The good news for Southampton is that they’ve hit rock bottom. The bad news is that they are likely to stay there for some time.
From top to bottom, Southampton are a sinking ship.
Given the manner of their 9-0 thumping at home by Leicester City on Friday, the issues which have been brewing behind-the-scenes for months, if not years, came to the fore. The way the players chucked the towel in at St Mary’s pointed to much bigger problems than a bit of bad luck, going down to 10-men early and Leicester being clinical.
Southampton are a rudderless ship. They have been since Gao Jisheng purchased a majority 80 percent stake in the club in August 2017. Just a couple of public statements from Gao over the past two years have left Saints’ fans, and some of those working at the club, bewildered. Nobody knows what the plan is and they have no vision other than just trying to keep their heads above water.
Gao said this summer that Southampton are ‘not a pig to be fattened’ and that they must be sustainable.
Unless he changes that model and adds key additions, especially defensively, in the January transfer window, Gao will lose huge sums with Saints no longer in the Premier League. Southampton almost went out of business in 2008, so the club will be hesitant to gamble by spending big, but if they don’t then relegation seems certain.
Relegation is highly likely unless something drastic changes, as they are one of the lowest net spending clubs in the PL over the past decade. Sadio Mane, Virgil Van Dijk, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Morgan Schneiderlin, Graziano Pelle and Dusan Tadic have all left to make the club huge profits.
But with the likes of Guido Carrillo, Wesley Hoedt, Mario Lemina, Mohamed Elyounoussi and Fraser Forster all out on loan, some horrific transfer buys have hamstrung Saints’ model of profitable player trading as the replacements haven’t been good enough.
That is why over the past two seasons they’ve just battled off relegation twice, they’ve sold all of their best players, again, and the players who remain are not performing, are expensive mistakes out on loan or are on huge contracts and seem to have no desire to prove themselves week in, week out.
Above manager Ralph Hasenhuttl there has been an almighty clear out in recent months. Director of Football Les Reed was fired 12 months ago. Chairman Ralph Krueger was fired in April. His replacement and former Head of Recruitment, Ross Wilson, left for Glasgow Rangers last week.
Add in that Hasenhutt’s trusted assistant Danny Rohl left in preseason to go to Bayern Munich and it is a case of last-man standing for their Austrian coach.
It seems like Hasenhuttl’s position is under threat given the clear unrest among the playing squad, as there have been murmurs of discontent for some time. He’s made strange tactical decisions all season long and has no idea what his best team is. Even dating back to last season some within the club felt Hasenhuttl had got lucky due to Huddersfield, Fulham and Cardiff City being that bad and getting relegated instead of Saints.
The constant intensity of Hasenhuttl’s training sessions, and his personality, are wearing his players down. He has managed to send plenty of players out on loan and sell others to try and rip apart the decay at the center of this squad. But he’s not an easy man to please and plenty of Saints’ current starting lineup have felt his wrath over the past 10 months.
Officials, players and supporters of Southampton are in a state of shock after this defeat.
They should be, but there should also be a realization that this hefty loss has been a long time coming and that it will take even longer to get themselves out of the mess they’ve created for themselves.
Hopefully, at least for their sake, it is a huge wake-up call that sparks them into changes across the club. For so long their recruitment policy and academy has been the envy of others. It still can be, but they’ve been treading water for the past three years since Ronald Koeman departed in 2016 and they’ve shown a severe lack of ambition since.
Focusing on the here and now, Hasenhuttl has a huge job on his hands to galvanize this squad which was totally humiliated on the global stage.
For years to come when you mention Southampton people will laugh and say “they were smashed 9-0!”
Just ask Ipswich Town fans. They’ve had to deal with that since they were thumped by that same record scoreline at Manchester United back in 1995.
Of course, the scoreline reverberates around the world and it is the worst defeat in Saints’ 134-year history. It was also the biggest-ever away win in the top-flight since the English Football League was founded in 1888. Think about that.
But aside from the mammoth hiding they took at the hands of a ruthless Leicester side, the manner in which Saints lost was utterly shocking.
The players let themselves down, the club down and their manager down.
Hasenhuttl may not pay the ultimate price in the coming days, and he should be given the chance to prove this thumping was a freak result and one which they can bounce back from and be stronger. Hasenhuttl did well to keep Saints up last season but since that initial impact he had has faltered and he is now part of the bigger problem and doesn’t seem to have help from his board and his thinking is muddled.
But it will take some doing for Saints to not only recover in the coming weeks but also stay in the Premier League this season. They need to bring through young players once again, and they have some promising youngsters coming through. Too many players in their current squad have had chance after chance and are clearly not good enough.
What is clear is that neglecting to add to the squad and having no direction from Gao over the past two years has hit Southampton hard.
The performance on the pitch against Leicester City was appalling and embarrassing, and that tone has been set by the total lack of competence at the top of the club.
Hasenhuttl mentioned the Titanic in his opening press conference as Saints boss last December. The doomed ocean liner left the Port of Southampton on its ill-fated maiden voyage, and Hasenhuttl jokingly said that he hoped his team didn’t hit an iceberg in their battle against relegation.
Southampton have, and now they are in a huge battle to stay afloat.