Southampton FC: Looking ahead to an exciting Premier League future
With just six games left in the Premier League for Southampton, they find themselves in fifth place, five points off Manchester City in fourth, and 20/1 for a Champions League place with Coral.
The most interesting part?
Their final match of the season is against Manuel Pellegrini’s side at the Etihad, in what could be a crunch game. Saints know they potentially won’t have a better chance to secure qualification for this competition and they will be aiming to take full advantage.
City are in somewhat of a quagmire, having lost four out of their last six Premier League matches and need a top four place to maintain their status as an economic superpower in football. Anything less would be almost disastrous, despite their wealth.
With an exodus of players expected in the summer, the chances of attracting world-class players, while still adhering to financial fair play regulations are slim, however, Manchester United showed they could do it last summer.
Southampton, meanwhile, have won three out of their last five league matches, including a well-fought draw at Stamford Bridge and, despite an uncharacteristic 1-0 loss at Goodison Park to a dogged Everton side, they have demonstrated an ability to grind out results.
Their 2-0 home win against Hull City last time out, in which two key players scored, James Ward-Prowse from the penalty spot, and Graziano Pelle.
The former has been a stand-out player for the south coast club this season, and can be a huge talent for both club and country, while the goal from Pelle has been a long time coming, having not netted in the league since December.
How can Southampton finish in the top four?
Well, they say in life, though also football, that timing is a funny thing. Pelle’s goal might have arrived at exactly the right moment, as Southampton prepare for the run-in. Up first is a trip to Stoke, where the Italian’s physical presence could give Saints the edge.
Their last six fixtures looks like this:
Stoke City v Southampton
Southampton v Tottenham Hotspur
Sunderland v Southampton
Leicester City v Southampton
Southampton v Aston Villa
Manchester City v Southampton
They could even win all of these matches and still finish outside of the top four, though what are the chances of Man City slipping up? Let’s take a look.
Man City v West Ham United
Man City v Aston Villa
Tottenham Hotspur v Man City
Man City v QPR
Stoke City v Man City
Man City v Southampton
Looking at both of these sets of fixtures, Mark Hughes’ Stoke could have a major say in who finishes fourth at the season. He is unlikely to willingly do his former employers a favour, and the Potters could raise their game against Pellegrini’s side, who they have already beaten this season.
Well, trailing by five points, the Saints simply cannot afford to lose. Assuming City beat West Ham and QPR, lose at White Hart Lane against Spurs, and record two draws against battling Villa and Stoke sides, it could come down to the last game of the season.
How, you might ask?
If we assume Southampton record wins against Spurs, Sunderland, Leicester and Villa, though draw against Stoke, and the above plays out, it means that going into the final game of the season at the Etihad, Saints would trail City by just one point.
Key players for Southampton’s top four charge
Pelle’s return to form could be crucial. When he was on-form and firing in the first half of the season, Southampton were scoring goals for fun. His partnership with fellow new signing Dusan Tadic was lethal, and if the pair can re-form this, Saints could be unstoppable.
Ward-Prowse’s recent rise to prominence gives Southampton an edge and he can be crucial to his team in the run-in. At only 20, he will see this as an opportunity to make a name for himself, and play a major part in the future of Southampton football club, should he contribute towards the goal haul which secures a fourth place finish.
Whatever happens to Toby Alderweireld at the end of the season, he can be confident that he has performed magnificently this campaign. He is one of the reasons behind Southampton having the best defensive record in the Premier League, and with potentially tricky matches remaining, his contribution can be key.
What would Premier League top four mean for Southampton?
This has without a doubt been an aim since Markus Liebherr (who has since passed away) took over when the club had dropped into League One. Their five-year plan of getting into the Premier League was accomplished in three and, should they qualify for Champions League football, in this, their fifth-year, they would have exceeded all expectations.
The club’s best players, such as Morgan Schneiderlin and Nathaniel Clyne, widely reported to be leaving in the summer, may be convinced to stay and attracting two or three quality signings which fit into the ethos of the team.
Should they leave, it will be, as always for a high price; the club don’t need to sell and they have a crop of talent ready to make the step up, plus, Saints are now an attractive prospect any top, young player across Europe.
