I hope you will forgive me for being a bit self-indulgent but I’d like to talk about my old club, Southampton.
I believe it is generally recognised that the Saints have one of the best Academies in professional football, certainly in England and probably throughout the whole world. For many years now the club has maintained a remarkable production line of young players many of whom have gone right through into the first team and also many, sadly I think, have then been transferred for very big fees to the bigger predatory clubs.
It’s easy to understand the temptation for players by big name clubs offering them massive incentives to ditch the Saints, who have made them into such good players and to enjoy pastures new of what is sometimes a “promised land”.
I say promised because often that is just what it is. There’s an old saying about “be careful what you wish for”. This should be considered carefully by any young player tempted by a so-called bigger club.
A short while ago I talked about how big clubs cash in by approaching via players’ agents to unsettle and to take excellent young players away from the clubs that made them and this set me thinking about the amazing list of top class players who have left Southampton in recent years. I’m now thinking about what sort of team the Saints would have if none of that had happened and all those players had stayed with them.
I suppose we’d start in goal with Fraser Forster because even though I felt he had a rather unsatisfactory time last season, he is virtually a regular in the England squad and the Club has not lost any goal keepers of great note in recent years. I feel Fraser is an excellent shot stopper but I am concerned by his apparent reluctance to come out and take crosses which should be food and drink to him at 6 feet 7 inches tall. I also feel he needs to learn to move his feet more quickly and positively.
Let’s assume the play with a back four and so across the line they could begin with Nathaniel Clyne who was sold to Liverpool and who has kept his place there and is probably one of the best and most reliable right backs in England, I appreciate that Saints now have Portuguese international Cedric Soares in that position and that he is an excellent player but I feel Clyne has a little more physicality, power and strength about him.
In the middle of the back line we would have arguably the two best central defenders in the Premier League, perhaps even the world, in Toby Alderweireld and Virgil van Dyke. I really don’t know exactly how Saints failed to keep hold of Alerweireld who initially came in on loan and had a stellar season at St. Mary’s and it was assumed Saints would trigger the option to buy him at a set figure but somehow Spurs were allowed to sneak in and to take him to North London where he has continued to prove that his excellent form when with the Saints was no flash in the pan.
With him alongside van Dyke it is impossible to think of a better defensive pairing. Whilst at left back we already have probably one of the best in the Premier League in Ryan Bertrand but just imagine if he was injured and we had Luke Shaw to bring on as a sub! Shaw was sold to Manchester United as an 18 year-old for over £30 million – a massive sum for a teenager.
If we start with defensive mid-fielders you be struggling to think of a more awesome pairing than the man who two seasons ago I voted my Player of the Season, Oriol Romeu, and the man mountain Victor Wanyama who was tempted away by Spurs. These two must form the most formidable and efficient partnership imaginable.
Both tackle superbly, both are strong physically and good in the air and both can pass the ball like the best of schemers. With those two in front of them any back line would look impregnable, let along one as good as that we just spoken about.
As far as the creative mid-field is concerned we would once again have something of an embarrassment of riches with top class men including Morgan Schneiderlin, Adam Lallana, Gareth Bale and Sadio Mane all eligible for my team of current and recent ex-Saints. It’s not so much who you would choose but more a question of who can you leave out?
I suppose we’d have to include Gareth Bale on the left since he is right up there amongst any list of the world’s greatest players. Also, because of his amazing ability of turn a game around I’d probably go with Sadio Mane. I know he can be inconsistent and tends to blow a bit hot and cold but if he was having a lesser game we could always replace him with Adam Lallana. You’ll probably recall that Bale left for Spurs at a time of financial problems at St Mary’s and the Club desperately needed the money. It wasn’t quite the same when Lallana and Sadio Mane both went to Liverpool. By then Saints were not in financial difficulties but both players were adamant and insisted they wanted to move to Liverpool and so they were allowed to do so with great reluctance and with the compensation of massive transfer fees in each case.
Up front I suppose we’d have to give recent arrival Manolo Gabbiadini a chance, bearing in mind his goal scoring success whenever he has been given any sort of service, but I suspect there would be a strong shout from Saints’ fans for legendary hero, Rickie Lambert….this call is more with the heart than the head. I appreciate it is now too late for him to come back in the tremendous form he showed before being allowed to move to Liverpool, his home-town club but I must admit if the clock could go back a few years I would have loved to have been there to put some crosses in for him to convert. It would have been like playing with Ron Davies again!
But, back to reality. I suppose Gabbiadini’s goal scoring tally would be something very special if he were partnered up front by Graziano Pelle. Playing off the big man like Pelle who as a target man was as good at laying the ball off to team mates as anyone I’ve seen at Saints, would surely create many, many chances for Gabbiadini to the extent that I believe he would think every match day was his birthday!
So there we have the Saints team of Present and Recent Past. It looks like this:
in goal: Forster
Bach Four: Clyne, Alderweireld, van Dyke, Bertrand
Mid-field: Romeo, Wanyama,Mane, Lallana
Strikers: Gabbiadini, Pele.
Substitutes: Luke Shaw, Callum Chambers, Diego Lovren, Theo Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cedric Soares and Rickie Lambert (for old times sake!)
I have been looking at prices for the new season ahead, trying to find some value, I like the 7/2 about Chelsea and a little surprised at Manchester city as short as 7/4, for Manchester utd supporters there is 10/30 available, perhaps Spurs at 8/1 is your fancy, a nice each way bet on Liverpool at 10/1 will not be far away come the end of the season, if any of the above get off to a quick start these prices will soon disappear. The championship have some attractive prices also, Middlesbrough to win the League are 13/2, Aston Villa 7/1 Fulham at 9/1 and Norwich 10/1, I am going head down with a win double Chelsea and Middlesbrough, then sit back and watch the season unfold and having a bet is so much more enjoyable. All these prices on WSB so get involved now.