It's TOO LATE for Southampton to fix this disaster of a season
LEWIS STEELE: A shambolic transfer strategy, a series of catastrophic managerial appointments and a lack of a clear plan mean relegation is imminent… it’s TOO LATE for Southampton to fix this disaster of a season
- MATCH REPORT: Southampton edge towards relegation with loss at Forest
- Eleven years in the top flight now looks set to come to an end with relegation
- Ruben Selles has failed to coax more from a set of players who have lacked ideas
Soaked to the bone and charging down the touchline in an animated frenzy, Ruben Selles signalled to his players they had five minutes to score an equaliser and save their trainwreck of a season.
Such was the anxiety in the City Ground, that stoppage period felt like an eternity but time soon ticked away and ran out.
Selles knows time is running out for him too as first-team manager, and for Southampton as a Premier League club.
Eleven years as a top-flight entity will soon end barring a miracle of three wins from three to end the season, and a summer of upheaval will follow.
So where did it all go wrong for an established Premier League club?
The loss to Nottingham Forest leaves Southampton on the brink of Premier League relegation
Southampton boss Ruben Selles does not know what the future holds after Monday’s defeat
Three managers have occupied the St Mary’s hot-seat this season and none of them have managed more than three league wins: Ralph Hasenhuttl three from 14 games, Jones one from eight and Selles two from 13, including a 10-match winless streak at the end.
Hasenhuttl won three of 14 games before he left amid a backdrop of a fallout with players and board members. Senior stars privately likened the Austrian to a headteacher – the opposite to Selles, who is thought to be ‘too nice’ for a relegation-threatened team.
Sport Republic, the ownership group that bought the club in January 2022, wanted to sack Hasenhuttl at the end of last season but waited, a costly decision given the broken dressing room that was left for Jones to come into.
In the summer, Southampton were very keen on trying to lure Thomas Frank from Brentford, while they were also hot on Roberto De Zerbi before he joined Brighton. Steve Cooper, should Nottingham Forest have not won promotion, was also on the list.
But with those out of the question when Hasenhuttl departed, Saints turned to Jones.
Pound for pound, the Welshman’s job at Luton was up there with the finest in the country. But he felt like a square peg in a round hole at St Mary’s and his direct tactics – which worked at Kenilworth Road – were not effective with Saints’ squad full of small, technical players.
Jones, a good man manager, was well liked by the players but fans had written him off before he’d even started.
Ralph Hasenhuttl only won three out of 14 games before he was dismissed from the dugout
Nathan Jones managed one win from eight games before he was ruthlessly cut loose
Southampton’s players have had multiple managers but have lacked an identity and a plan
He was open about his failed tenure at Stoke and mentioned this in his job interview, but his shortcomings in Staffordshire haunted his reputation with fans.
He changed formation five times in 90 minutes during his first match, a loss to Brighton on Boxing Day, and his 96 days in the job were littered with bizarre quotes discussing how he had to ‘compromise’ on his philosophy to find a middle ground rather than follow his brief of replicating his Luton blueprint.
Selles, already a coach at Southampton, stepped up and admitted he is ‘as responsible as anyone’ and refused to make excuses after the 4-3 loss to Forest. His contract ends this month and it is unlikely the Spaniard will remain as head coach.
Aside from catastrophic managerial appointments, player recruitment has been shambolic. Southampton, a club famed in the last decade for a wise approach in the transfer market, signed 10 players in the summer.
Four of those came from Manchester City, though none had any league minutes for the champions. And of the 10 signings, only loanee Ainsley Maitland-Niles had any Premier League experience, while six were aged 20 or younger.
Romeo Lavia looks a good investment, as does Armel Bella-Kotchap, but the others have barely got going, and Gavin Bazunu has been displaced as No 1 goalkeeper under Selles.
The Ireland international spent last season on loan at League One Portsmouth and has struggled so far.
Charly Alcaraz has impressed since joining in January but fellow winter signing Paul Onuachu, a big-money striker, has not scored for the club yet and is often an unused substitute.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles was the only arrival last summer with some Premier League experience
Paul Onuachu was a big-money signing but is yet to score for the Saints and is often left on the bench
It would be unfair to criticise Southampton’s transfer model after a decade of praising their talent-spotting and investment in youth, but it has failed in the last two years and a lack of goal-scorers and leaders has cost the club. Only three men have more than two goals this term.
Captain James Ward-Prowse is the obvious candidate, along with Lavia, to get a big-money move should they go down this season, though he joined the club aged eight and is devastated at Southampton’s plight. Alcaraz is said to be settled on the south coast and could stay put.
He said on Monday: ‘It’s been too easy. Right from the first game until now we’ve not really learned anything, not progressed, we’ve just taken these results as they are.
‘It hurts everybody. It’s not just me, it’s everybody’s careers, it’s everybody’s opportunity to do something special for this club and it hurts all the fans and everybody associated with the club.’
Senior players are understood to have thought they overperformed last season and seemed worried and resigned that this was the year Saints would not have enough to stay up after a few campaigns of flirting with relegation.
A transfer model that has been hailed by rivals has failed Southampton this time round
Fingers are also being strongly pointed at Rasmus Ankersen, the former Brentford talent-spotter who is part of the ownership group at St Mary’s.
‘Rasmus, you have failed in this project,’ tweeted one fan. ‘Every big decision you have made has failed. You have failed the people who are employed by you, you have failed the fans who believed in you, you have failed the city.’
The Dane is a global keynote speaker, has written books on high performance and wrote a blog on ‘the boiling frog metaphor’ which suggests reasons for companies not sensing danger before it is too late because they are like a frog dipped into hot water.
Whatever that means, it feels apt as a comparison to his tenure at Southampton. The danger is too strong now and it is too late to fix this mess of a season.
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