Big Spending Southampton Need To Remember Pompey
Sitting in the East Stand at the Madejski Stadium on Saturday, it was impossible not to ponder how much the paths of Southampton and Reading Football Clubs have diverged over the intervening twelve months.
For even by the standards of a horrible recent run, the Royals were completely bereft of confidence after a mildly promising first half hour, resorting to scooping the ball forward in panic stricken mode and resembling statues in their static response to the fast flowing movement of Mauricio Pochettino’s Saints.
Take Luke Shaw — you’ve heard about him, right? Another much hyped youngster? In the team only because Danny Fox is so clearly sub-Premier League standard?
Not a bit of it — here’s a kid who I would put my house on representing England — and he may even manage it in time for the Brazilian jamboree next year. Ashley Cole and Leighton Baines may stand in his way, but the poise of this 17 year old recalls that of a young Kenny Sansom — muscular and lithe for a youngster, he has that low centre of gravity and assured touch of a future star.
Ditto Gastà³n Ramàrez, even if the deployment of his first name only atop the number on his back suggests a fictional pal of Del Boy’s. Like an even more languid version of Francesco Totti, the Uruguayan seemed able to tune down the pace of the whole game a couple of bars when in possession — brushing off attempts to rob him with the shimmy of a shoulder here, an angling of his back muscles there, while all the time looking to pick pinpoint passes.
Take Jay Rodriguez, double the player I had seen on numerous occasions in a Burnley shirt. In an XI religiously devoted to keeping the football, the Lancastrian sounds more like a resident of Albuquerque than Heasandford and his ability to run with the ball at pace opened up the Royals’ fragile back line again and again in a swashbuckling style that recalled the brio of a spaghetti western gunslinger.
But Southampton are about more than these three — if you read about Rickie Lambert in the papers, you probably consider him to be a static big beast of a front man, a slightly more mobile Jon Parkin and this season’s fashionable item following Grant Holt’s 2011-12 in the sun.
But as we have noted before on these pages, Lambert has a licence to roam and kept on cropping up right the way across the forward line, interchanging swiftly and often with Rodriguez and rattling the bar at one point. The duo’s wanderings, along with the promptings of Adam Lallana, introduced from the bench here and ending up a goalscorer, provide Saints with a modern age fluidity that was almost comical in its embarrassment of poor, unreconstructed Sean Morrison and an out of sorts Adrian Mariappa.
Elsewhere, one of the chief products of the Glasgow Rangers fire sale, Steven Davis kept the ball brilliantly in centre mid — Reading may have expected a player similar in style, their own Summer purchase Danny Guthrie, to have provided what Davis has done for Southampton this campaign — but the ex-Liverpool and Newcastle man has so often tried to do too much via deluded Hollywood passes. Davis, on the other hand, keeps things uncomplicated.
Pochettino must take credit for Southampton do have their weaknesses. Centre back pairing Maya Yoshida and Jos Hooiveld is far from the division’s most watertight while a player I seriously admire, Jack Cork, was less comfortable on the day than he usually is even if he rarely put a foot wrong with his passes.
But the system is key and that’s why a player such as Morgan Schneiderlin, with the Saints since the dog days and yet always technically adept, can prosper — little else is expected of the likes of he and fellow midfield anchorman Cork apart from to move the ball on quickly, leaving the more silken Ramàrez and Rodriguez to spin their magic. Ditto Nathaniel Clyne, if at times less than impressive defensively, always ready to hare forward to join attacks.
So it’s turning into a stellar season for Southampton Football Club and taking the evidence in front of us, Nicola Cortese does appear to have pulled off a strategic plan straight out of the IMD Business School cookbook.
Unlike Reading’s Anton Zingarevich, the Executive Chairman has realised the importance of investment, famously shelling out a combined total of more than £20 million to attract Clyne, Ramàrez and Rodriguez, swiftly identified young talent where it is there, while encouraging both Nigel Adkins and Pochettino to stick to the passing brief (an absolute sina que non in Premier league these days — just look at Stoke currently, not to mention the Reading of Adam Federici’s hoof balls.)
He’s also acted ruthlessly in dispensing of Adkins and enabling a possible move to the next level while he’s ‘done a Starbucks’ in persuading fans to obtain things they don’t want — who would have expected Southampton fans to buy Nottingham Forest shirts in their droves even if they were silly enough to buy Peru ones a couple of years back?
So it could be a rosy future indeed — and with a bit more nous and boldness, one that Reading could have been contemplating had they chosen to spend properly rather than just a few million quid on the likes of Mariappa and Chris Gunter along with the odd bulging pay packet such as Pavel Pogrebnyak’s.
For Southampton perhaps embody the fundamental importance of the sugar daddy model even if the purchases they have made appear at the moment to have been superbly well judged and are supplemented by a healthy youth system which has turned up the likes of Shaw and James Ward-Prowse. Indeed, the estate of Markus Liebherr has been mentioned as the fifth richest ownership structure in English football.
Blogger Swiss Ramble underlined this in a piece he wrote fifteen months ago and all Saints fans will beware of the evils of over spending. Given the many righteous fingers pointed at their south coast neighbours Portsmouth when their rivals celebrated wildly an FA Cup that even the Pompey faithful must have known they had purchased on credit, to follow down that same yellow brick road with not a care in the world might make them look very hypocritical indeed. So, the amirable restraint the fans showed in choosing not to glory in a bad day for their former manager is a trend they will do well to adopt permanently.