Ings can only get much more interesting. Maybe even better.

 

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It’s been an odd summer for us. I think we can all agree with that.  

Uncharacteristically quiet with regards to acrimonious ins and outs, with Mark Hughes installed as our permanent manager in good time for pre-season to start, and more additions to the squad (and good ones at that) than exits.  

So why am I so worried? Should I be worried?  

It’s hard to tell after so much turmoil. Starting with the churn of the 2014-2015 summer, with Pochettino, Shaw, Lallana, Lambert and Nichola Cortese (who some Southampton fans love with a worrying fervour that only seems a step away from requesting that he’s canonised), we’ve been used to summer-upon-summer of managerial change, key players moving on to bigger clubs, and us operating in a nimble manner in the transfer market, whilst still bringing youth team players through. 

But this summer, I can’t get my head around. Mainly because we’ve had a chance to take stock. And as a fanbase, the message is pretty clear: we’re all pissed off about something. 

Some are annoyed by a lack of ‘ambition’ in the transfer market. This is a difficult square to circle for many clubs, and we are not alone in this. Every fan wants their club to be spending £40m on a player to make a ‘statement of intent’. But would you do that knowing that that type of outrageous spending would put the club you love into financial trouble if it didn’t come off? Some still would. ‘It’s a gamble,’ they’d say. ‘Speculate to accumulate,’ they’d also say.  

But this isn’t the local pub or casino. This isn’t a fruit machine. This is a sport that exists within a world that is fundamentally unfair to clubs of our size and below.  

Spending big on a player is not a guarantee of success. And a fee isn’t always reflective of a player’s overall quality. These days, it’s 50% talent, and 50% contract length.  

The players we have signed this summer (Jannick Vestergaard, Angus Gunn, Stuart Armstrong, Mo Elyonoussi and Danny Ings), are for the most part in the classic Southampton mould: young, on decent sized-contracts, with a potentially high resale-value. And whilst it’s too early to tell if they will be successful (pre-season is for fitness and working on elements of match sharpness), early season showings from all of these players suggest a good window for us as a club. 

Waving goodbye to Dusan Tadic was a sad moment, but both the club and himself must have realised that the stars rarely align in the manner in which the Ajax move came about. Turning 30, in the last years of his contract, Tadic was keen to return to Holland. Ajax are the biggest club there, and are able to offer him the bonus of European football.  

People are making a lot of hay about his early-season form for Ajax, but it must be remembered that he is playing in a fantastic side, in a much lower-quality league than the Premier League. As unfairly-maligned as he was here, and as keen as I am to stick up for him, he would not be reproducing those stats week-in, week-out in this league. 

So Dusan: thank you, and a belated good luck. That performance against Bournemouth went a long way to keeping us in the league. 

As pleasing as it was this summer to see us keep hold of Ryan Bertrand, who many of us assumed would be one of the first players to leave in the summer window after about three transfer windows full of rumours linking him elsewhere, the current size of our squad, and the amount of players we have out on loan, is concerning. 

Part of the hard work that comes with operating as a club of our size is about maximising the resale value of our core squad. Getting players in cheap, developing them, and selling them on for a large fee to generate income: sell one, buy three if possible. 

The problem is that over the past two seasons, we have made some utterly atrocious signings, and contract decisions, which have significantly hampered our progress. 

Guido Carillo, Jordy Clasie, Sofiane Boufal, Fraser Forster. Four players on lucrative contracts, not involved in the slightest this season. Loaned out or frozen out, you have to feel that this is a pretty drastic failing of our transfer policy. This surely led to Les Reed taking a back-seat when it came to delivering and working on transfers during the summer window. 

However. However. Things aren’t looking as shabby as they could have been on the pitch. A spirited nil-nil against Burnley, an almost-expected loss against our bogie team Everton, and an unlucky injury-time defeat against Leicester were followed by a spirited and dominant display against Crystal Palace. 

What we have seen in the first few games is a manager still struggling to marry his own footballing philosophy with one that we’ve been used to traditionally.  But the signs are there that he wants the team to pay with an intensity that we haven’t seen in the past two seasons, and for that he should be applauded. Time will tell if he will be a success, but there have been more positive than negative signs. 

And yet I still worry. Why?  

Because the Premier League has changed. It will continue to change. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and in it’s current form, there is such a marginal difference between a team in 7th and a team in 20th that I’d say that a good seventy percent of teams in the league will be looking over their shoulders before they start looking up towards the upper echelons.  

Like it or not, we are in a race to 40 points this season, and I refuse to look any further than that. We are as much at risk of relegation as Cardiff, Bournemouth, West Ham, Brighton, Burnley, Wolves, and so-on. After the aberration of the Leicester title win, which gave clubs of our size a false hope that we could consistently mix it with the best, we are back to a normal service, but with heavy congestion at the bottom end of the table. So much so, that there really is no such thing as mid-table obscurity any more. 

In this league, you are now either pushing for Europe, a title, or looking to avoid relegation. Mid-table obscurity will only be confirmed in April/May. Until then, it will be tense. 

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But if Danny Ings can keep up his early-season form, and Nathan Redmond, a player reborn now he has a coach who can encourage him to attack rather than hold him back, can keep his new-found form going, I think we are in for a much more exciting season than last year. 

Ings seems to work well alongside other runners. Shane Long in particular. Shane’s work-rate made space for Danny’s opening goal on Saturday, and that in my view should be our starting pair for the visit of Brighton. 

Manolo Gabbiadini, a clever player with an eye for goal, seems to have found himself potentially even behind Sam Gallagher in the pecking order. For reasons best known to our previous two coaches, he seems to have not made an impression. Hughes alluded to him being too quiet, which might make him more reliant on players spotting his runs, rather than communicating with them what he intends to do before he makes those runs. So maybe, rather than it being entirely management’s fault that a player is being overlooked, maybe it also comes down to a lack of communication on the pitch too. 

In terms of ownership, the fact that the Gao’s are active and known to the players and staff at the club is reassuring. The fans forum was a useful addition, and although Les Reed was given a roasting, at least he was there. At least they showed up. Krueger said some words that sounded like a film script written by an AI algorithm, but at least he was there, and as fans we had the opportunity to push these people. 

So, this season: boom or bust, too early to tell. My only prediction? Anywhere between 7th-20th. So let’s try and enjoy the ride. Supporting a team like us has never been easy, but surely that makes the taste of victory all the sweeter?  

As much as we may deride the ‘glory hunter’, we should really pity them. They may enjoy the success of the team they have chosen, but they will never truly feel the connection we feel with our club, forged as much in the hard times, the shit-sandwich home performances, and the administrations as the sneaky successes, the days out at Wembley, and the gate-crashing of many a big club’s party. 

Long may that continue. 

 

 

 

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