Wal­cott could re­turn to be­devil the Saints

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - SOCCER -

Theo Wal­cott is 29. It is a de­tail to re-check be­cause Wal­cott still looks about 16. It was at that age he burst onto foot­ball’s broad con­scious­ness with a move to Ar­se­nal that was a sen­sa­tion. Ar­se­nal were said to be pay­ing £12 mil­lion for a teenager.

Southamp­ton were the club Wal­cott was leav­ing, and today, now an Ever­ton player, Wal­cott faces his first club at Good­i­son. Southamp­ton’s Premier League fu­ture is in jeop­ardy, and Wal­cott can make the sit­u­a­tion worse.

Wal­cott’s 2006 trans­fer can be seen as the be­gin­ning of a Southamp­ton sales pat­tern that has left them in this scram­ble. Gareth Bale went to Tot­ten­ham two years later. Three years on Alex Oxlade-Cham­ber­lain joined Wal­cott at Ar­se­nal.

Those are three sig­nif­i­cant de­par­tures. Then in the sum­mer of 2014 De­jan Lovren, Adam Lal­lana and Rickie Lam­bert left for Liver­pool, Cal­lum Cham­bers for Ar­se­nal, Luke Shaw for Manch­ester United and Jack Cork for Swansea.

They have been fol­lowed out by Nathaniel Clyne, Mor­gan Sch­nei­der­lin, Sa­dio Mane, Gas­ton Ramirez, Vic­tor Wanyama, Jose Fonte, Jay Ro­driguez and Vir­gil Van Dijk.

Lovren, Lal­lana, Clyne, Mane and Van Dijk. Liver­pool. Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal.

This all had to tell on Southamp­ton, or so you would think. It could in the next four days. Ever­ton away, Swansea away. If rel­e­ga­tion comes, the roll call of sales will be read out again. But what is as star­tling is that Southamp­ton have man­aged so well without these play­ers. They have a pro­duc­tive academy and have bought clev­erly. Six sea­sons in the Premier League have brought four top-eight fin­ishes.

Logic says the busi­ness model at St Mary’s ul­ti­mately leads to rel­e­ga­tion. Southamp­ton have fought that idea but on Mersey­side, home of so many of their for­mer play­ers, Wal­cott could de­liver a harsh re­minder.

Theo Wal­cott in his Southamp­ton days

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