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Southampton played thrilling, refreshing, flowing football and were the favourite of many a neutral observer during the 2013-14 Premier League season.

An eighth placed finish under a vibrant manager and an interesting team with an attacking style that captivated viewers had Southampton fans relishing the future.

The great and peculiar Southampton fire saleBut then Southampton felt the cold grasp of reality on their shoulder. There had been rumblings that all was not well when chairman Nicola Cortese left his role in January, with owner Katharina Liebherr appointing herself to the role. A month later former ice hockey player and coach Ralph Krueger took up the role of chairman, despite a glaring lack of experience in football. The aforementioned issues gathered momentum and soon became an unstoppable force of negativity that threatens to set Southampton back years.

The previous summer manager Mauricio Pochettino had said that if Cortese left the club, so would he. He stuck to his word when in late May he was unveiled as the new Tottenham manager. His departure left the club effectively rudderless as Cortese’s negotiation skills and vision had delivered the club from League One to the Premier League, and Pochettino had taken the team a step further and turned them into a genuinely strong top-flight outfit.

Without a chairman that the players had a tight knit relationship with, and the manager who had delivered them to new heights, the exodus of players began. Rickie Lambert who had been with Southampton in their League One days joined his boyhood club Liverpool for pocket change, and then teenage left-back Luke Shaw became a Manchester United player for close to £30 million.

Shaw was the object of affection from every club who finished above Southampton last season and he always seemed destined to depart the club, and the deal represents good business for a player who only made his Premier League debut in November of 2012.

Fellow promising fullback Callum Chambers was then bought by Arsenal for over £15 million, a deal which the Southampton board saw as too good to turn down, given that the young English defender had made just 21 senior appearances for the club. But then came the news that every Southampton fan had feared. Adam Lallana, another player from the days when the Saints plied their trade in the lower leagues and club captain, was leaving the club. Just like Lambert, his destination would be Liverpool and Champions League football. Whilst Southampton fans did not begrudge Lallana for making the move, there was a feeling that his exit could be the most telling.

A creative hub and a symbol of Southampton’s style of play, Lallana made over 230 appearances for the Saints, having graduated from their youth academy. He had also signed a five-year contract extension in April of 2013, and earned selection for England due to his performances for Southampton. His departure represented a truly sad day for Saints fans.

Just like that, three of Southampton’s most influential men were no longer there. Lambert was a cult hero on the south coast but was entering the twilight of his career and his departure was met with a fond farewell, rather than anger or disappointment. As mentioned above, Shaw was always going to move to a bigger club and there was no way Southampton could match his wages at Old Trafford, believed to be around £100,000 a week.

Cortese, Pochettino and Lallana all brought different qualities in their roles at Southampton and they represented integral cogs in the Saints machine, and fans feared that the summer would be a disaster, and hope had faded ahead of the new season.

Dutchman Ronald Koeman was appointed as Pochettino’s replacement and was soon joined by new signings Graziano Pellè and Dušan Tadić from Koeman’s previous club Feyenoord, and FC Twente respectively.

Pellè’s transfer has been questioned with fans and pundits alike wondering whether or not he will be the latest in a long line of prolific Eredivisie strikers who fails to shine in the Premier League. His goalscoring record prior to joining Feyenoord is weak, at best.

However, the capture of Hull City forward Shane Long appears to be a more reliable piece of business, despite the somewhat sizeable fee of £12 million. The Republic of Ireland poacher has a decent record at top-flight level and on his day can prove a tricky customer for opposition defences, although consistency will be the key to whether he’s seen as success or not from the stands.

Serbian international winger Tadić could prove to be a smart acquisition but as is the case with players coming to English football for the first time, his ability to adapt to the physical demands of the league remains a question mark.

And then to add insult to squad destruction, Croatian international Dejan Lovren was sold to Liverpool for a fee of £20 million. The central defender possesses a combination of strength, timing and organisational ability that is becoming increasingly sparse in the modern game, and will prove incredibly difficult to replace.

Left-back Ryan Bertrand arrived on loan from Chelsea, as did Algerian international midfielder Saphir Taider from Inter Milan. Bertrand struggled at times on loan at Aston Villa last season and Taider could not cement a spot in the Inter lineup last campaign, playing 90 minutes on just four occasions. Enigmatic and largely unsuccessful striker Dani Osvaldo went the other way in the Taider deal, joining the Italian giants on loan. Whilst this is not a huge loss, it makes an already thin squad even more vulnerable to injuries.

Two inconsistent players on year-long loans is not what Southampton fans had in mind to replace the quality that has moved on. The vultures of the Premier League elite have torn the flesh from the Southampton carcass, and there are huge doubts as to whether the remains are strong enough to survive a season in the Premier League.

Influential midfield workhorse Morgan Schneiderlin has expressed his desire to leave St Mary’s and attacker Jay Rodriguez has also been linked with a move away.

French international Schneiderlin’s signature is being chased by Tottenham and his former manager Pochettino, but recently chairman Krueger has insisted that no more players will leave the club. We shall see how strong that resolve is when Spurs get their trusty chequebook out.

Krueger even went so far as to suggest that a high player turnover would help the incoming Koeman. He labelled the idea that Southampton should have tried harder to hang on to some of their players as an “insane risk”, implying that a few egos had grown in recent seasons and would be difficult for Koeman to manage. One could suggest that it sounds like a lack of faith in Koeman’s man management ability or a convenient excuse after the fact.

Media reports indicate that Southampton have made a profit of over £70 million during the current transfer window, a figure which Krueger disputes. While the exact details may be the subject of debate, there is no doubt that the Saints are cashed up. So it’s understandable that fans are frustrated with the refusal to spend the money, and one must wonder what the end game of Southampton’s owner Liebherr is.

Is she asset stripping the club with one eye on selling up? Or are Southampton trying to maximise profit at the expense of results and potential silverware? Surely the Saints board should take a look at the likes of Hull City, Wigan Athletic, Swansea City, Birmingham City and Portsmouth in recent years. All these clubs have reached Cup finals and gone on to compete in European competition, creating memories and experiences for their fans that will last a lifetime.

Southampton may have made a healthy profit in the window so far, but football is about so much more than balance sheets and income reports. Let’s hope for the fans sake that the Saints board realise this and show some serious ambition in the near future, and put some meat back on the carcass.

Originally published at outside90.com

Post written by Andrew Cussen, Blog: cussenfootball.com, Twitter: @Cussen91
for Outside 90, Blog: outside90.com, Twitter: @Outside90

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