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Why 7th Suits The Saints
A Club in Crisis!
Southampton can be disappointed in the manner of their 2-1 loss at Stoke on Saturday especially as they were a goal up in the first half. It also extinguishes any outside hopes of qualifying for The Champions League. This 'disappointment' however is taken with a pinch of salt by the majority of Southampton fans who cannot believe their beloved clubs' rapid rise from League 1 to top four contenders in just six seasons. Pundits and experts alike were all happy to condemn the Saints to a relegation battle; a long hard season was predicted back in August.
What Southampton Football Club actually showed at the start of this season was that what seemed like turmoil on the face of it was in actual fact quite the opposite. The serenity of a swan in reverse if you like. Lets face it. Footballers and Managers have ambitions and if they feel they can't achieve those ambitions (whether it be financial or competition or both) they will inevitably move on. In modern football powered by agents behind the scenes you can't really blame them. 'Turmoil' the papers screamed, 'crisis club' the pundits declared. In fact so much emphasis was put on the exodus that little was made of the appointment of a much respected and sought after Koeman; nor his and the clubs' shrewd moves in the transfer market.
The Future's Red & White
The successes this season on the pitch have forced many people to eat their words it has to be said. The once 'club in crisis' is now touted as the 'envy of the world' or 'the best run club in Europe.' Critics have now become fans; deciding to look under the surface to find an incredible training ground and state of the art research facilities that provide the foundations for both the senior and youth teams.
And it was the youth setup that had it's chance to shine in front of the tv cameras on Monday night. The second leg of the Premier League Under 21's Cup Final was broadcast live on Sky and played in front of 12,000 fans at St Mary's Stadium. It was a cagey affair, much like the first leg at Ewood Park, where a young, resilient and hardworking Blackburn side held Southampton Under 21's to a 0-0 draw. Last night however saw the saints side come out on top after extra time; a 2-1 victory sealed by a wonder strike from Sam Gallagher.
The starting 11 last night featured half a dozen youngsters that have already made appearances at senior level and simply reinforces the strength of the academy. The future is truly looking bright for this club.
Another season is needed...
Koeman was at the game last night, casting his eye over the wealth of young talent at his disposal. You can't help wondering though if his mind was still on the Stoke game. His comments after that match were interesting, calling the Europa League 'Our Champions League,' expressing his desire to gain qualification for the competition.
The Europa League is currently at the Quarter Final Stage and on Thursday will see giants from some of the biggest leagues on the continent battling for a semi-final spot. It seems such a shame that this competition can have such a devastating effect on clubs from this country though. Swansea, Tottenham and Everton are just some of the teams that have found it devilishly difficult to juggle both domestic and continental responsibilities. It's not necessarily the strength of the squad that ensures you can succeed in both either, as Liverpool have also found out. Combine the intensity of the premier league with large amounts of travelling and no winter break, what do you get? Players that are both mentally and physically burnt out. The evidence is there for all to see yet we still don't see a winter break for our clubs. But that is a different argument for a different day!
This is why I am reluctant to see Southampton competing in the Europe League next season. The squad is still too small even with the influx of young talent and really lacks the necessary depth needed for European competition. There is also the mass exodus 2.0 set to come this summer with influential players such as Wanyama, Clyne and Schneiderlein all set to leave in search of Champions League football. The difference being this time the club will be expected to find adequate replacements and I have no doubt they will.
Another season out of Europe will be pivotal in the continual growth of this club. Another season will allow the likes of Gallagher, Reed and Ward-Prowse to stake further claims on first team places and another season will allow Koeman to build his squad further. Finishing 7th will only show further progression and will not be met disapprovingly by any Southampton fan. It's only a matter of time before European football will be played under the lights at St Mary's, I just hope for the sake of the club's development, it doesn't come too soon.