How long can a club remain in transition?

by John Kent

John Kent takes look at transition in the world of football, and how clubs like Southampton and Sevilla have achieved continued success.

Transition is a funny phase. Defined by the Oxford Dictionary as ‘the process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another’, yet you would be hard pushed to find a word associated with various football clubs in the back pages (other then maybe ‘process’, this is a whole other subject).

Managerial change

Manchester United are in transition; since the days of Sir Alex Ferguson the Red Devils have been seemingly unable to find an identity.

Manchester City are in transition; with Pep Guardiola arriving, it is unknown whether the current squad will be able to adapt to their ideas.

Liverpool are in transition; Jurgen Klopp is seemingly trying to implement an idea seemingly alien to the Premier League.

Chelsea are in transition; gone the dictatorship of Jose Mourinho, and enter the reign of Antonio Conte.

 

Forced transition

All these teams have one thing in common though: any period of transition they are under is seemingly linked to the man in the dugout, a natural consequence of successful leaders bringing in their own ideas.

Transition is not always necessarily a bad thing in that case, and is more often than not the temporary state that the definition outlined above suggests (even if this state is far longer then some fans would care for.)

Transition then becomes much more interesting when one delves into the subject, and you start to have a look at clubs who see a turnover of their best players year on year; I’m thinking Southampton, who are seemingly a feeder club for Liverpool in the current climate.

I’m also thinking Sevilla, who despite everything managed to upset the odds and defeat Liverpool in the Europa League final last year – and when I say upset the odds, I say it from the blinkered fans point of view, ignorant to the strength in depth of the Spanish La Liga, fans of which would’ve told you they continue improving year on year regardless of change, and were always likely to pick up the trophy….again.

From the fans point of view however, this surely cannot go on forever. One must wonder whether there will ever be a point when the likes of Southampton are perhaps seen as challengers at the summit of the game, rather than be the focus of articles titled ‘What their squad could look like’.

The Saints go marching on

Within the Premier League then, the team highlighted above is the one that stands out as being in transition; since making their return to the top echelons of English Football in 2012, Southampton’s income from major transfers has accumulated them over £200m, which can be seen in the table further down the page.

Combined this with the fact that they are on to their fourth manager in as many years, with Mauricio Pochettino and more recently Ronald Koeman leaving, having been poached by a seemingly ‘more ambitious club’.

It is easy to understand the frustration of the fans having seen all this. Every year is apparently going to be different, and only as recently as two months ago their propaganda machine was in full force, proclaiming both Koeman and Sadio Mane were excited about building a legacy on the South Coast.

Sevilla are not in dissimilar position over in Spain, as they constantly sell their best players year on year. Below is a table with a complete list of major players leaving the two highlighted clubs.

Southampton transfers out Sevilla transfers out
–       Ricky Lambert – £4m

–       Luke Shaw – £27m

–       Adam Lallana – £25m

–       Dejan Lovren – £20m

–       Calum Chambers – £16m

–       Jack Cork – Undisclosed

–       Nathaniel Clyne – £12.5m

–       Morgan Schneiderlin – £25m

–       Pablo Osvaldo – Undisclosed

–       Victor Wanyama – £11m

–       Sadio Mane – £34m

–       Graziano Pelle – £12m

–       Toby Alderweireld – loan ended

 

–       Frederic Kanoute

–       Martin Caceres

–       Diego Lopez

–       Jesus Navas

–       Antonio Luna

–       Luis Alberto

–       Alvaro Negrado

–       Gary Medel

–       Geoffrey Kondogbia

–       Ivan Rakitic

–       Alberto Moreno

–       Federico Fazio

–       Aleix Vidal

–       Carlos Bacca

–       Jose Reyes

–       Grzegorz Krychowiak

–       Fernando Llorente

–        Kevin Gameiro

As well as the Saints, Sevilla have also had recent managerial change, with the architect of these glories, Unai Emery, heading off to Paris Saint-Germain to give the Champions League a proper crack.

Incredibly however, like Southampton, Sevilla have continued their success, winning the Europa League an incredible three seasons in a row.

Again though, the fans remain frustrated, and whilst they revel in the glory of European campaigns, they did not manage a top four spot last season, and have seen Atletico Madrid eclipse them as challengers to the Spanish duopoly in recent years.

Despite these grievances however, both sets of fans will proudly speak of their team’s respective successes, and it is extremely interesting to look at the models of each club, and how they have managed it.

 

The man at the helm

What is in little doubt is the importance of the manager in charge, and both teams realize this fact.

In England, Southampton’s owners took a risk in sacking the man who returned them to the big time in Nigel Adkins, replacing him with then unknown Argentine Mauricio Pochettino.

Success under him meant he was soon on the move again, as they brought in a Dutchman under scrutiny in Ronald Koeman.

Whilst some have questioned his coaching skills, Koeman was widely praised for the organisation and discipline he brought to the South Coast during his tenure.

