It is only a slight exaggeration that this summer transfer window was the most important for Southampton Football Club in many years. History clearly states that extended stays in the Championship can spell trouble, as relegation parachute payments drop off and money starts to get tighter and tighter.
Thus, Southampton director of football Jason Wilcox had a mountainous task ahead of him this summer. Step 1: Sell the remaining Premier League quality players who would not stay in the 2nd tier, but make sure you retain fair market value for them. Step 2: Get a new manager who could lead Southampton out of the Championship. Step 3: Evaluate the entire squad top to bottom for a complete revamp of how Saints will play stylistically on the pitch. Step 4: Offload expensive signings on high wages who no longer fit at the club. Step 5: Did I mention you have to do all of this simultaneously?
The transfer window snapped shut on September 1st, and now that there has been a week to settle, it is time to evaluate how Wilcox did. Saints had 17 players leave the club and 8 come in (to the senior club only, for the purposes of time we will focus on the youth signings at another time). Also for the purposes of time, we will group certain players together. This section (part 1) will focus on the departures. Part 2 later in the week will cover the arrivals.
Old Guard of Players – Moi Elyounoussi, Moussa Djenepo, Theo Walcott, Willy Caballero
All of these players served Southampton to the best of their ability. Each had moments: Djenepo’s wondergoals against Manchester City, Brighton, and Sheffield United, Elyounoussi’s equalizer against Tottenham, and Walcott’s goals against Arsenal. Caballero was reportedly a fantastic mentor and his veteran presence in the Saints’ young keeper room will be missed. But it was time for them to move on as a new chapter for Southampton started. Good luck, no hard feelings.
Players that didn’t fit – Lyanco, Ibrahima Diallo, Mislav Oršić, Duje Ćaleta-Car, Dan Nlundulu, Mateusz Lis, Paul Onuachu
The length of this list is a testament to how muddled Southampton’s recruiting has been in the past year. For various reasons, whether it be skill set, adaptability to Southampton, or playing level, these players were not going to be part of Russell Martin’s plans going forward. It will be one of football’s most perplexing mysteries how Oršić and Ćaleta-Car went in the span of 6 months from starring for Croatia in the European Championships to being unable to make a Southampton squad in free fall.
All are off for generally less money than Saints paid for them — but getting them off the books was always the main goal. However, because of the significant financial loss, this group gets a hit from the grading department.
Might be back next year – Romain Perraud, Armel Bella-Kotchap
These two are perplexing. Both are loans for the season, Perraud with an option to buy, and ABK without. Perraud was decent for the Saints last season, and his departure leaves them very thin at left back with only Ryan Manning and Juan Larios in the senior team. While Perraud may lack the technicality needed as a fullback in Martin’s system, Larios is a completely unproven product and an injury to Manning may prove devastating.
ABK had an interesting past season, to say the least. He at times looked like one of the world’s most promising defenders, at others looked uninterested, and Southampton’s defense was the 2nd leakiest in the division. However, what is not in doubt is his potential and ability when fully committed.
Given their struggles at center back this season, ABK could easily slot in at this level. If he is not interested in playing in the Championship, a loan doesn’t make too much sense, as there was rumored interest from both Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund for the German international’s services. Unless he tears it up at PSV and the Saints move him on for more money next season, I don’t believe Southampton maximized the value for the player in this scenario.
Similar to Bella-Kotchap, at times Salisu looked like Virgil Van Dijk reincarnated, however, he was consistently inconsistent, and Southampton’s defense often struggled in his presence. An injury suffered on international duty forced the Ghanian to watch the dying embers of Saint’s relegation struggle from the sidelines, and reports were swirling about his commitment to the team. Getting 15 million after relegation for a player who reportedly didn’t want to remain is decent business for Southampton, and Wilcox can put a tidy 6 million profit in his cap, as Saints acquired Salisu for 12 million back in 2020.
Scoring goals in professional football is hard. The average Championship game in 2022-2023 featured just 2.42 total goals. So when you part with a proven goal scorer, you’d better have a good reason. Nathan Tella is a proven goal scorer (at Championship level): 18 goals in 42 appearances (34 starts). In 3 games for the Saints this season, he chipped in 1 goal and 1 assist.
For a Russell Martin-coached team that emphasizes isolating wingers in half spaces in and around the box, having someone who can bang in goals from that position is huge. So why did Jason Wilcox let him leave? Short answer: euros. 23 million of them to be exact. Bayer Leverkusen definitely overpaid for a player unproven at the top league level. But while snagging 23 million for Tella is nice, the value of promotion to the Premier League is far higher, and if Southampton cannot reinvest to replace his offensive output, promotion may prove difficult.
There are 3 things certain in this life. Death, taxes, and Roméo Lavia retaining possession under pressure. Compared to the men’s big 5 leagues — pass completion: 72nd percentile, take-ons: 75th percentile, tackles: 82nd percentile, blocks: 89th percentile. Need I remind you Lavia was born in 2004. He is fully international, battle-tested at Premier League level, and 19 years of age.
So it is no wonder when Southampton’s relegation blood hit the water, the big sharks were circling. Just for completeness, some clubs that were linked to the Belgian wonderkid: Barcelona, Liverpool, Arsenal, Newcastle, Manchester United, Manchester City, and finally Chelsea. Could do worse for suitors!
It is hard for smaller clubs to retain the market value of their young talent when the big boys come calling. Especially when they have just been relegated. Youngsters from small teams get poached for pennies on the dollar consistently, as they force moves to bigger and greener pastures. But this was a Jason Wilcox masterpiece.
He rejected lowball offer after lowball offer, consistently holding that only 50 million plus would pry his prize away from St. Mary’s. Then when Liverpool overplayed their hand, bidding 110 million for Moises Caicedo of Brighton, the price of the Lavia went up. Then money-stuffed Chelsea got involved raising the price even further.
Eventually, Southampton walked away with 62 million in their pockets. Personally, I think he eventually will be worth way more, he is just that talented. But for Saints to pull off that price playing with the titans of world football, and he didn’t end up at Liverpool — perfection.
Emotion aside, this could be one of the rare deals where everyone wins. Southampton managed to get 34 million for their talismanic captain, which is a great return for a player who everyone from California to West London knew wanted to get a Premier League move. JWP got his Premiership move to West Ham, where he has had a barnstorming start to the season with 1 goal and 3 assists. And West Ham got an incredible replacement at a bargain price for their own talisman Declan Rice.
Could the Saints have held out until later in the window and gotten more money? Probably. Especially if a team like West Ham had lost a few Premiership games and gotten panicky. But Southampton have netted a good price, treated a club legend with respect, and put him in a great situation for his career. A rare feel-good story in a cutthroat business.
Now the only thing left is to get Prowsey back into the England team — I mean seriously Southgate, Kalvin Phillips? Man hasn’t played a meaningful game in years.
Transfer Window In Its Entirety
All in all, Jason Wilcox has navigated an incredibly difficult task. He has trimmed a bloated squad, pulled in over 150 million in sales, hired a new manager, and completely revamped a side in the span of 4 months. In addition to the departures above, he has managed to retain key players such as Che Adams and Kyle Walker-Peters, who easily could’ve moved to a handful of Premiership teams.
While the squad isn’t perfect, Southampton are well positioned to challenge for automatic promotion this season and have the financial strength to continue to spend in January as the transfer window reopens. Only time and results on the pitch will tell if Wilcox’s gambles (such as selling Nathan Tella) will pay off, but for now, he can take some credit for a daunting job well done.