The mood around Southampton was boosted on Thursday as Ralph Hasenhuttl delivered his first press conference since replacing Mark Hughes as Saints head coach.
The Austrian manager gave a good account of himself, charming the assembled media while making no bones about the difficult challenge he faces to keep the south-coast club in the Premier League.
"l was thinking about the Titanic leaving from here, and hoping I don't hit any icebergs,” was the former RasenBallsport Leipzig man’s opening gambit.
Jokes aside, however, Hasenhuttl may have his work cut out to clear the considerable dead wood from St. Mary’s Stadium, to transfer his footballing philosophy and identity to Saints, and boost the squad’s morale.
Should Marco Silva grant @Alookman_ a greater role in @Everton rebuild?
Enjoyed this feature from @theReal_SeyE, and was glad to see the wonderkid start against Newcastle in midweek.https://t.co/Wf0TpB6sTG pic.twitter.com/HgjZMO5SZ9 — Ed Dove (@EddyDove) December 6, 2018
They may be in touching distance of 17th place — only one point behind Huddersfield Town — but Southampton are without a league win since September 1, and were thoroughly outclassed against Tottenham Hotspur in midweek.
A relegation battle may not be the ideal opportunity to place his faith in youth, but this has been a key theme both in Southampton’s renaissance and in Hasenhuttl’s successes to date.
Indeed, expect the Austrian to quickly revert to the 4-2-2-2 that served him so well in the Bundesliga, and to give prominence to some of Saints’ younger faces.
He’ll recruit too, and one wonders whether the 51-year-old’s appointment at St. Mary’s will have made an impression over at Finch Farm, where Everton’s Ademola Lookman continues to be overlooked.
The Anglo-Nigerian wonderkid came off the bench to light up the Merseyside derby on Sunday, appearing unfazed by the occasion and keen to offer the extra dimension that has occasionally been missing under Marco Silva.
The Portuguese coach celebrated the starlet’s cameo against Liverpool, and duly handed Lookman a start against Newcastle United on Wednesday.
The youngster didn’t look out of place as the Toffees were held 1-1, although it remains to be seen whether his promotion—at the expense of Theo Walcott—was a false dawn or a genuine change of direction at Goodison Park.
Unless the 21-year-old begins to get ample gametime, a change of scene is surely necessary, as it was last term, when he swapped Merseyside for a loan spell at Hasenhuttl’s Leipzig.
It was there that the wideman demonstrated the best form of his career to date. He thrived in the Austrian’s formation, showcasing his speed and footwork during a series of effective displays after adapting seamlessly to life in Germany.
Lookman ended his half-season in the Bundesliga with five goals and three assists in 11 top-flight outings, shoving Sam Allardyce’s cynicism down his throat and demonstrating the kind of form that he hasn’t shown before or since.
Hasenhuttl deserves credit; he believed in Lookman in a way that neither Allardyce, or potentially even Silva, did, and reaped the rewards.
He should try and ensure history repeats itself at Southampton, where a January loan move for the youngster could suit all parties.
For Southampton, the league’s fourth lowest scorers, they’d benefit from a forward who proved his ability to find the net in Germany, under Hasenhuttl’s guidance.
Everton would ensure that a talented prospect would receive the gametime that, seemingly, they aren’t willing to give him at the moment, while Lookman himself could find an ideal launchpad to truly announce himself in the Premier League.