If there’s one piece of praise regularly aimed at Southampton, usually bi-annually just after the closure of the summer and winter transfer windows, it is how efficient the south coast side are at replacing bygone superstars with the next best thing. Eat. Sleep. Lose a key player and sign an able replacement for a fraction of the price. Repeat. Scratch the surface, however, and the Saints’ recruitment strategy is not as heavenly as it appears.
While there is no doubting Southampton’s prowess in producing top class talents with the likes of former world record signing Gareth Bale, Premier League record goalscorer Alan Shearer, Liverpool’s £40million man Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Arsenal’s Theo Walcott, it is hard to fall head over heels in love with the St Marys’ outfit’s transfer drive as so many appear to have done in recent years.
Take this summer, for example, Mauricio Pellegrino was able to bring in three first-team players for a combined fee of just over £35million, two centre-backs and holding midfielder Mario Lemina from Juventus despite the fact that the club’s problem under Claude Puel was scoring goals.
— Aidan Small (@MrAidanSmall) September 13, 2017
In finding the back of the net 41 times in the 2016/17 season, they had the joint worst attack outside of the bottom five and that was the primary reason behind the Frenchman’s sacking despite finishing eighth in the top flight of English football.
To combat this, former Alaves boss Mauricio Pellegrino has been afforded a trio of first-team stars with 13 career goals between them and the fact that they’ve failed to score in three of their five league games this season should therefore come as no surprise.
— Saints Marching (@SaintsMarching_) September 16, 2017
The summer prior, Southampton spent a total outlay of over £40million on attacking players Sofiane Boufal from Lille, Napoli’s Manolo Gabbiadini and Nathan Redmond from relegated Norwich City. Boufal, a club record signing, has scored just once in his short Southampton career and is yet to complete 90 minutes in the league this campaign.
Redmond has fared slightly better, scoring seven times in his debut season while Gabbiadini, after a blistering start in which he scored in first four games following his January 2017 arrival has been failing in a fighting battle to rediscover his blue touch paper form, scoring just once this term and cutting a peripheral figure for the most part.
Gabbiadini on the bench today for Southampton, only 1 goal since the beginning of March. Sounds familiar. ? #SaintsFC
— Everything Napoli (@NaplesAndNapoli) September 16, 2017
In last weekend’s win at Crystal Palace, only Redmond started with Boufal spending the entire match on the bench and Gabbiadini coming on in the dying embers to waste time more than anything else. This transfer policy has also now begun to detract from the academy graduates who used to litter Southampton’s matchday squads.
Only James Ward-Prowse played any part while Dale Stephens and Matt Targett had to settle for spending the full afternoon alongside Algerian Boufal.
Yes, Southampton have so often got their replacements right with Virgil van Dijk coming in and doing twice the job of Dejan Lovren, Charlie Austin filling the void left by Rickie Lambert and Cedric Soares a more than able deputy to replace Nathanial Clyne.
Southampton already gearing up for a January sale. pic.twitter.com/gGPxdaJKFQ
— Paddy Power (@paddypower) September 19, 2017
However, the last couple of years have seen the club’s stellar transfer strategy questioned by a slide in quality while the academy boys are finding first-team opportunities limited by the foreign imports who are failing to excite the fans like the teams of Nigel Adkins, successor Mauricio Pochettino, and his replacement Ronald Koeman.
Just as Puel’s arrival failed to get the supporters out of their seats on a regular occasion and Pellegrino’s stint looking largely like going the same way, perhaps Southampton’s years of combining excellent recruitment with stellar young graduates is in the past and the Saints are headed for purgatory.