May 27, 2016
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Why Ronald Koeman’s new contract is a sign of intent from Southampton?

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It’s ironic that for a club based in a city that saw HMS Titanic set sail from its port that Southampton seem to keep on improving, despite being tested with football’s own proverbial icebergs.

In the short space of 30 months, the owner Katharina Liebherr and her board have had to contend with the departure of a chairman, a manager and his coaching staff, and players that would make up a very good starting eleven, if not a squad.

 

Yet despite constant warnings that this kind of upheaval can only be detrimental, the Saints have managed to move on up. The first time round, Ronald Koeman guided a new-look squad to a best ever Premier League finish of seventh only to better it last season with 6th.

Manchester United and Manchester City’s domestic cup success means that Saints have sailed into the Europa League group stages; not bad for a club who have gone from playing Stockport and Southend to potential ties against Schalke and Saint-Etienne within the space of seven seasons.

But it still looks to be another summer of change at Staplewood. Victor Wanyama has been itching for a move for the past two seasons, and could be granted a transfer this off-season. Sadio Mané and Graziano Pellè, two of Koeman’s best buys in that traumatic 2014 window, may join the Kenyan in clearing out their lockers.

It is noticeable that the Southampton hierarchy have moved to tie down some of their important squad members. Virgil Van Dijk has signed a new six-year-deal after an impressive debut campaign, whilst Fraser Forster and James Ward-Prowse have joined the Dutchman in penning their long term futures.

Whilst their contract extensions have been rightly celebrated, the man who the St Marys’ faithful want to see put pen to paper is Koeman himself. Of the past two summers, it is arguably the former Barcelona icon that has been the best signing of the lot.

His name and CV convinced a squad demoralised on his arrival that the club were still looking to compete. His calm nature in front of the press despite numerous questions over the clubs’ ambition helped steady the nerves of the supporters, too.

 

Now he has only one year left on the deal he signed in June 2014. Links to Everton were quashed by the man himself, despite promises of an incredible nine-figure transfer budget at Goodison Park, but it’s arguable that he’d have much more work to do at the Toffees if that kitty is primarily funded with the departures of Romelu Lukaku and John Stones.

Rather, Koeman is likely to look up. The somewhat uncertain future of Arsene Wenger, at least in the long term, means a potential job at Arsenal becoming available within the next few years. The Saints boss won numerous titles as a player; to do in the Premier League or Champions League as a manager would be seductive.

It is why Southampton are so keen to tie their manager down at least for a while yet. After all, the steady Dutch hand on the wheel has guided the Saints to touching distance of the Champions League; it is arguable that, had Forster been available before January, they would qualified for Europe’s premier competition quite comfortably.

But Koeman is ambitious, and the hierarchy seem to have appealed to that side of him. Talks of the next few seasons have rolled into talks about extending the Dutchman’s contract, as director of football Les Reed explained as now ‘getting agents and lawyers involved’ in a recent club video.

A club like Southampton cannot afford to pay the wages that the likes of Arsenal and the two Manchester clubs can offer, nor do they realistically have a chance of winning titles despite what Leicester shown this season just gone.

Departures are inevitable at a medium-sized club like the Saints. Getting a manager who has dealt with those bodyblows to sign a longer term contract may just make those bumps on the road to the Champions League a little easier to deal with.


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