162 minutes. That is effectively how long former Southampton striker Juanmi’s career on the English South Coast lasted. And yet, the 24-year-old’s cut-price return to Spain has been one of revelation which the Saints’ nightmarish goalscoring return desperately needs.
With less than three hours of football for the St. Mary’s outfit during a goalless season for Ronald Koeman’s side, Juanmi was allowed to return to his homeland for £2million less than he was purchased. For once, Southampton’s prudent transfer strategy was not living up to its reputation.
Mistakes invariably happen, and particularly in the high-risk stakes of football and no Southampton fans were having sleepless nights over losing a forward whose time out on the pitch accounted for less than half a Frank de Boer stint in charge of Crystal Palace.
Frank De Boer being sacked after 4 games is exactly why managers don't bring through youth anymore.
— Pilib De Brún (@Malachians) September 11, 2017
There was invariably talent with Juanmi, though, a 22-year-old arriving into a team of fellow young, hungry professionals looking to build on the 7th placed finish in 2014/15.
Fighting for a place in the forward line with the likes of Shane Long, Jay Rodriguez and Sadio Mane meant the 5ft7in forward was never assured a first-team place but with the Saints’ only recognised out-and-out striker being the currently peripheral Manolo Gabbiadini (hands up if you remember his blistering start), La Liga’s joint-second top goalscorer would be ideal to aid Southampton’s blunt attacking force.
Southampton have three goals in four games, all against struggling West Ham United, two of which were from the penalty spot. In over three hours less playing time, Juanmi has registered the same amount, all from open play.
— Goldon Shoe (@EuroGoldonShoe) September 11, 2017
In Gabbiadini, Mauricio Pellegrino’s side have a target man capable of finding the back of the net, as evidenced by the Italian’s six goals in his first four games.
However, Gabbiadini is receiving little support from the midfield consisting of flair players including Nathan Redmond, Dusan Tadic and Sofiane Boufal.
And as last season, Southampton’s 41-goal return a principle cause for Claude Puel’s ‘harsh’ dismissal is evident again with the Saints’ hierarchy’s most attacking purchase being that of Mario Lemina from Italian champions Juventus (the midfielder has just five career goals).
This isn’t to say that if Juanmi was still a Southampton player, they would brandish the most dangerous attack in the league, but the still only-24-year-old offers something different to Gabbiadini. Pacey, he can outrun tired defenders and a solitary Spain cap just prior to his switch from Malaga proves his worth just as much as his double figure return in his debut season for Real Sociedad.
The fact that his place in the squad could provide Southampton with a different option to the 4-2-3-1 employed by the club for so long in order to make their brand of football less predictable, Juanmi would provide the perfect foil to Gabbiadini’s larger stature, potentially creating a classic ‘little and large’ strike partnership which football fans cannot help but adore. Ask most Southampton fans right now and they will struggle to find anything they enjoy about their side going forward at present.
It is worth pointing out that La Real finished sixth in the top tier of Spanish football as well as reaching the Europa League semi-finals with the diminutive forward playing a big role in the Basque club’s exciting campaign.
Therein lies what Southampton are missing the most; Juanmi could undoubtedly have found goals in England had Koeman had confidence in the man he brought in and Puel not sold him off for a lower price than he was brought in, but right now he would provide something that Saints have been missing since the Koeman’s departure to Everton – excitement.