It’s difficult to know quite how to summarise Southampton’s summer in just a few, accurate words. On the one hand, the Saints have lost half of the team that achieved a record high Premier League finish of 8th, and has made them such an attractive prospect to new arrivals, from the manager – now Ronald Koeman, after Mauricio Pochettino ditched the South Coast club for Tottenham – to new signings alike (even if, until recently, there weren’t many). Yet from another perspective, the new squad that Koeman is assembling is an interesting one, and, given a bit of time to gel, could easily hold its own in the upper mid-table of the Premier League, where they finished last year. A season which once looked a chance to consolidate the club in the upper reaches of the normal Premier League clubs quickly shifted to one where the main aim seems to stave off relegation, but given the ambitious purchases – with more left to come, surely – will Southampton do deceptively well this term?
It’s hard to tell; to do so, we’d probably get a better idea of how Southampton will line up. With Luke Shaw, Calum Chambers, Rickie Lambert, Dani Osvaldo (remember him?), Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren all leaving the Saints – all stalwarts (perhaps Osvaldo aside) of last year’s successful side – it’s quite hard to tell who’ll start where and where business needs to be conducted. So far, the most exciting purchase is probably of Dusan Tadic, a Serbian winger signed from Twente, who has been touted as a potential step-up from Adam Lallana, whose versatile attacking midfield role in the Saints side is perhaps not quite the same as what is reported of Tadic’s play, but is comparable nonetheless. Alongside Tadic, Saphir Taider (on loan from Inter with a view to move), Ryan Bertrand (likewise, but from Chelsea) and Graziano Pelle, who Koeman worked with to great success at Feyenoord over the past few years have also signed up. Links persist with further defensive reinforcements – Virgil van Dijk and Marcos Rojo utmost among them – while Fraser Forster has been touted with a move south of the border, too; though his club, Celtic, suffered a catastrophic Champions League qualifier (and went through thanks to a Legia Warsaw mishap), it’s still likely that Forster will leave, and van Dijk is a potential goer too; completing these three moves, or moves for three similar players at the very least, would leave the squad at a similar level to last season – indeed, the defence would probably be slightly better if van Dijk and Rojo came in, while Forster is quite rightly higher rated than Artur Boruc.
But what of Ronald Koeman himself? The former Barcelona and Netherlands defender, renowned in his time for his threat from set pieces, has been around the block – often successfully, it must be said – in his managerial career, starting at Vitesse Arnhem fourteen years ago. His CV speaks for itself – he has been at big clubs both in his native Netherlands and around Europe, becoming the first man to manage and play for all three of the traditional big Dutch clubs (Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord). He’s followed this on with trophy success too, but, given that he’s not had much success abroad – only winning a Cup with Valencia and a Super Cup with Benfica – the jury may still be out a little. Koeman also tends not to stay in one place for too long, which could mean he won’t be aiming to build some sort of a dynasty at Southampton, but nevertheless, his attacking football will be interesting to watch and should bring the Saints some good results, and (less importantly, if we’re being cynical), plaudits from neutrals. Given that Southampton have been synonymous with good football over the past few years as well, it’s perhaps the perfect replacement for Mauricio Pochettino, which is potentially a good sign moving forward – if nothing else, the Saints board know their type.
Keeping Morgan Schneiderlin and Jay Rodriguez will also be vital to any hopes of a good season for the Saints, too. While Schneiderlin may not be flavour of the month at St Mary’s, he was the vital player in Southampton’s engine room last season, and even if he’s playing for a move, would surely be motivated to continue playing at a great level – after all, the rumours are that he wants to be playing for a top club to consolidate his place in the France squad. Rodriguez is also at a vital stage in his England career, as he looks to become an automatic choice, which, really, is something very achievable for the former Burnley forward – having only missed out on the World Cup squad to a knee injury. Chairman Ralph Krueger has assured fans that the pair will be staying – whether this promise is kept remains to be seen, but considering the size of a PR gaffe either player leaving would lead to, you’d hope Krueger is true to his word – which, for the next season at least, leaves circumstances significantly more rosy than they first seemed. What has perhaps also been overlooked is the fact that key performers – Nathaniel Clyne, Jose Fonte and Victor Wanyama among them – have stayed at the club without any (reported) problems.
