As another season ends, and the new beckons, Southampton are left in a familiar situation: last year’s best performers have been sold, and it’s time to swiftly rebuild. Morgan Schneiderlin and Nathaniel Clyne have both been poached by the league’s elite and Toby Alderweireld has also chosen not to return to St Mary’s after his loan.
While little could be done to prevent any of the above, this makes the second summer in a row that Southampton have sold their best assets, and while this continues the club will struggle to progress. Ronald Koeman’s achievements this year, steadying the ship and arguably improving from last season, have been nothing short of remarkable, but it would be naive to consider this as a viable way to spend every off season.
Moreover, the high quality performance maintained by the Saints over the past two seasons will also create a new challenge in itself, an expectation to perform well. Being last year’s relegation tip, Southampton hardly suffered the burden of expectancy and there was a similar lack of scrutiny in Pochettino’s last season at the club.
Southampton will have to replace their stars and embed them well if they want to emulate last season’s impressive start and not disappoint their newly expectant fans. Jordy Clasie has joined Juanmi and Cédric as Southampton’s new boys this summer and all three have contributed to the commendable rescue job Southampton have started again.
Clasie, a playmaker from the Eredivisie, is something of a coup for Southampton considering the clubs he’s been linked with since his emergence at Feyenoord. The Dutch International is an obvious replacement for Schneiderlin, and while there are certain style differences, with Clasie being moulded in a more expressive role, the new man will offer no less quality.
An even more well-suited replacement, Jack Cork, left the club in January for first-team football at Swansea and while it presents a good move for the midfielder, it does raise an eye-brow of why Southampton were willing to offload the talent.
Unless Southampton were blindly convinced that they would keep Schneiderlin, as they claimed to be with their stars last year, then it represented a poor piece of business by the Southern side as Cork would have helped the foreseeable transition.
Another replacement buy, Cédric, might fair less well to replicate his counter-part, Nathaniel Clyne. The England right-back was part of one of the league’s best defences (only behind Chelsea) and will be missed to the same scale as Alderweireld, who played to his left.
With no centre back signed yet, Yoshida will fill the void in a defence which is heavily weakened in comparison to last season’s outfit which kept 13 clean sheets in front of Fraser Forster. With many considering Yoshida to be suited to a lower level of football, Southampton will be forced to replace their former Belgian star and the club could well even be in the market for another right-back.
Cédric joins from Sporting Lisbon who ply their trade in the Portuguese League, and while it might host exciting football, there remains a huge gap in quality to the Premier League and the full-back should be afforded a fair amount of time to adjust.
Cuco Martina, a versatile defender, has been signed from FC Twente but it’s hard to tell how much involvement the 25-year-old will have at this point.
Something Southampton fans can be optimistic about heading into season however, is their improved attacking force. With Juanmi signed, and Jay Rodriguez returning like new, the quality of their attack has only grown, something which is a foreign idea around the St Mary’s ground. Sadio Mané will be keen to continue his end of season form – suddenly the troubles look less overwhelming.
While it is easy to fear for Southampton, as the tone of this blog does, there is also more reason for optimism this year round and certainly no one is tipping the Europa League team for relegation. The lack of pursuers for James Ward-Prowse is as surprising as it is a blessing, and Southampton are now tasked to build a team in which a developed Ward-Prowse would be prepared to stay and play for in two years time.
The longevity of Southampton’s current transfer policy is already starting to wear and this summer needs to spell the end of the exodus.
Southampton are worse-off as it stands, but with a few clever signings, and the money retained from their lucrative sales, the Saints could well continue to impress. However, if they want to seriously challenge the league’s elite, the selling needs to stop and the Southampton board will have to adopt a more stubborn mentality in future.
Southampton have left themselves with it all to do again, but this seems to be when they thrive.