James Ward-Prowse – Ralph Hasenhuttl’s free kick Saint delivers the goods again for Southampton

Integral to Southampton for a number of years – James Ward-Prowse a one club man with over 300 appearances for The Saints – his importance has been elevated this campaign with the amount of goals he’s scoring for Ralph Hassenhuttl’s men.

A somewhat drab and uninteresting campaign for The Saints, Hasenhuttl’s side in mid-table without much to play for, Ward-Prowse continues to keep Southampton in the spotlight with his eye for a free-kick strike. Another free-kick at the weekend helped Southampton salvage a draw, an excellent set-piece from the Saints captain his 14th overall in the Premier League. A long-range strike secured a share of the points against Brighton too, James Ward-Prowse reminding everyone of his prowess from open play. A player who goes under the radar in a league dominated by big-name talents, his impact against Brighton showcases how crucial he is to The Saints.

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He’s even on double figures in all competitions this season, the first time he’s managed that in his lengthy Southampton career. Would Southampton’s ever-reliable Saint be tempted by a move away? It feels as if he’s content being the captain for his local side, no matter the up and down form Southampton have suffered with this campaign. But, with his free-kick ability gaining him notoriety as a set-piece specialist, will a team further up the division see him as a potential target to get a goal out of nothing?

James Ward-Prowse is something of an oddity in today’s game, a player content at being a one club man even at the peak of his powers. He has now featured in 10 straight Premier League seasons for The Saints, playing under a whole host of different managers with ever-changing line-ups fielded but with Southampton’s number 8 remaining as the glue that holds the side together. His first ever free-kick effort in the top flight would come in the 2015-16 season, a fresh-faced Ward-Prowse curling the  set-piece spectacularly into the top corner with Boaz Myhill a mere spectator in the West Brom net. A comfortable 3-0 win for The Saints on the day, the same season Ronald Koeman would guide Southampton to sixth in the division with the likes of now Liverpool mainstays Virgil Van Dijk and Sadio Mane featuring down on the South Coast. Even still, with his first free-kick in Premier League football thundering in, James Ward-Prowse stole the show on that occasion. As time has gone on, James Ward-Prowse has filled the gaps left behind by past talents – his importance growing as a result, Southampton’s main man in the middle whilst others depart for pastures new.

Still, his ability to conjure up moments of magic didn’t become his trademark until the last few seasons – the 2020-21 season seeing him score 8 goals, his first real goal-heavy campaign for Hasenhuttl’s men. Two of those strikes would come against Aston Villa, a side James Ward-Prowse notably turned down a move to in order to stick by his boyhood club. Scoring one free-kick in a  game is something special, but two free-kicks in the same match was outrageous even for the quality Ward-Prowse possesses. Directed into the exact same corner, a 12 minute double from the set-piece king helped Southampton on their way to a 4-3 victory at a behind closed doors Villa Park. If any Southampton fans had been present at Villa Park, both free-kick goals would have sent the away masses into pandemonium. The second goal on the day was delicately placed, Emi Martinez a complete bystander to the magic of Ward Prowse’s right boot. Even if Southampton continue to underwhelm in lower half finishes – a far-cry away from the days of flirting with the idea of top four football – Hasenhuttl and co know they can rely on Ward-Prowse’s set-piece genius to get them out of trouble. An incredibly effective calling card for The Saints, clearly an area of his game Ward-Prowse has perfected meticulously.

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The time taken to perfect the dead ball situation is almost like an art-form for Ward-Prowse, a way to express himself in Southampton colours and stand out from the rest. An outrageous free-kick away at Molineux this campaign sticks out as one of his best, miles out from goal but still lashing it into the top corner with some venom. His most recent free-kick effort against Brighton even saw his football hero David Beckham reach out, a player Ward-Prowse clearly moulds his game around from the dead ball scenario. Only four strikes away from beating Beckham’s record of 18 free-kick goals in the top flight, Southampton’s number 8 shouldn’t find it too difficult to break this record in the near future.

Yet, although his importance for Southampton continues to rise and talk focuses on the potential of the 27-year-old leaving St Mary’s behind, he has only been afforded 10 international call-ups throughout his entire career. He’s arguably a victim of the talented pool of players Gareth Southgate has to choose from, the likes of Declan Rice isn’t going to be dethroned by Ward-Prowse. Moreover, the system England play doesn’t necessarily suit Ward-Prowse – Southgate often operating with two defensive midfield options and a few more attacking options further up the field in the middle. Although Ward-Prowse is a clearly talented player, he isn’t as important for The Three Lions as he is for Hasenhuttl and co down on the South Coast. With the likes of Phil Foden, Conor Gallagher and Mason Mount other options centrally, Southampton’s main man isn’t top priority through the centre for his country. But, in an International tournament, James Ward-Prowse could well be an effective substitute option if the game is at a deadlock. Unleash Ward-Prowse onto the big stage, his ability from free-kicks could well be an even more effective calling card to trump the other nations.

With former teammate Charlie Austin calling on Ward-Prowse to leave The Saints in order to break through for England, I think Ward-Prowse values the connection he has with Southampton over more international call-ups. A hero to those with associations to the red and white half of Hampshire, James Ward-Prowse will no doubt continue to light up the Premier League for many years to come with his stylish free-kicks.

The Author

Kelan Sarson

Peterborough United supporter, football writer + current MA Journalism student at the Uni of Sheffield. Twitter account for football writing - @sarsonkelan

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