A consistent if sad truth of Southampton’s current English Premier League stint is they are architects of their own downfall.
With alarming regularity across the eight seasons that the Saints have once again graced the grand stage, they have sold their best players and brightest prospects. It’s nothing new for long-suffering fans who pack into St Mary’s Stadium just across the Solent from the Isle of Wight.
Twice promoted under Nigel Adkins after seven years of Premier League exile which saw Southampton plummet to the depths of the third tier, their resurgence was a heartwarming story for neutrals. After all, this is the club that nurtured Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale among others.
What four consecutive top-eight finishes under Mauricio Pochettino, Ronald Koeman and then Claude Puel did was flatter to deceive. All the while, the Saints board and owners have been gambling with their EPL status by cashing in on those who perform on the pitch.
You reap what you sow in football, so these last couple of years reflect a truer picture of where Southampton are. Without the goals and creativity of subsequent Premier League Golden Boot recipient Sadio Mane and Dusan Tadic, supply has gone dry and goals – like wins at St Mary’s – have become something of a novelty.
Saints haven’t even averaged one per game from their first dozen matches in the league this season. Couple that with the worst defensive record and most goals conceded in the division, and it’s a recipe for trouble. Going into the final international break of 2019, Southampton last won a home game in any competition in April. It’s just two league victories at St Mary’s since the end of February. The Premier League table doesn’t lie. Although these worrying stats are skewed by the October 9-0 demolition by in-form Leicester City, they bring Saints’ plight into sharper focus.
Subsequent defeats to that Foxes mauling at the hands of reigning champions Manchester City and Everton have led bookmakers like Betfair to slash Southampton’s English Premier League odds for relegation to 5/4. Only fellow strugglers Norwich City and Watford, who recently met at Carrow Road where the Hornets left Norfolk with a priceless win, are reckoned to be in as much if not deeper waters.
It isn’t exactly a stretch to imagine the Canaries, the Hertfordshire club and Saints – the current EPL bottom three – going down. If that proves to be the case, then it’s frankly been coming on the south coast. Southampton struggles are self-perpetual. That’s the way of things for a club with a recruitment model of developing players then selling them on.
Two narrow brushes with relegation should have given those in the boardroom enough warning that this is a risky way to do business. The Championship is a league that gets tougher every year with many eyes on the EPL prize that comes with promotion. Better Saints do their best to stay put in the top flight than fall from their perch.
Getting back up isn’t so straightforward. Just ask other teams who play in red and white like Middlesbrough, Stoke City and Sunderland who all at one time or other shared the spotlight with Southampton.