What do Saints fans really want?

Last Saturday Saints played out an uninspiring draw at home to Watford in what for many was an Anti-Climax to the exciting build up to the start of the season.

Despite a much improved second half it is fair to say that most were left a little deflated by the result and performance against Watford. In many cases feelings ran a little high. In fact, I was staggered to see the level of reaction by many, which frankly resembled a particularly spoiled hysterical child who hadn’t got their own way.

One game into the season and the new manager, the new players, the tactics, the board and anything else related to the club was written off as not good enough. This was less knee jerk, more collective full body spasm. It was ugly.

I watched the game as usual with the Dubai Saints, who I have to say, on the whole are as level headed as you will find [a few years around the block will do that for you eh fellas ;-)]. But even we found ourselves getting into a fairly heated ‘discussion’ about the level of player investment and ‘ambition’ at the club. I’ve grown to hate that word in all honesty. What exactly is ambition? Some would argue finishing in an automatic qualification place for Europe is as ambitious as Saints can realistically get, others would say that the sky is the limit. There is no rules as to what determines ‘ambition’ and only the people in the boardroom will know what they see as a realistic achievement.

High hopes for JWP to push on under Puel.
High hopes for JWP to push on under Puel.

The centre of our well oiled debate in the ‘Francis Benali Stand’ of the Barasti Beach Bar was whether the club should stick with bringing kids through or spend big to improve the squad now.

It got me wondering what it  really is Saints fans want?

I’m yet to meet one who doesn’t take pride in the Academy at the club. When one of our ‘own’ turns out for England it gives us all a lift, and over the years we’ve all loved watching young players make their first team debut and go on to be stars in their own right. It’s something that sets us apart from other clubs. We know it and they know it. Parents are now trying to get their kids into Staplewood and not Carrington (Manchester United) and our facilities and coaching methods have become the blueprint for many of Europe’s top clubs. Ex-Southampton Academy graduates scoring 60% of the 7 goals in a much overhyped game between Arsenal and Liverpool at the weekend is the advertising that keeps the wheel turning!

We love this about our club. We love the fabled ‘pathway’. But at what cost?

Everybody likes to see their club sign players. These days it’s an obsession amongst fans, to the point where they aren’t even really bothered who it is, as long as there is a new face holding up their shirt. It’s all a little camp and kitsch, with the latest monstrosity coming from Manchester United when they announced Paul Pogba. With every passing season football becomes more like the X Factor, classless and lacking in any real substance whatsoever. This is heightened of course by massive fees, transfer deadline day and the hype that surrounds it. Has anyone in history not looked a dick in a yellow tie?

I rest my case.
I rest my case.

But still, we all like a new player through the door, and this Summer (and most Summers), Saints fans would have liked a few more. With exits in key positions again, most have been frustrated that like for like replacements have not been brought in.

But where do you draw the line? What is the right balance between keeping the ‘pathway’ and strengthening the squad.

Like it or not, and my impression is that most people do, Saints have positioned themselves in the market as a club that will accept first team players moving on for the right price, and might not necessarily replace them. Why? Because you cannot maintain the ‘pathway’ if you keep blocking it with big money foreign imports.

It’s a long term strategy and one not without it’s risks, but if Les Reed was to take an occasional glance at Saints supporting presences on the web (Hi Les!) he could be forgiven for placing his head in his hands when he sees the same people bemoaning Harrison Reed’s lack of playing time last season, crying over the club not replacing Wanyama this.

For the club to keep attracting the best players into the Academy at a young age there has to be continuous evidence that the club will give those kids a chance at the top level.  Logically, if you replace every player that leaves with a like for like copy those kids will be destined to never fulfil their potential at Saints, and eventually other kids will decide it’s not the place to be, especially as others catch up in terms of facilities and methodology.

My hunch is that the modern Southampton supporter would rather see big investment in players each Summer, some would still favour the pathway, while many will be honest enough to admit they aren’t bothered either way as long as the club keeps progressing.

The obvious answer, though there is no right one, is that the balance has to be correct. The club needs to find a workable solution where the kids get their chance, but the squad is strong enough to compete. I would say they had this pretty close under Mauricio Pochettino.

The blip in all this, was the reign of Ronald Koeman, and it didn’t surprise me when there was talk of the club not being overly disappointed that he was off. As good a job as he did, he took the organisation ‘off message’ and long term that wasn’t what the board wanted.

Claude Puel would appear to be the ‘anti-appointment’ to Koeman. A man with a track record of giving some pretty good players their first opportunities in France. Yes, the first game was a little underwhelming, but when have Saints’ opening day fixtures not been? Let’s give him a chance.

Tomorrow night, we take on Manchester United at Old Trafford. A huge money ‘name’ like Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Paul Pogba could win the game for them, but then Matt Targett or James Ward-Prowse could win it for us. Which would be sweeter?

Keep the faith.

7 thoughts on “What do Saints fans really want?”

  1. Why is “anticlimax” spelt incorrectly? It’s not a proper noun.

    The commas are in the wrong place in the sentence “”Despite…high.”

    I won’t comment further on the atrocious non-standard of English.