Clyne, like Rodriguez, will be pressing for a place in the England squad – two impressive seasons at Premier League level can’t have passed Roy Hodgson by – while Jose Fonte isn’t quite a top level centre back but is a fan favourite at St Mary’s, thanks to his dedication to the cause, and rising to the top with the club, having joined when the club were mired in League One. In fairness, Fonte is still a solid defender at Premier League and has no qualms at filling in in different positions – he was, surprisingly, a reasonably good right back against Aston Villa in November, for example. His unfussy style in defence will definitely help his new defensive partner (or Maya Yoshida, either one) get to grips with the Southampton system quickly. Victor Wanyama, meanwhile, had a very impressive debut season in the Premier League, and realistically should be one of the players that the club should be building the team around, providing the Kenyan sees his immediate to mid-term future on the South Coast. Despite being riddled with injuries, Southampton looked a much better team with Wanyama in the team, going most of the tail end of 2013 without conceding a goal. Incredible stuff. Wanyama struggled a little to get back into the team thanks to Jack Cork’s imperious form, too, and Cork should also return to the fray this year, too. Indeed, the centre midfield looks like a really exciting proposition for Southampton fans, with a number of players who would potentially be starting for half of the bigger clubs in the league.
On a final note, the young guns – James Ward-Prowse chief among them, with the England U21 captain tipped to rise in the ascendancy this season and being to stamp his authority in midfield – but also Matt Targett, touted as Luke Shaw’s long-term replacement, Sam Gallagher, who broke through the ranks last season, scoring his first senior goal against Yeovil in the FA Cup before starting the home draw with Arsenal, and Harrison Reed, who like Ward-Prowse is a midfielder who has been impressive for the England youth teams and featured in flits last season. It’s hard to overstate how much talent there is in the Southampton academy, and it is an oft-stated opinion that most Premier League academies should nurture youngsters in a similar way – Southampton’s alumni speak for themselves in terms of success. This is probably one area which we can expect to stay the same long term for Southampton, and so can be an area they use to rebuild this season and build upon over the years to come, too.
Overall, Southampton should probably not aim to even come close to equaling that wonderful season last time out; while they’re unlikely to go down, based on both the strength of the squad and strong management, it must be said that expecting too much, too soon of Koeman and his young, fledgling squad is probably the wrong way to go about following this Saints team and, really, this season should be looked at more as a transitional year than anything else, and anything above a run of the mill, standard mid-table season will be a bonus.
Is Bojan Krkic the perfect player for Gary Rowett to build Stoke City around?
The 27-year-old has been an outcast at the Bet365 Stadium.
As Gary Rowett continues to rebuild the Stoke City squad over the summer there will be plenty of speculation regarding who will be arriving and departing the Bet365 Stadium.
The Potters have already dipped into the transfer market by signing Nigerian midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo and Wolverhampton Wanderers striker Benik Afobe whilst Egyptian starlet Ramadan Sobhi was sold to Huddersfield Town last week.
Xherdan Shaqiri, who is currently representing Switzerland at the World Cup in Russia, has confirmed that he will be leaving the club whilst, in contrast, Joe Allen has signed a new long-term contract to remain.
There are still plenty of question marks over current players. The likes of Jack Butland and Badou Ndiaye are expected to attract interest from Premier League clubs whilst the expensive pairing of Saido Berahino and Giannelli Imbula may not fit into Rowett’s plans but will be short of offers.
But what about Bojan Krkic?
The diminutive Spaniard was once one of the most promising young forwards in Europe after he rose through Barcelona’s prestigious La Masia academy system and made his first team debut at the age of 17.
He made over 100 appearances for the Catalan’s prior to loan spells with Ajax, AC Milan and Roma before eventually moving to Stoke in the summer of 2014.
Bojan has certainly made an impact at the Bet365 Stadium, particularly during his first two-and-a-half years with the club, but he fell out of favour under Mark Hughes and has spent the last eighteen months on loan in Germany and Spain.
At his best, the 27-year-old was a magician who produced moments of sublime skill and was a central creative influence in the team.
He was technically magnificent and would often glide across the pitch, weaving between defenders and was a genuine threat whenever he received the ball in the final third.
Bojan was one of only a handful of Stoke players from the last decade that would bring supporters to the edge of their seats in anticipation and expectation when he was in possession.
For anyone who requires a reminder of what the forward can do, simply look up his solo goal against Tottenham Hotspur form 2014.
Much has been made of his injury in January 2015. The Spaniard suffered severe knee damage in an FA Cup tie at Rochdale that meant that he was out of action for the remainder of the season and the common narrative is that he was never the same upon his return.
