Southampton Remain A Model Of Steady, Successful Growth
Just over four years ago, in January 2013, Southampton were being held up as everything wrong with modern football. The club’s hierarchy, including Nicola Cortese, had decided to part ways with manager Nigel Adkins. Southampton were 15th in the Premier League, in their first season back in the division, after Adkins had guided them to successive promotions.
Adkins took the club from League 1 to the lower reaches of the Premier League table in just a couple of seasons, yet it was still not enough. For many, it was a job well done. The sacking seemed harsh and the appointment, by a foreign administrator, of a relatively unknown foreign coach did not assuage matters. Writing in is column for the Telegraph at the time, Henry Winter said Adkins had been “stabbed in the back”. He called the sacking a “particularly brutal and bizarre episode” and, grudgingly, conceded that “Pochettino actually came over well”. Imagine that.
Yet one season later, and the season after that, and every subsequent season, Southampton have emphatically proved that they made the right decision. Every year, since 2010, Southampton have finished in consecutively higher league positions. Adkins departure was treated as a disaster, until there was Pochettino. Pochettino’s departure was then treated as a disaster, until there was Koeman, who despite laughable talk of relegation at the start of his first season, eventually took Southampton to 6th in the league. Koeman’s departure, too, was greeted with trepidation, but while Claude Puel may not take the side as high as 6th this season, there is now a chance at silverware.
Southampton’s consistent growth has been unparalleled in English football. They are one of the best run clubs in the country, if not throughout the whole of Europe; their academy consistently provides players that perform in the Premier League; their signings rarely fail, often going on to furnish the best clubs in England; their managers, usually departing before time, prove to be adept throughout the game. The upcoming League Cup final, rather than the result of a single good season, is the vindication for the way the club has been run over the last eight years. The one set back, one that is particularly disappointing, is the failure to make it to the knock-out rounds of the Europa League. For a club so adept at achieving tangible progress, the 1-1 draw at home to Hapoel Be’er Sheva was particularly jarring.
This season, then, may be the first since 2009 that Southampton do not better their previous league position. But, this does not mean decline. The club are still likely to finish in the top half, possibly as high as eight, with a cup final offering the possibility of both silverware and another crack at the Europa League. After seven years of sustained upward trajectory, a year treading water does not mean the club is capsizing. Losing great players damagers every side, but the current squad still have vast room to grow. Virgil Van Dijk may be expected to leave but Manolo Gabbiadini, Oriol Romeu, Sofiane Boufal, Pierre-Emile Hojberg and James Ward-Prowse are each either on the verge of their prime or still some years away from grasping their full potential. This Southampton side will improve and a few additions, of the sort that they are always able to make, will ensure progress for a number of seasons to come.
Winning the league cup would provide the most tangible evidence yet of Southampton’s sustained progress, but even without it, the future is bright. There are few clubs with the same level of excellence running through them.