Can Koeman shock with successful Saints season despite exodus?
Following a mass exodus of stars primarily migrating north to Liverpool this summer, Southampton (7/4 to finish in the top 10 again) and their fans are at panic stations.
The Saints have recouped a reported £92m from their sales this summer, but have shipped out the majority of the English core that had admirably excelled.
Spending that money may prove to be a harder task for Southampton than one might think. Clubs know they need to buy, and bringing in English players may prove even harder, given the high market value the Saints have bestowed upon their own.
Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren all swapped the south coast for Merseyside, whilst teenage prodigies Luke Shaw and Calum Chambers sealed big money moves to Manchester United and Arsenal respectively.
Southampton’s eighth-place finish last term equalled their best league performance in 11 years, and the aforementioned players contributed 24 goals of the clubs’ 54 in the Premier League. They also laid on 17 of those too.
That’s a palpable influence that if not addressed, will surely signal a sharp downturn in fortunes at St Mary’s.
Rumours persist over the futures of top-goalscorer Jay Rodriguez and French midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin too, with Tottenham considered the most likely destination for the pair.
If they were to follow former manager Mauricio Pochettino to White Hart Lane, Southampton may find themselves in some deep, deep trouble.
Not only have all their sales been to other Premier League rivals, but their two permanent signings, Dusan Tadic and Graziano Pelle, have no experience in English football after coming from the Dutch top-flight.
Also new to the league, is boss Ronald Koeman.
The Dutchman enjoyed an unquestionably stellar playing career and is probably best remembered in management for his tenure at Ajax, where he captured two top-flight titles.
Koeman oversaw and nurtured a talented group of young players in the early 2000s that included Wesley Sneijder, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Rafael van der Vaart, Nigel de Jong and Steven Pienaar – to name a few.
This appointment may have had clearer logic, were Southampton planning to keep their array of talent, but Koeman’s knack for blossoming youngsters can still enable the club to enjoy the fruits of Nathaniel Clyne, Victor Wanyama, James Ward-Prowse and Sam Gallacher amongst others.
Koeman’s biggest task will be to provide these young players with a supporting cast that can not only compete, but aid the club in establishing itself as a top-half side in the Premier League.
Once the Saints rebuild, the fans will rightly not want to see a quick dismantling of their team again at such a crossroads – lessons must be learned. Producing young stars should equate to success, not a conveyor belt.
Southampton certainly want to be more of a Man Utd, whose youth has brought them so much success in the past, unlike West Ham United, where their starlets have always been snapped up, therefore preventing the club from really progressing.
But, if Koeman makes more additions before the close of the summer transfer window, and they don’t lose any more players, the Saints should find themselves in mid-table safety come May, 2015.