When rumours of Shane Long’s £12m move from Hull City to Southampton started to circulate, many fans were baffled. It seemed hard to understand why Southampton would pay £12m for a striker that had never got into double figures in the Premier League. The only impressive traits Long had, seen from him during his spells with Reading, West Brom, and Hull, was that he was quick and would chase down any ball that was still in play. His debut season at Southampton was ordinary. This season has been anything but.
Long had to deal with the pressure of the transfer fee as well as having the famous no. 7 shirt at St. Mary’s in his debut campaign. He spent most of the last campaign on the south coast out on the wing rather than in his favoured position down the middle which was occupied by Graziano Pellè.
Long started this season as he finished the last; playing second fiddle to Pellè. The Italian had been Ronald Koeman’s preferred choice after the Saints boss bought him from his former club Feyenoord. However, Pellè has experienced a difficult season this term, struggling with form and injuries after a strong start. Long was the man that replaced Pellè superbly when he was injured. Long’s performances were so impressive that when Pellè returned from injury, he could only settle for a place on the bench with Southampton’s number seven one of the first names on the team sheet.
One of the reasons that Long has become such a key player for Southampton was highlighted at full time after Southampton’s victory over Manchester City at the beginning of May. A Southampton supporter tweeted a photo of Shane Long dropping to the floor with exhaustion; an image that epitomises everything that he offers the Saints. Long’s work rate is a perfect match in Ronald Koeman’s system of pressing opponents. Whether he successfully wins the ball back or forces the opposition into making a mistake, Long’s work rate ensures that opponents don’t have a moments rest when he’s on the pitch. The 29-year-old is relentless in his pressing and it’s his appetite for the game that has made him such a popular figure at St. Mary’s.
Whilst Long’s performances may only get the plaudits when he finds the back of the net, his full contribution to Southampton is often only evident when you’re able to watch a full game. His persistent and tireless style from the first whistle until the last has ensured that week in, week out, he is a thorn in the side of the opponent. Whilst he may not be as technically gifted as some of his teammates, he has certainly shown this season why every team needs a Shane Long.
One criticism of Long’s has been that he’s not clinical enough. Before he joined Southampton, he had never reached double figures in the Premier League. That changed this season when his energetic performance in the 4-2 victory over Manchester City was rewarded with his 10th league goal. Long’s desire to beat Nicolás Otamendi to the ball sent the striker into double figures in a game that some criticised the decision to give hat-trick hero Mané the man of the match award because of Irishman’s impressive performance.
Koeman recently praised Long, stating that he has become “more complete as a player, as a striker”, also joking that he was glad the forward wasn’t playing in his heyday as a central defender. Long has exemplified that a player can never be too old to develop and grow into a better player. He revealed recently that Koeman has educated him a lot about the game and his newly taught understanding of football has enabled him to become a better player.
From being on the fringes to being the first name on the team sheet, Long has gone from strength to strength under Koeman and at St. Mary’s. Saints have gone under the radar in the second half of the season because of Leicester’s remarkable feat. Only the Foxes have picked up more points since the turn of the year than Koeman’s men and Long has been an integral part of that. It speaks volumes of Long’s attitude and determination as well as the quality of the staff at Southampton to make the Irishman an even better player than the one that arrived under a cloud of confusion.
From the raising of eyebrows at the price tag to the raising of fans out of their seat with tireless work rate, sheer endeavour, an unrivalled hunger for the game and an improved eye for goal, Shane Long has become a favourite amongst the St. Mary’s faithful. Long may it continue.
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