurate).

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