In the 2013-2014 Premier League season, Southampton managed an 8th place finish against the 20 teams in England’s top flight. In 2014-2015, they finished 7th. This past season, it was 6th.
This string of league positions show a steady and impressive progression towards the peak of the English game, and such improvement suggests this club could potentially make a run at the coveted top 4 spots that would secure Champions League football for the following season. This statement is true.
It also suggests Southampton have stability.
A small, proud south coast club, Southampton were stuck in League One (England’s third tier) as recently as the 2010-11 season, experiencing the difficulties that many lower-league clubs fear – administration and managerial changes. Despite these problems, they thrived in a new system with their then new coach, Nigel Adkins, and achieved promotion to the Championship. Surprisingly, success continued for the Saints as they shocked experts by staying near the summit of the Championship for the entire season and achieved a remarkable back-to-back promotion by finishing second in the league. This allowed them access to top-flight of English football for the first time in seven years.
There is so much to admire about Southampton’s recent journey in English football and their spirit to not only stay afloat but to surge up the divisions speaks volumes. Once in the Premier League, 30 out of 71 promoted teams (42%) have been relegated in their first season with even more following in their second year. However, as we have shown, the Saints have managed to finish 8th, 7th and 6th since their 14th placed finish upon their return to the Premier League in 2012-13.
Perhaps the most remarkable achievement that Southampton have managed in recent years is their ability to remain competitive and improve in the manner we have discussed, despite having many of their most influential personnel taken away from the club each year.
Every team seem to be ‘punching above their weight’ inevitably have their better players poached by stronger, more established sides. However, in Southampton’s case, it has occurred on the sidelines as well as the field.
Take a look at this full line-up of Southampton players that have departed in the past few years:
There are two important things to bear in mind when looking at this eleven. First, this team could easily challenge for a top-4 spot on its own, which demonstrates the calibre of players that Southampton have had in many cases were produced themselves. Second, almost all of these players have left to direct Premier League rivals.
Liverpool raided Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Nathaniel Clyne, and Sadio Mane from the Saints, Manchester United broke the bank for Luke Shaw and Morgan Schneiderlin, while Tottenham purchased Toby Alderweireld (via Atletico Madrid) and Victor Wanyama. All of these players except Rickie Lambert are currently regularly involved in the first team for their respective clubs.
As if losing these many quality players was not enough of concern to the Saints and their owners, Southampton have also seen two of their managers leave for rival clubs since their return to the Premier League. Argentine Mauricio Pochettino led Southampton to their 8th place finish in 2013-14 only to be snapped up by Tottenham, who have since gone on to make a strong title challenge last year. Pochettino’s replacement was Dutchman Ronald Koeman, who after a 7th and 6th place finish at St Mary’s has also moved on, taking on a fresh challenge with Everton.
So how do Southampton do it? How do they continuously reload and improve after losing key personnel to teams deemed to be above them in stature?
The Guardian have posted an excellent article about the fantastic youth development that is happening at the club which is widely praised for churning out Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and many others, but there is more to Southampton’s game than that. The club have a fantastic record of scouting and deciding which players fit and can be of use to their system, before buying them for excellent prices.
Their approach can be compared to an NBA team that rebuilds after losing key players in free agency by buying lesser-known players on good deals while also striking gold in the draft.
But, unlike the NBA, there is no salary cap in world football, which creates a power struggle between teams that are rich and teams that are poor; hence, Southampton’s achievement is all the more remarkable.
Even with variance in the wealth of clubs, however, there is a significant difference between those who know how to spend their money wisely and those that don’t. The Saints are an average club in terms of finance, yet one look at a list of their purchases show the intelligence with which they have gone about their recruitment:
|Virgil van Dijk
These figures show that Southampton have made a net total of 74 million Euros over the last three years while also making signings that are of decent Premier League quality. Much of the money that has been made can then either go back into the market for another player or will work towards further strengthening their youth development.
And all the while, their league performance continues to improve. Almost all of the arrivals in the last few years have played critical roles in ensuring Southampton’s continued success.
Much of the credit for this must go to Ronald Koeman, who helped keep things on track following the departure of his stars, but now that the Dutchman is gone, do Southampton stand a chance of maintaining their league position come the 2016-2017 season? Their new manager Claude Puel will hope so.
A former French bruiser who played his entire career for Monaco, Puel has spent all of his player and managerial career in France thus far.
Puel went on to manage his playing-club Monaco, winning the French League almost instantly and has since managed Lille and Lyon, where he took the latter to the Champions League semi-finals in 2010 for the first time in their history.
Puel has already shown signs that he has the temperament to take over where his predecessors left off. In keeping with the Southampton spirit, he has already made some crafty moves in the transfer market, bringing in Nathan Redmond from relegated Norwich City to replace Mane and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg from Bayern Munich to replace Wanyama.
Only time will tell if Puel can enjoy the same success fans have become familiar with in recent years, but one thing is for certain, Southampton will no longer be underestimated.