Divisions, indiscipline and inexperience meant Southampton weren’t up for survival scrap
The statement dropped a couple of hours after Southampton’s fate was sealed. It contained all the usual platitudes: the inevitable ‘disappointment’ at relegation following defeat by Fulham.
The call for ‘unity’. The nod to everyone’s ‘tireless’ work. The acknowledgement (or excuse?) that ‘the Premier League is the most competitive league in the world’. The vow to ‘learn’ lessons. The promise of change and better days ahead.
It was co-signed by Southampton’s lead investor Dragan Solak, chairman Henrik Kraft and director of football Rasmus Ankersen.
Crucially, though, there was no attempt to apportion responsibility. Certainly no admission of any guilt from Sport Republic, who took over at St Mary’s in January 2022, when the club sat 14th. Only this: ‘We are particularly saddened and frustrated that our first season as controlling shareholders in Southampton Football Club has ended in relegation.’ Not one for the c.v., is it?
Now, as supporters digest this dreadful end to 11 years in the top flight, the search will begin for scapegoats. Or signs that this was coming. How’s this for starters? It comes from another statement by Ankersen. A talk in Spain a few years ago, to be precise.
Director of football Rasmus Ankersen (eating) called for unity following Southampton’s relegation on Saturday
The Saints were the first club to drop out of the Premier League after losing to Fulham
There was no admission of any guilt from Sport Republic, who took over at St Mary’s in January, in a letter following the game
The Dane — who helped mastermind Brentford’s rise to the top-flight — is standing, almost shrugging, and on the big screen behind him, it reads: ‘Principle #1: if it ain’t broke, consider breaking it.’ Ah. Well, who could blame Saints fans for waking up this morning and thinking: job done?
Certainly no one inside St Mary’s — not even occasional visitors such as Rishi Sunak — could watch this meek surrender and avoid the conclusion that Southampton are a mess. Remember when their scouting and recruitment made them the envy of other teams? They are an example these days, too. A cautionary tale of how a few bad calls and a few unnecessary risks can soon snowball into disaster.
Ankersen was absent from the director’s box on Saturday. He should not take sole blame for the debacle of the past 14 months, of course. But that Principle #1 is all a bit unfortunate isn’t it? And it is on the watch of Sport Republic that the seeds of Southampton’s relegation have been sown.
The rot began to set in last summer when Saints resisted calls to sack Ralph Hasenhuttl and began a new, bold recruitment policy. Their plan? To sign promise and potential, players who might be deemed too raw by other clubs. Ten new faces came in — none was older than 25. Several senior players left. Just as they had during previous windows. Since 2020, Southampton have lost Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Danny Ings, Oriol Romeu, Fraser Forster, Shane Long, Nathan Redmond, Jannik Vestergaard and Ryan Bertrand.
It left them with a squad of extremes: a handful of senior pros, a raft of unproven talent and not much in the middle. Over the course of the season, a feeling developed among several players that some of the youngsters weren’t ready for the demands of a Premier League scrap. On Saturday, just two of those 10 summer signings started the game.
Two of Ruben Selles’s XI came during a busy January window, including £18.5million striker Paul Onuachu. He arrived on deadline day. He still hasn’t scored a goal. Club-record signing, Kamaldeen Sulemana — another January recruit — has started one of their past five games.
In fairness to the new faces, they joined a ship that has been jolting in different directions all seasons. The waters on the South Coast have been choppy ever since the owners kept Hasenhuttl last summer — despite him being unpopular with many players — only to sack him in November.
Ankersen was one of the men who called for the appointment of Nathan Jones last year
Manager Ruben Selles (centre) has carried himself with class but is unlikely to be in charge next season
Ankersen then championed the appointment of Nathan Jones, who had never coached in the Premier League. That backfired amid fan mutiny over his direct style of play and even more direct style of communication. The Welshman bent his principles for a squad unsuited to his style but was then binned after 14 games and the reins were handed over to Selles. The young Spaniard had never managed a senior team.
Selles has carried himself with class and he coaxed a few signs of life from this squad. But his appointment hardly screamed grand plans or clear strategy.
They were bottom when Jones was sacked and have remained there since March. Saints have flirted with relegation in recent seasons and it’s said some players had long feared this would be the year they finally succumbed.
That sense of resignation spread and on Saturday goals from Carlos Vinicius and Aleksandar Mitrovic sealed their fate. Southampton’s squad is said to have suffered from divisions and a lack of discipline. Soon they will begin to bleed, too. James Ward-Prowse, Romeo Lavia, Kyle Walker-Peters… the exodus could be brutal. So what’s Principle #2: if it’s broken, consider fixing it?