Southamp­ton’s model has never been un­der as much pres­sure

Club have been set up for the long term but this sea­son’s nose­dive has forced them into dras­tic ac­tion and to re-ex­am­ine the guid­ing prin­ci­ples that have served them so well

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Sam Wallace -

You get the im­pres­sion that plenty have been hop­ing for Southamp­ton fi­nally to find them­selves in this po­si­tion, stuck in the rel­e­ga­tion whirlpool and forced to make the kind of late-sea­son de­ci­sions about sack­ing man­agers that they usu­ally see less well-run clubs con­front at this time of year.

Af­ter all, be­fore Le­ices­ter City’s mir­a­cle of 2015-2016, there was Southamp­ton, em­bar­rass­ing all those man­agers and own­ers who said that, with the best will in the world, your league po­si­tion was about your wage bud­get and not much else. They sold £100 mil­lion-worth of play­ers in the sum­mer of 2014, lost their man­ager Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino and fin­ished one place higher, sev­enth, the fol­low­ing May – and al­ways the con­tention has been that a club can­not sim­ply keep do­ing this.

Of course, the re­al­ity is that there is no real al­ter­na­tive when play­ers are be­ing courted by Cham­pi­ons League clubs, and although some like Sa­dio Mane, Mor­gan Sch­nei­der­lin and most re­cently Vir­gil van Dijk were kept one year longer than the play­ers would have pre­ferred, the final outcome was in­evitable.

Southamp­ton’s most sought-af­ter play­ers were never go­ing to sign new con­tracts, and so the trick is choos­ing the mo­ment for peak value and then try­ing to restart the whole process again. The same goes for the man­agers, at a club which lost two in suc­ces­sion in Po­chet­tino and then Ron­ald Koe­man to big­ger, wealth­ier ri­vals – both of whom rep­re­sented ideal fig­ures for the club’s par­tic­u­lar mo­ment in his­tory.

Mauri­cio Pel­le­grino, sacked on Mon­day, was given all the time the club could af­ford him be­fore they feared for their Pre­mier League sta­tus. His pre­de­ces­sor Claude Puel was sacked be­cause Saints feared a sim­i­lar de­cline un­der him, and one way or an­other they have got it.

There are few clubs obliged to cope with so much change as Southamp­ton, who were long placed be­tween the ruth­lessly ac­quis­i­tive

League’s medi­ocre rump of teams. Mark Hughes (left) takes charge to­day in the FA Cup quar­ter-final against Wi­gan Ath­letic with a squad that the club them­selves be­lieve to be as strong as any other, in which all fees, with the cur­rent ex­cep­tion of the £75mil­lion for Van Dijk in Jan­uary, have been rein­vested. The plan that got them to sev­enth in the Pre­mier League, and a place in Europe, has worked well in the past and there re­mains faith in it.

The fun­da­men­tal prob­lem with Pel­le­grino was a ten­dency to­wards cau­tious­ness that af­fects some man­agers who play at­tack­ing foot­ball else­where and then get spooked by the strength of com­pe­ti­tion in the Pre­mier League. While Koe­man’s nat­u­ral con­fi­dence suited Saints well, Pel­le­grino re­treated. The chief com­plaint was his un­will­ing­ness to play two strik­ers in any tac­ti­cal guise, and in that his lim­it­ing of Manolo Gab­bia­dini’s game time.

The best Saints teams un­der Po­chet­tino and then Koe­man played with the hand­brake off and it suited them – in fact, the gen­eral con­sen­sus is that the club have never in­vested more in higher-qual­ity at­tack­ing

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