Southampton have lost their identity, and are at risk of completely falling into the abyss

Southampton have lost their identity, and are at risk of completely falling into the abyss

From the Europa League to the bottom three – Southampton are in desperate need of a change in direction

Just over two years ago, Southampton travelled to Italy to take on Inter Milan in the Europa League. A late effort from Antonio Candreva decided that the tie would end narrowly in the hosts favour, however many positives were taken from the Saints performance at the San Siro. Having surprisingly enjoyed the lion share of possession, making almost 100 more passes than their Italian counterparts, and taking five more shots than Frank de Boer’s men, things were looking promising for Southampton ahead of the return fixture at St Mary’s.

A 2-1 victory for Claude Puel’s underdogs was to follow – Virgil van Dijk netted for the hosts just after the hour mark, levelling things for the Premier League outfit after Mauro Icardi had put Inter a goal to the good within the opening half an hour. Yuto Nagatomo then doubled Southampton’s lead with an unfortunate own goal just five minutes after van Dijk’s effort, leaving fans of the south coast club ecstatic with what their club had achieved.

That same season, Saints finished 8th in the league. They also reached the final of the EFL Cup, losing to Manchester United at Wembley, perhaps unfairly, as they saw a perfectly good goal wrongly judged to be offside when the game was evenly poised. A successful season, you’d agree? Well, not successful enough, it appeared.

Puel was relieved of his duties at the end of the campaign due to his ‘boring’ style of football – the board felt it was too ‘safe’, lacked ‘creativity’ and, basically, wasn’t what they were after. Really though, it just wasn’t what they were used to, having been treated to two top-level managers in the three seasons previously. First, the South American flare of Mauricio Pochettino, then the bullish, cutting edge, new age model of football implemented by Ronald Koeman.

Claude Puel was dealt a harsh blow at Southampton, sacked after guiding the club to an 8th placed finish.

When Koeman departed for Everton in the summer of 2016, I think it left the club a little shellshocked. Everyone expected him to move on at some stage, as his efforts at Saints became recognised by Europe’s elite, all competing in the Champions League. Many felt he was tailor made for the Arsenal job after Wenger, but that never happened as the Frenchman simply refused to leave the Emirates. Murmurs of Barcelona also greeted the Dutchman, who spent the bulk of his incredibly successful career at the Nou Camp, but again, they ultimately just turned into empty rumours without any real substance. This left Everton, rich with cash but underperforming.

It almost felt like a panic move that perhaps caught Southampton off-guard. At the time, Saints were above Everton in the table and the situation with the Toffees seemed way too sticky for Koeman to even entertain. Martinez had seen his time at Goodison Park come to an end after a string of poor performances had left the club languishing in the bottom half of the division, and the vastly in-experienced David Unsworth was clearly just not cut out for the job. Everton threw money at Koeman, gifting him an almost-endless budget, but he flopped. That however, is a story for another day; the fact that remained was that Koeman was no longer at Southampton, and they had to quickly find a new manager, enter Claude Puel.

Managerial merry-go-round has left Southampton in real danger

After just a season in the hot seat, it’s now Puel’s time to leave, albeit in very different circumstances. The Frenchman was replaced by Mauricio Pellegrino, a man who had excelled with La Liga outfit Alaves but fell heavily short of the quality required to compete in the Premier League.

Just one win in 17 saw Southampton in real contention to be relegated to the Championship after five consecutive seasons back in the top-flight, and the Argentine was subsequently relieved of his duties in March of this year. Hughes came in to steady the ship – and, to an extent that’s exactly what he did. He kept Southampton up (just), whilst also reaching the semi-finals of the FA Cup – eventually losing 2-0 to Chelsea in April.

This season though, the troubles seem to have worsened for Saints. Having once been a team people looked at, almost in awe of the way they did things, the way they brought young players through the academy, and their excellent recruitment department, they’re now just a small club that you’d expect to beat on a Saturday afternoon. It was always going to happen, of course, if you keep selling your prized assets to the leagues bigger sides but fail to invest their transfer fees back into the playing staff.

There’s only so long you can gamble on unheard of European players, in the hope that they’d turn out like Sadio Mane and Victor Wanyama and transform into world beaters almost instantly. Virgil van Dijk, Nathaniel Clyne, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Toby Alderweireld, Jose Fonte – just some of the names that Southampton have lost over the past four years. Those players were always going to leave, that’s a given. The more success you taste at a ‘smaller’ side, the more attention you’ll gain from the big-hitters, that’s football; but the slow decline in reinvestment at St Mary’s over the previous two seasons has now become so apparent it’s frightening.

van dijk

Southampton’s inability to replace the quality they’ve lost is starting to cost them dearly.

Time’s up for Hughes, but who makes the decision?

The fact of the matter is, Mark Hughes is now dealing with the repercussions of what has gone before him on the south coast. The blind arrogance that they were better than an 8th placed finish and cup final has left them now licking their wounds, watching on as Claude Puel guides Leicester to mid-table contentment and the possibility of European football.

The club are also currently without a Technical Director after Les Reed was given his marching orders at the start of the month, and regardless to whether or not you feel that was the right decision, it leaves the club without any real direction and more importantly, nobody to make any kind of affirmative decision about how to get them out of the hugely unwanted and extremely dangerous situation they currently find themselves in.

It’s clear that Hughes probably isn’t the man for the job anymore; a string of performances which in some cases can only be described as completely embarrassing and laughable (Man City 6-1) have left the fans completely against him, and after the defeat to Fulham at the weekend, a decision regarding the Welshman’s future has probably now been made for him, and it’s a good job, because there’s currently nobody left at the club to do it.

If Southampton was a person it’d be described as a lost soul meandering aimlessly into further uncertainty, without any real clue on where they’re going, aside from it definitely not being forwards. A club that most people would have once admitted they had a ‘soft spot’ for after the way it was run as a business model has now turned into a vulnerable entity not really knowing when their next win is going to come from. Saints have lost their identity, and it’s extremely difficult to see when, or how they’re going to get it back.