The summer of 2014 saw a list of high profile departures from a Southampton team which had swashbuckled their way to 8th place in the Premier League in only their second season back in the top flight. Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Rickie Lambert and Callum Chambers departed for the best part of £90m and were followed out by manager Mauricio Pochettino. Despite spending a lot of that on replacing these players, there were forecasts of doom. However, as they have done for a good few years now, Southampton showed the kind of creativity and boldness in the transfer market which has led them to genuine success. To look through their transfer market work is to see how they very much dance to the beat of their own drum and back what they do, regardless of the perceptions of it elsewhere.
Southampton have done a stupendous job of finding players from unusual areas, developing and then selling them for huge profits. But they only sell if they feel they can replace the player with another one of similar standard at an affordable rate. This mindset is obvious in how they went about re-building in the summer. Each player sold was done so with a plan in mind, and this is just as much the case with the two key cogs they fiercely resisted selling; Jay Rodriguez and Morgan Schneiderlin.
To many, following the sales of all of the stars listed above, it was a given that they wold be sold too. But they weren’t, because there wasn’t a ready made, affordable replacement to bring in, unlike in all the other cases. Although Rodriguez is still recovering from his horrible injury, how many wide forwards are there around who can score 15 Premier League goals? That sort of output is what you would look to get from someone like Eden Hazard and considering the prices being mooted for Rodriguez were in the £15-20m range, there wasn’t an obvious way to replace him affordably. This is even more the case when looking at Schneiderlin. Although he was annoyed not to be allowed to move, it was unquestionably a good decision. Although he was excellent last season, this season he has been the best defensive midfielder in the Premier League and his price tag is now well over £30m. Instead, Southampton sold players at the top of their value and bought incredibly well.
The case of Dejan Lovren is the best example. Southampton bought him for £6m and sold him for £20m one season later after getting a good season from him. That is huge money for a central defender and he has struggled with the burden at Liverpool. Southampton replaced with him Toby Alderweireld on loan and he has been at least as good, but maybe even significantly better, than Lovren was last season. Alderweireld was a highly touted player at Ajax but lost his way at Atletico Madrid and it was surprising that only Southampton seemed to see the value. But it’s worked out excellently. Luke Shaw was sold to Manchester United for a package worth around £32m, a record for a teenage defender. He has also struggled to make progress at his new club whilst his replacement, £9m Ryan Bertrand, has been sensational and comfortably outperformed Shaw this season. Bertrand was highly thought of at a young age, but after a decent loan spell at Aston Villa seemed like an afterthought, but that simply hasn’t been the case.
Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert were sold to Liverpool for £24m and their replacements; Dusan Tadic, Graziano Pelle and especially Sadio Mane have made up the shortfall. Although Lallana has started to show some form, he’s not reached the levels he did at the Saints and Lambert has vanished. As the two main faces of the club, they were the hardest to see leave, but Southampton didn’t panic and looked to Holland and Austria to replace them. Dusan Tadic came from Twente, Pelle from Feyenoord and Mane from Real Bull Salzburg. Whilst other teams were trying to be the new Swansea and look to Spain or were recycling players with Premier league experience, Southampton trusted their scouting network and plucked players who wouldn’t have been on many radars. The key to transfer market success, as Newcastle discovered with their French goldmine leading them to 5th place finish and Swansea’s Spanish signings winning a League Cup, is to be ahead of the curve. Overpaying for players from a previously desirable market is not a good idea, but underpaying for players in new markets is an excellent one.
These moves, added to previous moves for Celtic duo Fraser Forster and Victor Wanyama, Schneiderlin from Strasbourg, Rodriguez from Burnley and Nathaniel Clyne and Jose Fonte from Crystal Palace showed a willingness to be inventive. All of them have got a sale value greater than their purchase value, which ultimately is the biggest test of a team’s transfer strategy and ability to avoid flops. None of the clubs they’ve purchased players from in recent years have traditionally supplied the major English clubs. Southampton saw players in unusual places and trusted their scouting enough to go out and sign them and it’s this skill which has taken them from League One to the top six of the Premier League and possibly beyond.
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