The Saints Go Martin In – An Outsiders Perspective
Since their relegation from the Premier League, Southampton are already making drastic changes to claim their spot back in the top flight.
This time 12 months ago there was a lot of uncertainty brewing over Saint Mary’s. Following an abysmal end to the Premier League, The Saints just won one of their final 13 games, leaving them in 15th place. A drastic change was needed.
New owners Sport Republic had their first transfer window to right the wrongs of the previous campaign. However, the recruitment couldn’t have gone more wrong. Sport Republic’s policy was very youth orientated and decided the experience of the current squad would be enough to progress on the previous season.
Southampton started the season poorly and then manager Ralph Hasenhuttl was giving his marching orders. Three days later the Austrian’s replacement was named as Luton Town boss Nathan Jones.
The fans immediately didn’t take to Jones as he lost his four opening games. In press conferences he came across as arrogant and the supporters quickly concluded that he was out of his depth. Jones was let go after 95 days and gained the record of having the shortest managerial reign in Southampton’s history.
With The Saints nailed to the bottom of the league, St Mary’s became a very toxic place to be. Players and fans heads dropped alike and Southampton began to accept the inevitable. Ruben Selles took over from Jones and had a promising start by beating Chelsea by a single goal away from home. Unfortunately, the rot had already set and he went on to win two out of 17 matches.
The Appointment of Russell Martin
Selles departed for Reading upon his contract expiry in June and a new era was coming to the South Coast. After weeks of deliberation, The Saints finally had their man, Swansea boss Russell Martin. The Swans had an impressive season finishing 10th and were the Championship’s fourth highest scorers with a 68.
Swansea had a reputation under Martin and that was to play an attractive style with plenty of attacking, something The Saints were drawn to in their appointment.
In just under two months, the changes Martin has brought to the table are subtle but visible.
First of all, his playing style is something Southampton have been crying out for. Martin’s philosophy comes across and simple but is totally affective: possession based, high intensity attacking football. In previous seasons, The Saints have been guilty of passing the ball around without actually getting forward. Under Martin this is the complete opposite. Against Sheffield Wednesday, Martin’s Reds completed 477 first half passes which became a Championship record.
Secondly, his man management. Even though it has only been a short period of time, Martin has shown that he deals with his players in a very different way to his predecessors. Jones and Selles were guilty of calling out specific players in the public eye after bad games, with Romeo Lavia being the prime example. The Scotsman’s approach to this was publicly backing goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu in a fans forum this week (August 15th), telling the home faithful that Bazunu is going to be a top keeper.
Thirdly is the togetherness of the squad. Towards the back end of last season, The Saints team morale was on the floor and the relationship with the fans was at breaking point. Martin has actively been trying to fix both and it is already evident how well of a job he’s doing.
On The Pitch
Southampton played Norwich last Saturday (August 12th), which was Martin’s first home game. It was an eight-goal thriller, where both teams shared the goals and the points. Despite going behind twice, the atmosphere was very different at St Mary’s. Gone is the toxicity and mentality of going one behind and giving up. This is a new look Saints from the players and fans perspective. Heads didn’t drop and the players were fighting tooth and nail to get back in the game. Out of 31 shots Carlos Alcaraz took nine by himself. Saints struggled to get that many shots in a game the entirety of last season: the type of hunger for success that might have kept The Reds afloat.
Things only got better from there, as on Wednesday (August 16th) St Mary’s hosted an open training session for the fans to see what work The Saints do behind the scenes. Again, Martin displayed more of his high intensity, attacking football which was an exciting watch. One thing stood out for a lot of people; his desire to get involved with the drills. A rarer sight these days saw the 37-year-old get stuck in with the team and look like a part of the squad.
Finally, for Martin, after the session was done he made time for every single fan and spent almost an hour after training taking pictures and signing autographs: which was another refreshing sight to see. Southampton could finally have a gem on their hands and there’s no reason why he can’t get The Saints back to the big time.
A charismatic, young and passionate manager Southampton might have their best appointment yet since Mauricio Pochettino.
Overall, The Saints need to prepare for an entertaining season, with plenty of ups and to be cynical definitely a couple of downs, as defending seems to be an issue. With a couple more additions in the defensive area and someone to replace James Ward-Prowse, there is no reason why by May The Saints won’t be lifting silverware.