By George Ankers
One by one, the crown jewels are being sold. Rickie Lambert, the talisman. Adam Lallana, the captain. Luke Shaw, the biggest talent, on par with Gareth Bale at that age.
Now Arsenal are weighing up a raid of their own for £30 million pair Dejan Lovren and Morgan Schneiderlin, both of whom want to leave. Southampton have had this kind of summer before but not quite with so many departures in one go.
While many have been predicting doom and gloom for the Saints since manager Mauricio Pochettino jumped ship for Tottenham, though, there is reason to be optimistic.
Though the talented Argentine is a loss, the appointment of Ronald Koeman looks a canny one. The Dutchman boasts great experience of high-level football as both a player and coach; an inspirational figure whose enthusiasm for and commitment to youth makes him an ideal fit for the club’s philosophy.
Koeman is set to bring with him from Feyenoord striker Graziano Pelle, a direct replacement for Lambert, who netted 50 goals in his last two seasons in the Eredivisie. The Italian clearly has a bond with his manager and, as a fluent English speaker, should have no trouble settling in.
Arguably even more exciting is the likely arrival of Dusan Tadic from Twente. The Serbian winger has created 483 chances over his four years in the Dutch top flight, an incredible 178 more than any other player over the same period. Two-footed and comfortable all across the forward line, he is a remarkably similar player to Lallana - and may in fact be better - for less than half the price that Liverpool have just paid.
More signings will need to follow. Southampton had one of the thinnest squads in the Premier League to begin with last season, which was the main reason why their challenge for European qualification fell away.
But now they have plenty of money with which to bolster their ranks. Burnley striker Danny Ings, a boyhood Saints fan, is understood to be one such target.
There are more potential sales to fear, of course, but though both Gunners targets have indicated a desire to leave, Saints are now quite publicly in no desperate need for funds. If Arsenal or Napoli or anyone else wants Schneiderlin, it will have to be for a very good price.
Schneiderlin is a key player for Southampton, one whom they have developed brilliantly from a gangly 18-year-old, but a huge fee to reinvest alongside the ever-impressive Jack Cork and improving Victor Wanyama would be no disaster.
The same goes for Lovren – be it Arsenal or Liverpool who push hardest for him, the south-coast side can demand serious money. At least one new centre-back would likely have been required anyway. Jay Rodriguez, the last left of their English forward triumvirate, is reported to be a target for Pochettino’s Spurs but his continuing recovery from injury might be enough to keep him at St Mary’s Stadium for the summer at least.
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James Ward-Prowse should step into a key role this season. Nathaniel Clyne and Calum Chambers can either continue a duel for the right-back slot that should put both in England contention imminently or switch one to the left and emulate Jon Flanagan’s conversion. Sam Gallagher scored his first Premier League goal last term and will look to kick on as a more serious squad player from hereon in.
Behind them, there are high hopes for Harrison Reed, an emerging central midfielder. Lloyd Isgrove and Omar Rowe are exciting options on the wing. Matt Targett is the latest 18-year-old with a bright future at left-back. Attacking midfielder Sam McQueen made his first-team debut in the FA Cup.
The coaching staff, too, has been renewed wisely under Koeman and his brother and assistant, Erwin. Sammy Lee has joined as an assistant coach while England goalkeeping coach Dave Watson has taken up a similar role at St Mary’s.
For Southampton, all of this has happened before and all of this will happen again. Though it is a crying shame to see one of their best ever group of players dismantled – Lambert’s exit being a particularly unexpected blow, though fans are largely supportive of his latest fairytale opportunity – the club are in a better position than ever before to still be standing proud when the dust has settled.
Relegation? There are a lot of poor teams in the Premier League. Last season’s record-breaking exploits may be difficult to repeat but, if Koeman can gel his new-look squad together quickly enough, Saints should be hopeful of more than just safety.
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