At the start of this season, you would have forgiven the average Southampton fan for being a little more than pessimistic about the club’s chances.
Losing the spine of their team that wowed the Premier League at times last season shocked fans of the South Coast side. Having finished 8th, just one place below the 2012/13 champions Manchester United, there was the obvious possibility that the big clubs would come calling for their star names.
But despite preparing themselves for a mass exodus, even the most ardent Saints fans would have been fearing the worst after manager Mauricio Pochettino joined Tottenham Hotspur.
Also departing were the young versatile defender Calum Chambers, joining Arsenal for approximately £16million, promising left-back Luke Shaw, who joined United in a record deal for a left-back, and Dejan Lovren along with England internationals Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert who joined Liverpool.
Yet, as the third international break of the season gets underway the Saints are in a remarkably better state than the clubs the aforementioned people now represent.
Southampton sit second in the Premier League, only trailing the odds on favorites for the title Chelsea. They have won 11 of their last 12 games in all competitions and the mood at St Mary’s Stadium is suddenly one of great optimism and belief in what could potentially happen.
Should they repeat this form throughout the whole season, they will be playing Champions League football next season. Even a slightly worse run of form could see them fighting for a Europa League spot.
And whilst it does come as a surprise, maybe it shouldn’t. Since their administration in 2009 – and their subsequent 10 point deduction at the start of the 2009/10 League One season – the Saints have rebuilt their reputation as a football club with a sensational rise back to the big time.
They have become renowned for their ability to bring through fantastic youth players, with Shaw being the latest to move on to a big club. To balance the books when they were struggling – following their relegation from the Premier League in 2005 – Southampton sold several players including academy products Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott to Arsenal and fellow youngster Gareth Bale to Tottenham Hotspur.
Bale started his career on the South Coast and has gone on to become the world’s most expensive footballer, transferring from Spurs to Real Madrid in the summer of 2013. He played a major part in the Spanish club winning “La Decima” – their tenth major European crown.
Fast forward to 2014 at Southampton and one of the club’s most important players is also a product of their youth academy. James Ward-Prowse – although injured at the moment – has been a crucial part of Southampton’s success over the last couple of years.
But it is the seamless nature in which the club has transitioned into the new season that has to impress most. The signings of Fraser Forster from Celtic, Toby Alderweireld on loan from Atletico Madrid, Dusan Tadic from FC Twente and Shane Long from Hull City have improved the side, bolstering in positions that needed attention following the outgoings this summer.
Sadio Mane has also joined from Red Bull Salzburg, but it is Graziano Pelle – signed from Feyenoord – that has made the most impact. His goals have been the main reason that Southampton are 2nd in the league, and everything clicked into place for the club in their 8-0 thrashing of Sunderland a few weeks ago.
But the credit must also be given to new boss Ronald Koeman. The job at Southampton was seen as the impossible one, replacing a manager that had achieved a top eight finish and hoping to improve on that. Yet Koeman, who also joined the club from Feyenoord, has taken the job and the world by storm.
It is still early days but should Southampton pull off the surprise of the season and achieve a top four finish, then maybe we shouldn’t be that surprised after all. Taking everything into account, Southampton are arguably one of the best run clubs in the country now, they have an excellent recruitment system and know exactly what they’re doing. A successful season would be a great reward for their efforts over the last few years.