Football fans dream of trophies and success – my dream? That this season just gone didn’t end. I admit that it sounds quite an odd dream to have. I do want trophies and I do want success because ultimately I’m human, but I find myself looking at the situation we find ourselves in from a different perspective.
We at Southampton have enjoyed a season of exciting football, a record points total, an equal highest finish in the Premier League. You may ask what’s not to like?
Well, the inevitable interest that follows success is something not to like. You cannot just go around doing those three things – playing good football, setting records and finishing high in the table – without attracting attention.
On Sunday evening the season was still warm, the body was not yet cold, and the last rights had barely been read, when suddenly Manchester United had made a £27 million bid for – unquestionably England’s left-back for the next ten years – Luke Shaw. Liverpool followed suit and came up with £20 million for our captain and home-grown hero Adam Lallana.
Any Southampton fan with a bit of sense – at times hard to come by - would want to keep hold of them both. They’re quite simply two of the most exciting players that I can remember – I am only in my mid-20s – playing for Saints.
But then I come over all realistic, which is a horrible thing for a football fan to do. Is £27 million for a teenager good money? It probably is, and I’m a firm believer that every player has its price, and if you are offered more than they are worth then you should accept it and move on.
I think I can accept Luke Shaw leaving and I’m no fool, if Manchester United want one of our players then they’ll get them. I’d like to think we could name our price for him, as when you dissect the matter he’s worth a lot of money.
Manchester United need a left-back with Patrice Evra leaving. English players with a hint of promise are expensive. This is an Englishman that can play on the left, a very rare thing. All said and done this is a seller’s market, aided by the fact United are under a lot of pressure to improve upon this campaign.
Then again I’m also of the belief that no human being can ever be worth such vast sums of money.
£20 million for Adam Lallana is a bit more difficult to swallow. He’s older and I’d argue that we’d miss him in more areas than we would Shaw. Granted we’d need a new left back, but Lallana is our captain and a talismanic figure.
I’d go as far as to say Lallana is our only flair player. He’s formed a fantastic relationship with our strikers, linking the play from midfield, with any two of Jack Cork, James Ward-Prowse, Morgan Schneiderlin, Steven Davis and Victor Wanyama behind him, protecting the back four.
Both Lallana and Shaw have it good. But realism once again kicks in, and here’s the most painful question of them all. Have we, Southampton, peaked?
Little old Southampton. We’ve had one true moment of historical importance and that was nearly 40 years ago, when we won the FA Cup. These days we win all the plaudits for nice football and producing some of the best British players around. Eighth place in the top flight when the name of the game is sadly spending wads of cash and not a lot more is a huge achievement. That’s not winning anything though.
So can it get any better?
Without becoming like all the rest and investing £50m-£100m in a transfer window every summer I’m going to have to say no, it probably can’t. But maybe that’s our own fault. Look at the number of games in which we failed to hold on to the lead. As good as this season has been, If we’d held on for a win each time we had the advantage, we could be talking about Champions League football. Dropped points however are the price you pay for being adventurous and is just a fact of football life.
I then ask myself what Lallana and Shaw would want to stick around for. They’re players deemed worthy of World Cup selection which means they’re pretty good – England’s finest in fact. England’s finest players are expected and are good enough to win trophies and they probably aren’t going to do it at Southampton.
What do they stand to gain from staying? I’d go as far as to say nothing. I could fully understand it if they wanted to leave. If they stay then they’ll be heroes, maybe even legends. Loyalty and hard work are perhaps the two qualities that English football fans, rightly or wrongly, value the most. We know that Lallana and Shaw work hard and up until now have been loyal. If they stick to St. Mary’s when the upper echelons of the league were calling it would be incredible.
When the bids came in earlier this week I mentioned my thoughts to a fellow season ticket holder who disagreed. He asked me to remember back to when we sold Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, so I did.
To say it was a different scenario would be underselling it somewhat. It was a different world. We were at our lowest ebb. Humiliated by a disastrous Premiership campaign in which we were relegated in last place, having sacked the first of our three managers within weeks of it beginning, the only way was up. Or so we thought.
Walcott, Bale and Oxlade-Chamberlain all left at times when we were lying on our back, in the gutter, staring at the stars. We were Premier League exiles waiting for a chance to give it a go again. Back then selling our big stars helped, the money could be reinvested and it would go far at that level of the pyramid. Did I think we had peaked then? Of course not, in the case of Oxlade-Chamberlain’s point of sale we still had two divisions to climb.
This time it’s a lot, lot different. I do think that we have peaked and it is quite tough to swallow. But we’re not one of the ‘big’ clubs. We are what we are. There’s also the reality that this isn’t the first time it’s happened, and if you neglect the past you fail in your future. We’ve been here with so many big names that left us for better things. 20-plus years ago it was Alan Shearer…
But whilst I think we have peaked I don’t think it’s the end for Southampton Football Club’s fine tradition of nurturing young players. Not by a long shot. As I write this we have a number of players representing England at youth level and I’m sure there’s a few that will one day make a big impact and throw us into another Walcott/Bale/Oxlade-Chamberlain/Shaw scenario. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing that we produce players and sell them on for big profits – Ajax have been doing it for years and they’re not a bad club to compare ourselves to.
If you’ve come this far then you’ve put up with a fair amount of cynicism and pessimism and are probably asking yourself where Mauricio Pochettino figures in all of this. I’ll keep it brief – I really do think he will stay. He has a lot to prove and isn’t a shoe-in for a job like the one at Spurs.
Why? He’s had a season and a half at a mid-table English club in which he’s kept them in the division when they were on the up anyway under his predecessor, and the following season having spent a large amount of money, finished eighth. We shouldn’t be so quick to forget he made a categorical mistake in signing Dani Osvaldo.
Spurs want a manager that can get a club to finish fourth at least and quite clearly after Andre Villas Boas’ time, there is no room for error on transfers – Lamela, Chadli, Capoue etc. There’s no guarantee Pochettino would be able to do it. Don’t get me wrong however, I’m a fan of his and his style of football.
So all said and done, I’d quite like to hang on to the 2013/14 campaign. I’m quite used to worrying if we’ll be promoted or relegated, just getting by. The season just gone has been nice and relaxing. No danger of dropping out the division, no nail-biting finishes for a bigger prize (perhaps that’s a little unambitious of me) and potential disappointment if we don’t get it, just good football with good players and a good manager, a good season.
Onwards, but not necessarily upwards?
By Chris Cox - Southampton fan - @