As Koeman has moved on, they have replace with Frenchman Claude Puel, who rose to prominence with Nice last year, guiding the outsiders to the brink of Champions League, and more importantly getting the best of the brilliant maverick Ben Arfa.

Thierry Henry has also largely praised him for the level of coaching he gave when at Monaco.

What is notable about these managers is they do not seem to follow each directly in terms of style; Pochettino brought the ethos of hard work, whilst Koeman added a sense of defensive solidarity.

They hope that in Puel they have a manager who will complete the team with an added sense of flair.

The board at Southampton has also done a great job, with Katharina Liebherr surprising many by continuing the work started by her late father before her.

In Ralph Krueger, they also have a chairman who understands professional sport, having been a pro ice hockey player himself.

Over in Sevilla, they found their man in Emery, and they stuck with him. The Spanish manager was seen as the next big thing when in charge of Valencia, but a trio of third place finishes in La Liga was seemingly not good enough for the board.

A poor six months at Spartak Moscow put his credentials in doubt, and was seemingly a risk when taken on by the Basque side.

Sevilla though have enjoyed their greatest period of success under him, and it was with a heavy heart they as they saw him heading of to Paris, ultimately questioning whether the ‘transition phase’ would ever end.

In Sampaoli though they have hired a man who recently won South American coach of the year, having shined with Chile, and whom they hope will continue the road they are travelling.

The Argentine is known for his slight volatility, which seemingly put Chelsea off him as a consideration, so either way we should be in for an interesting ride.

 

Players

A team of course will not achieve success without an identity, and whatever players seem to arrive at Southampton, they seem to adopt their style of play; and if they don’t, they don’t last long, just as Osvaldo, their once record signing.

For the Saints, one of the most important attributes for any player is their ability to play and pass the ball, with the midfield trio of James Warde-Prowse, Jordy Clasie and new arrival Pierre-Emile Højbjerg all extremely adept in playing the ball to feet.

Waiting in the wings as well is Harrison Reed, who has been shining bright in pre-season, despite only appearing once last year.

Further forward, pace is a major aspect. In losing Sadio Mane they have replaced him with Nathan Redmond, who should he be able to reproduce the early season form he showed for Norwich last year, the legion of Saints fans will take to him quickly.

Graziano Pelle of course has moved on, but they hope Charlie Austin will perform the poachers role, whilst Shane Long will continue to be one of the most industrious forwards in the Premier League.

With Puel at the helm, Nathan Redmond in particular will be excited by the freedom he will potentially be given.

Their defensive system has also remained strong. They lost  Nathaniel Clyne and Luke Shaw, but replaced them with Ryan Bertrand and Cedric Soares.

Jose Fonte is their leader at the back, and in Virgil van Dijk, they have a defender who was able to step into the shoes of Toby Alderweireld with the minimum of fuss.

Backing them up is Fraser Forster, who could very well be England number one in the coming months, with Joe Hart seemingly bereft of both form and confidence.

You can see then how Southampton have minimised the effect of their seemingly constant ‘transition’, as they pick players who fit seamlessly into a system, whilst making slight adaptations to the way they play depending on circumstances.

 

Talent picking

In the case of Sevilla, they adopt a slightly different method, as they change their style of play depending on who is available.

In Director of Football Ramon Rodriguez Verdejo, commonly known as Monchi, they have one of the best in the business at identifying cheap talent and selling it on for proffit.

Geoffrey Kondogbia, Kevin Gameiro, Carlos Bacca and Grzegorz Krychowiak have gone through the Sevilla carousel in recent years, returning massive profits for the club.

They also carry a team spirit that has defined them over the years as the underdogs taking on the might of Barcelona and the duo from Madrid, this attitude can be hugely significant in any sporting arena.

Sevilla will no doubt continue to operate in a similar way, and by hiring a coach in Sampaoli who has already attracted interest from the giants of European football despite his lack of experience in club management, do not be surprised to see him head off in the search of bigger targets should Sevilla continue as they are.

Will there be change?

That last sentence then perhaps encapsulates the crux of the problem better than any other; big names signings and managerial appointments can be made every year, especially with the new Premier League money, but unless they are able to break through to the next level, clubs such as these will always be stepping stones to bigger things.

Even with the break through, it can remain a tricky task. Take Leicester City for example, who are Premier League Champions about to embark on their first Champions League campaign, and yet have lost N’Golo Kante, and may also see Riyad Mahrez out the door as well.

Maybe the problem is down to the players as much as the club, as they know deep inside a fleeting success with a smaller club will never last as long as in a team such as Chelsea, even if it means a year out the main spotlight.

Southampton fans in particular have groaned this summer, having been promised the change they don’t seem to be getting, and they know it is only so long before on of the big changes does not work.

They will continue to pray that then that Redmond delivers the good, even if it will mean he heads off for a record fee in two years times.

Until then, they will just enjoy it whilst they can.

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