Southampton are the latest club to benefit from the evergrowing trend of new age management

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UNDER RALPH HASENHUTTL, SAINTS HAVE CLARITY AND HUGE POTENTIAL

For years, Southampton Football Club have been a side admired by many for the subtle way they go about their business. Saints were mainstays in the old style Division One before the Premier League came along in the early-nineties, spending the entirety of the eighties in the top tier before enjoying a successful 11-year long spell in the Premiership. The south coast outfit dropped out the top flight back in 2005, spending the proceeding four seasons in the Championship before being relegated to League One in 2009.

After finishing one place outside of the playoffs in 2009/10, Southampton – then managed by Alan Pardew – finished as runners-up the following season, earning promotion back to the second tier. Another second place finish was to follow for Saints, which saw them reinstated back into the Premier League at the beginning of the 2012/13 campaign. Since then, the 1976 FA Cup winners have seen the likes of Mauricio Pochettino, Ronald Koeman and Claude Puel guide them to four top eight finishes in the previous six seasons, with the latter also reaching the League Cup final in 2017.

After dismissing Claude Puel at the end of the 2016/17 campaign – despite the Frenchman obtaining an eighth placed finish and reaching a cup final – things on the south coast started to take a turn for the worse, again. Mauricio Pellegrino was brought in as Puel’s replacement and he flunked, relieved of his duties after nine months having won just eight of his 34 games in charge at St Mary’s.

Southampton
After seven years out of the Premier League, Saints earned promotion back to the top flight in 2012

HUGHES OUT, HASENHUTTL IN

Mark Hughes was the man entrusted to steer Southampton - who at the time found themselves in real danger following a dismal 17-game winless run - clear of relegation, and he did just that thanks to a scrappy 1-0 win over Swansea last May. However with Hughes' appointment came yet more drab, lifeless football; the sort of football fans of the club had been subjected to since the departure of Ronald Koeman in 2016.

It wasn't the same Southampton that everyone knew and in some cases loved, it was instead a club completely lacking in any quality, belief and identity. Hughes remained in charge of Saints for the beginning of this season, but with the club languishing in the drop zone and in real contention of relegation, he was sacked in December and replaced by a fresh, vibrant young manager named Ralph Hasenhuttl, previously of RB Leipzig.

The 51-year-old made his name in Germany with VfR Aalen, before joining Ingolstadt 04 - then of the German second tier - in October of 2013. Hasenhuttl took the club from the bottom of the league to mid-table in his first season in charge, before earning them promotion to the Bundesliga for the first time in their history the following season. The Austrian then moved onto bigger things when he joined RB Leipzig in 2016, guiding them to second and sixth place finishes respectively throughout his two seasons at the helm, implementing a new age style of exciting, attack-minded football at the Red Bull Arena.

Hasenhuttl spent seven months away from management after leaving Leipzig last May, but re-entered the game in December 2018 when a desperate Southampton came calling. Since his appointment, Hasenhuttl has completely transformed a failing side bereft of any confidence into a team who can cause problems to any club in the division, just like the old Southampton. Getting the best out of players like James Ward-Prowse, Matt Targett and even Shane Long, who although will never be a prolific striker has looked much more of an attacking threat during the past six weeks, scoring for the first time in nine months in the Saints' 2-1 win over Leicester a fortnight ago.

Shane Long
Hasenhuttl is getting the best out of his squad, even Shane Long scored a goal

NO ROOM FOR DEADWOOD

Trust in youth has been evident since Hasenhuttl took charge, with 19-year-old Jan Valery now becoming the club’s first choice right back and the underperforming Cedric Soares cast aside and now loaned out to Inter Milan for the remainder of the campaign.

Moves likes this show that the manager is clear in his objectives and not afraid to make wholesale changes in his quest for success; Cedric was a huge name on the south coast, an established international who won the European Championships with Portugal just two-and-a-half years ago, but he wasn’t doing enough and instead of ignoring it, Hasenhuttl acted and there’s no doubt it will be beneficial to the squad as a whole. Wesley Hoedt is another, loaned out to Celta Vigo having made little to no impact since his arrival in 2017 despite costing the club £15 million.

Charlie Austin is another who looks destined for the exit door before the transfer window closes on Thursday, and although a player who has always given his all for the cause, his problems with injury and inconsistency are becoming too much for a club who are not only battling relegation, but are trying to transform themselves back into a respectable top flight team who can hold their own against the best in the division.

Hasenhuttl’s goal is clear: bring in young, energetic, players who are full of pace and blessed with ability. Get rid of the ageing deadwood, it’s not needed and certainly not beneficial to the team. This may seem harsh at first - especially in the case of players like Steven Davies and Charlie Austin - who over the years have been fantastic servants to the club, but it’s a necessity that the previous two managers have overlooked and it’s ultimately cost the club dearly.

Charlie Austin Southampton
Charlie Austin looks to be the next player to depart St Mary's

FROM LEIPZIG TO SOUTHAMPTON - THE IDEOLOGY REMAINS THE SAME

Birmingham’s Che Adams is a transfer target for Southampton. The 22-year-old striker – who can also operate on the wing - epitomises what this new look Saints side is all about: young, exciting and determined to prove themselves at a higher level. Having netted 14 times for the Blues in 28 league appearances this term, Adams would compliment leading man Danny Ings perfectly up front at St Mary’s, with the invigorated Nathan Redmond and James Ward-Prowse acting as the supporting cast from midfield – all of whom are under the age of 27.

This is the RB Leipzig way; they don’t take risks on any players under the age of 25 and it’s clear to see that Hasenhuttl is implementing a similar ideology at Southampton. Now three points out of the relegation zone in the Premier League with a game in hand over the bottom three, the future looks bright for Saints. There’s still a long way to go of course, however with a manager who brings so much passion, desire and technical know-how to proceedings, alongside an ability to make ruthless decisions with ease, Southampton are starting to look like they’re getting their identity back.

Tonight they welcome Crystal Palace to St Mary’s, looking to extend their unbeaten run to four games in the Premier League. A victory this evening would propel them above 14th placed Newcastle and set them up perfectly for the six-pointers against Burnley and Cardiff next month, whilst maintaining the belief that Premier League football will once again be present on the south coast next term.

After a bleak, depressing 18 months at St Mary’s, the fresh air exhaled by new manager Ralph Hasenhuttl is really starting to pay dividence. The club are undergoing a makeover under the Austrian tactician and the most exciting part of it all is that he is only just getting started.

Che Adams
Che Adams is exactly the sort of player this new look Southampton side are after
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