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Could Southampton really become a top-six team within the next few seasons?

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Back in January, in the process of firing likeable and proven gaffer Nigel Adkins, Southampton chairman Nicola Cortese suggested – and I’m paraphrasing here – that the Saints could, within the next few seasons, become a top-six Premier League team challenging for a place in European competitions and even the league title.

With the club in 15th place at the time, having picked up just five wins all season, the innocent bystander could’ve been forgiven for shrugging off the Italian businessman’s proposition as completely over-ambitious, but those quick to jump to such a conclusion should perhaps rethink their stance before making their opinion known.

Historically, Southampton have only ever been close to breaking into the English elite on a few occasions, with a 1984 top-flight second-place finish looking lonely amongst only two other top-six finishes, both in the 80s, when the club boasted such megastars as Kevin Keegan and Peter Shilton.

Recently they’ve been through some tough times though, before the achievement of consecutive promotions in 2011 and 2012 to return back to the Premier League after seven years out brought the fans back to life. They’re currently contained in a relegation dogfight, just as everyone expected them to be, but that’s not to say that fans and critics aren’t starting to take notice of little old Southampton.

Take a look at the facts – as of the 2011/12 season end, the estate of deceased former owner Markus Liebherr was worth £3 billion, behind just four other Premier League club owners; the club’s academy is notorious for producing world-class players almost every year (look no further than Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale for recent examples); and the team under new manager Mauricio Pochettino constantly plays attractive high-tempo football which has seen the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool, and Man City fall in recent weeks.

With so many emerging young players, too, the future looks bright for the undisputed biggest club on the south coast, just so long as Cortese and co. can fight off the unavoidable interest in players from giants like Man United and Arsenal when presented with such challenges.

Recent long-term contract completions are promising, but the club needs to ensure progress is made towards their stated ambitions in order to keep hotly tipped youngsters like Luke Shaw and Nathaniel Clyne on their books, and not at one of the big London clubs they so often feed.

Looking further into the statistics, no one can avoid the media frenzy over French midfield maestro Morgan Schneiderlin as one of the top ball-winners and passers in Europe, and the cries of “Lambert for England” are increasing weekly as the striker pulls further away from names like Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney on the top scorers list.

If you don’t like to play the statistics game, look no further than the team’s tenacious performances against most of the top teams in recent weeks and months for proof that Southampton are certainly willing to fight for their status, although their displays against sides they perhaps ‘should’ be beating leaves something to be desired.

The entry into the top quarter of the table is not so much of a daunting task as it perhaps used to be. Gone are the times of the United-Chelsea-Liverpool-Arsenal ‘big four’ dominance – now teams like Everton, Spurs, and even West Brom and Swansea are in for a shout of the European places, and there’s no reason why Southampton can’t be among this fighting group.

The key for them, it seems, is to place a strong foundation upon which to build with inspired imports and consistent performances, not off-the-cuff signings of unproven Zambian strikers or dropped points against fellow strugglers.

Cortese seems to know what he’s doing, and he’s not put a foot wrong yet in the Hampshire club’s domination of the Football League in recent years, so who are we to question his claims of a top-six finish?

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Law graduate, Saints fan, musician, dreamer. Check me out on Twitter @andrepusey1.

4 comments
  • Craig says:

    Are you a Southampton fan Andre?

  • Tom says:

    Good article, but with us sitting relatively comfortably in 11th I’m not sure that we are ‘contained in a relegation dogfight’ anymore, or that our youth academy could be labelled ‘notorious’. Unless, of course, you are referring to Nile Ranger.

    It’s unclear how much of the money we have from Liebherr’s estate to actually spend. While it has certainly allowed us to clear off our outstanding debts (which obviously puts us in a healthy financial position) Cortese clearly has a self-sustaining model in mind – hence, the focus on promoting youth team players; developing the infrastructure of the academy; and hiring a manager who seems to have an excellent track record in blooding young players into the first team. The (small) profit posted for our first six months in the Premier League bodes well on that front.

    Although there have been some excellent signings during the tenures of Pardew and Adkins there have also been a fair few duds: Forte, De Ridder, Lee, Seaborne, Mayuka…to name just a few. There is also a lot of dead wood to clear out in the summer – Chaplow, Hammond, Martin, De Ridder, possibly Fox and Guly – an inevitable process of certain players not making the ‘step up’ from the Championship to Premier League.

    Cortese and Les Reed are not immune from criticism here (their fingerprints are over quite a few of these signings) but I’m hoping that the appointment of Pochettino will improve our dealings in the transfer market, for several reasons:
    1) He will open our eyes to the Spanish market – as Swansea’s signing of Michu suggests, there is a lot of value to be had there.
    2) With a bigger reputation in the game, Pochettinho will surely attract a better calibre of player, or at least, make it a lot easier to sign them. No discredit to Adkins, but I wonder whether the Ramirez saga would have dragged on for quite so long over the summer if MoPo had already been in place. It seems as if Cortese did all the spade-work on that deal, and arguably, this came at the expense of strengthening priority areas.
    3) By placing an emphasis on bringing through young players, it reduces the pressure on us to shell out big fees on new players. As an example, why sign a replacement for Fox (who hopefully will be moved on), when we have a capable understudy for Shaw in Matt Targett?

    As you say, as long as we keep hold of the core of our young team then exciting times await…I think 3-4 astute signings in the summer (a reliable CB, and a bit more pace on the wings being among the priorities) along with the natural development of some of our young prospects, then I see no reason why we can’t be hassling the top 8 next season.

    • André Pusey says:

      Hi Tom, thanks for the comment!

      As well as we are doing in the league now, we are still only 7 points from the relegation zone. Admittedly, the result at Reading yesterday put us in a very comfortable position overall (this article was written before the game), but a few results don’t go our way and we are right back in the fight. Only very, very recently have we pulled ourselves out of the assumed scrap we’d be in at the beginning of the season.

      Some of our signings over the last few years have, I agree, been questionable to say the least, but overall we have done well in the transfer market picking up key players each year to help us move up the leagues quickly (Richardson, Chaplow and Guly in League One; Cork, Hooiveld and Sharp in the Championship; Rodriguez, Yoshida and Boruc in the Premier League). Like you say, too, the reason we have a lot of players to offload this summer is because we’ve come up quickly through not one but two leagues and kept the majority of our players. They will go though, as most have had decent seasons out on loan, and our squad will only improve.

      Three or four strong signings in the summer is right — I’m thinking a CB partner for Yoshida, another playmaker/winger, and another decent striker — and our youth players are only going to get better, with certain U21 and U18 players (Chambers, Targett, Rowe and Seager to name a few) progressing rapidly into professional talents.

      Anyway… I’m glad you agree we should be challenging very soon; these are exciting times for Saints fans! 🙂

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