    This reads like a piece by Paul Allen down at The News in Portsmouth.

    What would be annoying would be if Shaw or Schneiderlin won it for them.

    1. I’m not sure ‘Anti-Climax’ is spelt wrong? I think both are acceptable. Point taken on the sentence though and have changed it. I can take an insult, but comparing me to a News ‘journalist’ is a bit strong… 😉

  2. The simple answer is that all that most Saints fans would like to see is Kat and Les stop selling our best players. It’s beginning to look like greed and even asset-stripping.

    If you had that option, most fans would vote for it. But, instead you’ve only offered 3 leading questions to support your own opinion.

    1. I don’t think it is asset stripping. To be honest I thought I was presenting the third option ‘a bit of both’. My opinion is actually that we’ve done pretty well with out policy so far, but this season looks to be the weakest squad on paper.

  3. The reaction after one game (one game!!) saddens me far more than the result itself (hardly inspiring, two points dropped but disappointing rather than a disaster).

    We live in an age of hyperbole and superlative. It’s one extreme or the other about everything; football is no exception.

    For the last several years, Saints have been very successful. Year on year there has been tangible progress. Against the odds, against expectation. Back-to-back promotions, Europa League qualification, etc. etc. If anything, the club has overachieved because by all key indicators (income, stadium, attendance), SFC is a mid-table, average club.

    But a lacklustre draw at home and now Les Reed and the club management don’t know what they’re doing. They’ve got it all wrong. They should be standing up to the elite clubs, refusing to sell; investing, speculating to accumulate; matching the wages offered by Liverpool and Man United; and, of course, we should’ve hired Pellegrini, etc, etc.

    Even if we disregard past achievement as a reason for maintaining the current strategy, there are two key reasons why Saints shouldn’t abandon its business model and organisational philosophy. The first is financial, the second, regulatory.

    While financially Saints are in decent shape, we still don’t earn as much as other clubs and we are servicing debt. In 2015, ten clubs earned more than us. The elite clubs raked in three or four times as much as we did. It’s no wonder we can’t compete with Man United, Arsenal, Liverpool, etc. on wages and transfer fees. It’s simple economics.

    But, even if we ignore the financial constraints, there are significant regulatory obstacles preventing us from handing over mammoth transfer fees or matching the wages the elite clubs pay to lure our best players away.

    What’s stopping our billionaire owner from emulating Abramovic at Chelsea? She could if she wanted, right? No.

    The UEFA Financial Fair Play rules and the Premier League’s Short Term Cost Control regulations and Profit and Sustainability rules.

    If we qualified for the Champions’ League by spending big, beyond what our income levels permit, Saints would probably be prevented from competing. In addition, there’d most likely be further sanctions from UEFA as well as from the FA: fines, transfer embargoes, point deductions, etc.

    Overall, the so-called Southampton Way – buying younger players with potential and developing home grown talent- has proven successful. This focused strategy with investment in instrastructure has enabled the club to come back stronger from each disruptive close season. Despite all the tabloid chaos, behind the scenes there is continuity. Stability and clear direction is what enables teams to do well (you only have to compare the Spain and England national teams over the past few decades).

    Past success is no guarantee of future results but neither is extravagant spending. Look at Van Gaal at Man United. Liverpool. Newcastle. Leeds. Portsmouth.

    Make no mistake, I think Saints are going to have a tough season. Given the resurgence of the elite clubs who under achieved last season, Thursday nights in Europe and the loss of some key players, mid-table is likely. I’m not even ruling out a relegation battle if we don’t bolster the squad.

    But going trigger happy with the cheque book might actually make things worse. Building debt, diminishing the team spirit. Dani Osvaldo immediately comes to mind and 25 million quid flushed away.

  4. Fans are not asking the club to spend more money than they get. We just have the modest ambition of wanting them to keep our best players and managers for at least a year or two longer before they cash in on them, so that we have a team which is used to playing together, has built some team spirit and might actually win something, and we won’t have to wait until several games into the season to see a full-strength team.

    As it is, most of our best players are sold as soon as we get an offer for them from a rival club. I do not believe for one minute that players like Mane would have sulked, gone on strike, thrown tantrums etc if they weren’t sold 2 years into their contracts. That’s just PR bullsh!t from the club to appease the fans. Most of us know that they’ll already be planning to sell Van Dijk in the next summer transfer window and Hojbjerg in the one after that, the same as they were planning months ago to sell Mane and Wanyama in this one.

  5. The problem with the ‘pathway’ option is that you can’t rely on good young players coming through when you need them to and playing in the right positions, where the gaps are. What we’ve give now for another schneiderlin to be graduating from the youth team?!

    But also bear in mind it took Morgan several years playing in the lower divisions before he truly developed. As saints do better in the league and expectations rise, the quality of the youngsters has to improve for them to be given that chance in the first team. For me this is the reason why teams like Chelsea rarely play youngsters despite having similar youth set ups.

    I think youth should always be given the chance over an expensive premiership-ready option but we have to accept that very few youth players are actually good enough to cut it in the top half of the premier league. If we get one a year we are blessed. The problem is we seem to sell 3 or 4 of our best players every summer!

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