Editor-in-Chief Dan Hunt reports on the reasons behind Southampton’s relegation woes this season, and how they can improve
It’s January 2022. Southampton’s CEO, Martin Semmens, announces the club has been acquired by Sport Republic. Southampton fans have every reason to feel optimistic. After several years of dwindling investment and slumping league positions, new owners marked a new era for the club. With Rasmus Ankersen, Brentford’s former Director of Football, running the football operations, Henrik Kraft running the business side and Serbian billionaire Dragan Šolak bankrolling the project, Sport Republic promised increased investment and crucially, direction for a club that had seemed to be drifting slowly towards to the relegation zone every season.
Thirteen months on and toxicity has ensued. Southampton’s season thus far can be summarised in bleak numbers. Just 18 goals in 22 games. 15 defeats. 20th in the Premier League with 15 points. 4 points from safety, 2 managers sacked, and a one-way ticket to the Championship looking almost inevitable.
Sport Republic cannot be criticised for a lack of investment. With around €140 million spent on additions to the squad over the past twelve months, the focus has been on signing hot prospects and developing them into first team players. Experienced players such as Oriol Romeu have made way for Manchester City’s academy stars including Romeo Lavia, Samuel Edozie and Gavin Bazunu.
Southampton have a wealth of talent on their books, with players widely touted for international stardom in the years to come, but inexperience has cost the team dearly. Developing players inevitably make mistakes, and these individual errors have conceded goals, squandered scoring opportunities and lost the team crucial points. More experienced players were signed in January, including 28 year-old striker Paul Onuachu, and they were hoped to help balance the young squad and give the team the best chance of picking up points and staying up, but so far such additions have failed to make a significant impact on the pitch.
The young players have not been helped by switching managers mid-season with different styles and set-ups. Ralph Hasenhuttl was sacked amid poor form and reports of problems with squad harmony. Nathan Jones was parachuted in off the back of two successful spells at Luton, but his erratic press comments and failure to implement a cohesive (and winning) playing style saw him sacked over the weekend just 95 days into a 3-and-a-half year deal.
Jones’ final game in charge was a 2-1 home defeat against a Wolves team who played over 60 minutes with ten men. The first goal Southampton conceded was a comical own-goal by Jan Bednarek, caused in part by defensive chaos in the box, which is the perfect metaphor for Southampton’s season so far. Unforced errors resulting from previous unforced errors both on and off the pitch, and the club now finds itself in dire straits on the relegation bubble.
Now searching for their third manager of the season, it’s not over for Southampton… yet. The focus has to be on finding an experienced manager, who, potentially on a short term deal, can squeeze every ounce of potential out of this young squad and avoid the drop. Nathan Jones’ appointment by Rasmus Ankersen was based on several metrics achieved at Luton. On paper Jones was a good fit. In practice his inexperience in top-flight football has seen opportunities to get results in so-called six-pointers against fellow relegation candidates wasted.
Mathematically, it’s possible for the team to avoid relegation. However, unlike other teams who find themselves in the bottom half as a result of a simple dip in form, Southampton lack identity, they lack confidence, and, most worryingly, at times this season, they’ve lacked fight. On several occasions, heads have dropped when a goal has been conceded, so the challenge of the new manager is to fix the team’s pessimistic mentality as well as tactically revamping a directionless squad.
Southampton fans can find some solace in the fact there are still 16 games to turn the tide. But with the atmosphere at St Mary’s becoming increasingly frustrated with Sport Republic’s approach, their new manager desperately needs to inspire a change in optimism both on and off the pitch.
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