Proven by Ryan Betrand turning his loan deal permanent, and the signing of Dutch international winger Eljero Elia in January.
Southampton, though, have been a club following a structure put in place by Head of Football Development Les Reed, which has been meticulously followed and they’re not about to deviate when it has brought them continued improvement.
Business as usual will continue to be the order of the day for this humble club, who seem to follow a similar model to Barcelona with their influx, and huge concentration on youth development. Expect even more youngsters in the vein of Ward-Prowse to step up next season and the Saints to keep marching on.
Want to know the best part?
One thing that can be guaranteed to happen, is that nothing will change, in terms of the behaviour of the club. Fans who have become accustomed to how this club has operated over the past five years can be confident that organic growth will continue.
There will almost definitely have been a plan in place for, if they did qualify for the Champions League, in terms of the type of players they can identify, the amount of money that can be spent, and the positions that will need strengthening.
Everything is scientific, right down to how the kit is laundered. Oxygen is pumped into every washing machine to ensure all bacteria is killed to give players the best possible chance of success on the field.
Their new, state-of-the-art training and development centre, aptly named the Markus Liebherr Pavilion is equipped with as much advanced technology as anyone could possibly imagine. Think Google HQ, in football club terms.
What is important, is that once Southampton do get into the Champions League, is that they can sustain it year-on-year, and not take the added revenue for granted, so that if they do drop out of it one year, they have a contingency in place to still perform well commercially.
That is where their youth academy will begin to reap the rewards, in the same way that Barcelona has over the last decade.
The Catalan club’s business model has been largely based around the fabled ‘La Masia’ youth production line, which has witnessed Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique, among others, come through with flying colours, so that at least 50 per cent of their first team are youth academy graduates.
This means what exactly?
Should the Saints excel with a similar type of blueprint, they can start to build a brand in a similar fashion. If they aren’t spending multi-millions on new players, but instead, formulating a style of football on the pitch that gives the club an identity, it means their chances of winning silverware each season will greatly increase.
With Jay Rodriguez to return from a long injury lay-off, the 25-year-old could be like a new world-class signing when he comes back offering the side a different dimension in attack.
Chairman Ralph Krueger has been one part of an executive team at Southampton who have worked in harmony, to ensure the club executes its plan; however, he admits last summer had fleeting moments of apprehension, after an exodus of personnel.
Krueger said: “Anyone who didn’t at some point feel some kind of trepidation isn’t. I’ve always loved the difficult challenges and I’ve always found that’s where you find the most growth.
“It wasn’t ever out of control but we were definitely on the edge of the abyss a few times. It was the power of the people in this club that didn’t allow the bad to happen. People were in the right place at the right time as we built the executive team we have now.”
One of the biggest problems to solve was replacing coach Mauricio Pochettino, after he departed to Tottenham. There followed a meeting of minds between Krueger, Reed and chief executive Gareth Rogers. A list of candidates were efficiently and diligently drawn up by Reed, in the form of a detailed dossier and they swiftly got the work.
First time lucky?
The first name they interviewed was Feyenoord coach Koeman. Meeting at Heathrow airport, what was supposed to be an interview turned into a passionate discussion about football, breeding success and the initiation of a natural symbiosis which runs so deep, it is now evident in the way the players behave on the pitch.
He was the first and only candidate that they met, and Krueger says the decision was unanimous.
“Les came up with a list of five managers and he was top of the list, and we never had to go any further because our conversations with him went so well.
“I’m a gut guy and Les is a gut guy and Gareth. And we all came out of the meeting and said, ‘Let’s go for it’.”
Fate is a funny thing.
Parties and people who are of a similar mind in life with similar values often find themselves gravitating toward each other, whether consciously or otherwise; this in itself is an organic foundation to hone success.
Although Koeman has since been linked with Barcelona, Saints fans should be confident that he will stay. Apply a higher sense of awareness to the situation and it can be seen that the two go together automatically. Go figure.
Here, right now at Southampton football club, it appears, finally, there is a group of special people, all on the same page with the same end goal.
This is a true, and real example that success that is bought cannot be sustained; Manchester City are about to prove that this season. Saints, through their hard work, approach and unwavering belief will get to the top. It is only a matter of time.