The performances of Southampton over the last 12 months have been nothing short of outstanding, with the South coast club firmly cementing its place in the top flight of English football.
Many were shocked when the St Mary’s outfit dismissed the man that had brought them to the Premier League, Nigel Adkins, in January. Since then Mauricio Pochettino has taken the club to a new level.
Southampton are a blueprint for other Premier League clubs to follow; a well-run outfit with an enviable blend of top foreign imports and youth system graduates.
However, one man that promised so much but has had to watch the revolution at St Mary’s from the periphery has been Gastón Ramírez. The Uruguayan playmaker has been linked with a January move away from the club, which would end a forgettable period at the English club.
After starring in his homeland for Penarol, Ramírez made a €2.5 million switch to Bologna in Serie A in August 2010. The South American attacking midfielder dazzled the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara faithful with his shows of skill, technique and vision, and quickly became one of the most sought-after young players in Italy.
As a result, it came as something of a surprise when Ramírez opted to move to Southampton after two seasons in Serie A, signing for the Saints in a £12 million deal that broke the English club’s transfer record in August 2012.
With the South American signing a four-year contract with Southampton it was deemed as quite the coup by the newly promoted team, with Ramirez tipped to light the Premier League alight with his sheer individual ability.
Glimpses of just why Adkins and the Southampton hierarchy had regarded Ramírez so highly were evident in his early days in the Premier League, with the odd piece of skill or goal earning the playmaker praise. He ended his first season in England with five goals from 26 Premier League appearances, ready to kick on this term and prove himself further.
However, this simply hasn’t happened, as the Uruguayan has been on the fringes of things at St Mary’s. The South coast club has played 17 games this season in the Premier League, with Ramírez not starting a single one of them. Seven cameos from the substitute bench have given him a paltry 120 minutes of combined top-flight action this season to date.
It appears that Pochettino regards Ramírez as something of a luxury player, which does not fit into the team ethos and work ethic that has made the Saints such a hit this term.
The Argentine manager has implored his team to defend from the front, with his attacking midfielders, winger and forwards pressing the opposition with uncanny determination whether the side play at home or away.
The benefits of this tactic are there for all to see. By pressing high up the pitch it breaks up opposition play, and can turn into a situation where Southampton win the ball back and strike quickly in the final third. It also has ensured that Pochettino’s men have a venerable defensive record, with the Saints conceded fewer goals than Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham this term.
However, this tactic has ostracised Ramírez, who plays in a number ten role, wants to express himself on the ball and has little defensive inclination. Southampton’s tactics, which have worked well this season, do not fit into the style of football that made Ramírez such a hit in Italy.
In a World Cup year, Ramírez has every right to search for a move away from St Mary’s next month and the likelihood is that Pochettino will let him go, and try to recoup as much of the fee that the club outlaid for him 18 months ago.
At 23, Ramírez has plenty of time to be a real superstar in Europe and at next year’s World Cup, and it appears that his burgeoning reputation and considerable ability have been sacrificed for the good of the collective at Southampton.