Southampton – Instability the fatal blow?

Southampton have recently breathed new life into what was a relegation battle turning slowly against them, with a rousing 2-1 victory over Tottenham back on March 9.

It was the second win of Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhüttl’s reign over a North London giant, and prompted an immediate lengthening of the Saints’ relegation odds.

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High managerial turnover may lead to doom

On the flip side, however, there are also games like Southampton’s 2-1 home defeat to Cardiff to look back on.

Performances like those do not just prevent Southampton fans from putting the safety champagne on ice, but also reflect the instability that has been created, arguably, by Southampton’s recent tendency to have a high turnover of managers.

In the eyes of some Saints fans, Claude Puel was harshly sacked in June 2017, having led the club to an eighth-place finish in the Premier League, and an appearance in the League Cup final.

His dismissal led to the arrival of Argentine Mauricio Pellegrino who won just 8 games in 34 matches, leaving the Saints in the thick of a relegation battle last season.

Pellegrino was next to face the Southampton axe, with Mark Hughes the man appointed to keep Saints up.

While the Welsh veteran’s experience enabled the Saints to survive against all odds in 2017/18, a lack of pull factors in last summer’s transfer window proved problematic.

Hughes saw his charges enjoy just one victory prior to December, before he too finally lost his job.

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Stability key to transfer market success

It is not just the mere principle of sacking managers frequently that rankles with Saints fans. A continual change of managers also yields a continual change in philosophy.

Ultimately, this can not only affect current Southampton players for the worse, but also lower the club in the eyes of the potential new signings that represent a realistic way forward.

It is only natural for prospective Southampton targets – especially those arriving from abroad – to prefer stable leadership in addition to a strong wage packet.

Additionally, it is worrying when a loan move for an estranged Liverpool fringe player – namely, Danny Ings – is the most successful acquisition of a summer transfer window.

While Ings appears to be a good fit on the South Coast, it will be a struggle for Hasenhüttl to convince the players that the Saints truly need in order to aim for the top half and beyond.

Naturally, the transfer window is an issue that will be addressed closer to the end of the season.

However, while Southampton’s recent period of managerial instability seems unlikely to ruin them in the short term, the potential long-term repercussions remain firmly in place.

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Steps to survival

The fact that Southampton face just one more member of the current top-six, from now until the end of the season, bodes well for the club’s immediate future. Indeed, as these markets show, most bookmakers are ruling Southampton out of immediate danger.

Their stance appears justified on paper, given that Southampton’s nearest rivals (Cardiff and Burnley) play each other on April 13, and then each face top-six opposition on multiple occasions during the final run-in.

Beyond that, the first steps towards Southampton avoiding another relegation battle in 2020 are obvious, but can never be restated enough.

Firstly, Hasenhüttl’s reward for keeping the Saints up must be an increased transfer budget and a clearer list of targets.

In return Hasenhüttl must show – in equal measure – a degree of ruthlessness and ambition that only the most combative and determined of players respect and thrive under.

Signing Danny Ings permanently is the first step, followed by an improved contract for James Ward-Prowse, whose form in 2019 has led him back into the England frame.

The alternative is to see him join the swelling ranks of departed Saints from years gone by, which would further deepen the club’s already huge reputation as a feeder club for the elite.

That would, naturally, be followed by the exit of players who have promised much but delivered little, and top of that particular list – if based purely on cost-effectiveness – would be summer signing Mohammed Elyounoussi.

The Norwegian has thus far failed to score in any league appearance for the Saints, despite costing no less than £16 million in basic transfer fees alone.

2017-19: Just a blip?

Hasenhüttl could yet utilise his existing connections to Red Bull Leipzig, and maybe even look at top performers like Forsberg, Poulsen or Augustin.

The Austrian could do much worse than to sign even just one of those players, if only as a focal point in an attack that has lacked ever since the sacking of Puel.

It is easy to forget that Southampton, albeit aided by top talents like Dušan Tadić and Sadio Mané, finished sixth as recently as 2015/16.

While this seems to bear little relevance in the context of the Saints’ very uncertain near-future, it should be a reminder of how shrewd business, and relentless determination in getting key signings over the line, can make all the difference.

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