However, this storyline is incorrect. In fact, Bojan was at his peak over the Christmas period in 2015 when he was the centre of Stoke’s attacking trident which also included Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic.
Such was the effectiveness of the trio that The Potters picked up the nickname of ‘Stoke-a-lona’ in reference to their attacking brand of football.
So where did it all go wrong for him?
He fell out of favour with Mark Hughes and, after being dropped from the starting line-up, was never able to regain his position as Stoke City’s creative hub.
The Spaniard subsequently has spent the past eighteen months on loan with Mainz and Las Palmas but has struggled to make any significant impact either in Germany or Spain.
In many respects, Bojan’s stock has never been lower. He has fallen off the radar somewhat in the past year and it appears that any hopes that he may have had of returning to a prominent European club are all but over.
However, this opens up a potential return to Stoke despite their relegation to The Championship.
Last season The Potters were desperately short of creativity and goals – something that Bojan can provide.
The Spaniard man be the perfect figure for Gary Rowett to build his new look team around.
Joe Allen and Oghenekaro Etebo will provide defensive security and energy in the centre of midfield whilst Benik Afobe will make be the focal point in the final third.
Bojan could be the perfect link player if deployed as a number ten and you would imagine that he would be more than capable of causing chaos amongst defences in The Championship.
There is, of course, the question of whether the 27-year-old would be prepared to play in the second tier of English football, although Allen’s decision to sign a new contract and remain at Stoke would suggest that Rowett is capable of being persuasive.
If Stoke are serious about challenging for promotion, then keeping Bojan and reigniting his career at the Bet365 Stadium would be a serious statement of intent.
Jack Wilshere is West Ham’s most realistic midfield target this summer
The 26-year-old seems the best option for Manuel Pellegrini at the moment.
Manuel Pellegrini has seemingly put signing a new midfielder high on his list of priorities this summer, having been linked with some stellar names, but is Jack Wilshere (Sky Sports) his most realistic target?
The Chilean has expressed his desire to get the Hammers playing attacking and progressive football again next term, and views a quality midfield addition as vital in achieving this.
Initially, the suggestion was made that Pellegrini would attempt to move for two-time Premier League winner Yaya Toure (the Telegraph), before stories broke claiming his interest in Paris Saint-Germain’s Javier Pastore (Sky Sports).
However, talks for both have stalled, with Toure’s preference to join a top-six side (Sport 24) and Pastore’s reported wage demands of £190,000-a-week (Sky Sports) to leave the French capital, with it now looking more likely Roma will land the 29-year-old’s signature.
Wilshere would employ the tactics Pellegrini is after and would instantly inject technical quality into the current functional midfield trio of Mark Noble, Cheikhou Kouyate and Pedro Obiang. His ability to carry the ball past defensive counterparts and to spot a final pass would add extra dimensions to the Hammers’ play, and at the age of 26 he could still have his best years ahead.
The ex-Bournemouth man has revealed he will not sign a contract extension at Arsenal with his contract set to expire imminently, meaning Pellegrini could land his signature on a free.
Tottenham should elevate reported interest in Leicester City protege Demari Gray
The 21-year-old could become a superstar if nurtured properly.
Tottenham Hotspur were reportedly interested in the possibility of signing Leicester City‘s attacking protege Demari Gray a few months back, according to reports from ESPN. And after a fruitless period in the search for attacking reinforcements, Mauricio Pochettino should revive his interest in sorting a deal.
Gray contributed four goals and three assists in 30 Premier League appearances last term, and is currently the captain of the England U21 squad. But he is likely to evaluate his future with the Foxes this summer, due to his lack of regular game-time. And Tottenham seems a great fit for the winger.
Spurs have pursued multiple attacking targets since the window commenced, without gathering any real traction on any of their targets, and it seems Pochettino – for once – is more concerned with making a marquee signing, than bringing in a player with the scope to develop and grow into a top player at White Hart Lane.
Talks for Anthony Martial, Christian Pulisic and Ivan Perisic have all stalled in recent times, and a move for the Leicester City man could be just the ticket for Spurs. He brings all the attributes they’re currently looking for; blistering pace, exceptional balance, end product, a cool head and notably the ability to hit an absolute cracker if awarded space.
If he reaches his peak under the guidance of Pochettino, which is more likely than not given his immense talent, the player could double in market-value and could become a key player for the Lilywhites for years to come.