Southampton Transfers: Out With a Bang, or a Whimper?

GRONINGEN, NETHERLANDS - JULY 30: Head coach Claude Puel of Southampton looks on during the friendly match between FC Groningen an FC Southampton at Euroborg Stadium on July 30, 2016 in Groningen, Netherlands. (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Getty Images)
GRONINGEN, NETHERLANDS - JULY 30: Head coach Claude Puel of Southampton looks on during the friendly match between FC Groningen an FC Southampton at Euroborg Stadium on July 30, 2016 in Groningen, Netherlands. (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Getty Images) /

With less than two weeks til the window shuts, it’s radio silence at St. Mary’s. Are Southampton done, or planning a last-minute coup?

As I’ve said before, Southampton’s transfer seasons tend to follow a set script. Early on, key players and/or a manager leave. Undeterred, the Board and its famous “black box” get to work. A new manager is found, some signings to replace the departed stars occur, and at the last moment, a marquee player is signed. It makes for a testy, nerve-wracking summer for the faithful fans, whose faith in the Board is tested and renewed annually.

This year, though, the script has been given some slight alterations.

The new manager took a bit more doing than was expected, and ended up being not the rumoured Manuel Pellegrini but a Frenchman without Premier League experience.

The departures of Sadio Mane and Graziano Pelle to Liverpool and Shandong Luneng respectively were taken in stride, replaced in the first instance by former Norwich City man Nathan Redmond and in the second, apparently, by the existing ranks.

Victor Wanyama left the confines of St. Mary’s for the big stage of North London and White Hart Lane, a move greeted with relative indifference given the presence of Oriol Romeu as his heir-apparent; the signing of Pierre-Emile Højbjerg was seen, potentially, to bolster the ranks at holding mid.

Aside from Redmond and Højbjerg, though, it’s been a quiet season on the transfer market for Southampton. A backup keeper in Alex McCarthy, and the free acquisition of Jeremy Pied from Claude Puel’s old home OGC Nice, are certainly not to be sniffed at. But they don’t address any key needs, and with 11 days left in the window, the buzz of the rumour-mill has gone silent.

What does it all mean? Are Southampton out of the market, for planning a last-minute steal like always? Let’s look at a few scenarios.

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Scenario One: Southampton are Set For The Summer

It is a distinct possibility that the reason we’ve not heard any new developments is simply that there haven’t been any. Claude Puel previously said he was pleased with the squad, and hasn’t publicly said otherwise in two games’ worth of press conferences. The main focus of the club this window seems to have been securing players already in, rather than buying up new ones. The number of contract extensions put forward surely involves a hefty chunk of the budget, which presumably would otherwise have gone to transfers. Simply put, the money the fans have been expecting to be spent may already have been, in the quiet way Saints are known for.

If this is the case, the Summer 2016 transfer window might go down as one of the more disappointing ones in recent Southampton history, and fans will likely react as fans do to disappointment. After all, even in the (in)famous “mass exodus” summer, the gaps were plugged and the replacements proved up to it. A squad comprised as it is now, without any additions or improvements, is going to lead to a backslide down the Premier League table and a hasty exit from the Europa League.

Before the fans take to St. Mary’s with torches and pitchforks, though, it might do well to remember that the Board play the long game and have thus far done it very well. This is first and foremost a business, to be run at a profit, headed by skilled businessmen as well as skilled football men. In the grand scheme of five-year plans and brand growth figures, a one-year backslide while the team consolidates and builds toward a stable future may be seen as an acceptable risk. We fans may not like it in the short-term, but trust in the Board has gotten us this far.

Scenario Two: The Late-Breaking Headline Is Still On

The other possibility, if we assume the “script” of Southampton’s transfer season is still being followed, is that the typical last-minute flourish is still going to happen. In this optimistic scenario, that I personally favor, the lack of new gossip is irrelevant. Southampton fans more than anyone should know by now to believe half of what they hear and less of what they read on who the team is in for. This is a club that conducts its business with a level of secrecy somewhere between “office surprise party” and “planning the invasion of Normandy.”

It’s worth remembering that the signing of Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, the club’s biggest of this summer, was first reported less than 24 hours before he was putting pen to paper at St. Mary’s. Just because there’s no smoke, doesn’t mean there’s no fire. The Board, more than anyone, know what the weaknesses are and who’s available within the club’s price range and style fit.

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In particular, the roles that need shoring up—attacking mid, holding mid, and striker—tend to be pricey positions to fill. With Southampton known to be tight-fisted on the transfer market and preferring to go off the beaten track, it’s not hard to imagine that the Board has been working leads for some time now, in typical military-grade secrecy. When the time is right—sometime in the next 11 days—the deal will be struck, the newcomer announced, and the fans placated.

Waiting is never easy, especially during a relatively-quiet summer. But fans should keep the faith, and expect a new Saint to be crowned soon.