After their remarkable rise through the leagues using a core of young, home-grown talent, Southampton were always going to receive interest in their players. Arguably Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was the first of the current crop to leave, signing for Arsenal before the Saints even made their return to England’s top tier. With that sale, Southampton had to make the decision whether to continue to reap the benefits of Oxlade-Chamberlain, or to cash in on their asset. The day was always going to come when the Saints would have to make that same decision with their other young stars. What fans, nor anyone else for that matter, could have anticipated is that Southampton would choose to sell almost all of their assets in a single transfer window.
The least surprising departure was perhaps Luke Shaw, his rise has been remarkable, and his potential is obviously immense, the huge fee offered by Manchester United was always going to be too good to turn down. Adam Lallana is another sale most fans probably expected; no longer in the ‘youngster’ bracket, Lallana is a player approaching his peak and on the verge of outgrowing the club. That Rickie Lambert would follow Lallana to Liverpool though was a shock to everyone. The former Stockport striker has become something of a talisman to the seaside club, and whilst cashing in on an ageing player certainly makes good business sense, at 31 fans cannot be blamed for hoping that Lambert would finish his career with the club at which he made his name.
The sales that will have really hurt though are Calum Chambers to Arsenal and Dejan Lovren to Liverpool. Centre back has been a problem area Southampton, but after signing last summer, Lovren went a long way to shoring up those weaknesses last season, but after just a year with the club has forced through a move to Liverpool. A central defender should have been on the Saints shopping list even before Lovren’s departure, and although they received a premium fee for the Croatian, finding another player of his calibre will not be an easy task. Although having of course been at the club much longer than Lovren, Chambers only just broke into the Southampton first team this year, and is still early in his development.
If anything, Chambers’ fellow right back Clyne had looked the more likely to leave, with the former to continue his development with the club. As with all the money received so far this summer, the offer by Arsenal for Chambers was huge, but with so many departures already, fans will be disappointed that Southampton weren’t able to retain his services for another season. Chambers’ value is only set to increase, and with all the other sales, Southampton had no need to sell.
It also looks as is if the Southampton exodus may not yet be over. The Saint’s Chairman, Ralph Krueger, has been quick to come out and deny rumours linking midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin and forward Jay Rodriguez to former manager Mauricio Pochettino’s new club Tottenham Hotspur, announcing that the par are not for sale. The statement sparked a vague, but obviously discontented reaction on Twitter by Schneiderlin, and if a large offer comes in, combined with a transfer request by the players, the pair could well still leave.
Tottenham showed last season how difficult it can be to replace one key player, with their summer signings failing to settle and gel, leading to a disappointing term. Southampton need to rebuild their entire squad. Even with an experienced head at the helm, the task would be near impossible. Instead, it falls to Ronald Koeman, who has impressed in the Dutch Eredivisie, but has no Premier League experience, and little knowledge of the club, having only just taken charge. Koeman has already gone about making his mark on the club with the signings of striker Graziano Pelle and winger Dusan Tadic from Holland. Both are decent signings, and once they have settled, probably adequate replacements for Lambert and Lallana, but to expect the pair to immediately replicate their Eredivisie form would be foolish.
Even with those signings, as the situation currently stands, Southampton need a centre back, right back and a left back just to be back to full strength, and a central midfielder and a wide forward could well soon be added to that list. The number of departures is bound to have a disruptive effect, and a club which should be aiming for the top half of the league, could well be dragged into a relegation battle. Serious investment will be needed, but with the club currently only being linked with Serge Gnabry and Carl Jenkinson on loan, there are question marks next to how willing the board are to spend. Southampton have always been a club which places faith in its academy graduates, but whilst James Ward-Prowse and Sam Gallagher look ready to kick on, it remains to be seen if the likes of Matt Targett, Harrison Reed and Omar Rowe are ready to make the step up.
It is hard to argue with the money Southampton have received for their young stars, but there is now the risk that the club have sold their future from under themselves. Regardless of how much of the money is reinvested though Ronald Koeman now faces an impossible task taking the Saints forward, and now it is just a question of how much the Dutchman can prevent a backslide.