Southampton have regularly developed players and made them stars. Their academy is revelled, but they are also very good at improving those signed from abroad. Since their return to the Premier League, they have seen a number of good players leave the club with nine moving to top-six clubs. They don’t market themselves as a stepping stone club, but they are certainly a club that ambitious players will want to join as there is a route to the top.
Manolo Gabbiadini arrived at the beginning of the year for a fee of £14 million from Napoli. It was considered a step down at the time, but the striker saw an opportunity to gain more playing time and increase his reputation across Europe. Although he was well-respected in his homeland, he wasn’t getting as many opportunities as he would have liked for Maurizio Sarri’s side.
Before moving to Southampton, the striker contributed eight goals and three assists for Napoli during his final 18 months with the club. He had a goal involvement every 96.1 minutes, but he had only started in 11 matches during that period. The majority of his appearances came from the bench. As a squad player, Gabbiadini was doing well, but he had ambitions to be a regular starter and the Premier League side were prepared to offer that.
The decision to leave Napoli was based on playing time and suitability to the system being played by Sarri. In January, the Mail reported the following quotes from president Aurelio De Laurentiis who admitted that Gabbiadini wasn’t the best fit for the club anymore, which is why they were open to selling him to the Premier League.
“It’s not that he wasn’t able to express himself, but rather different things are asked of him and they are not in his wheelhouse. Gabbiadini scored many goals at Sampdoria and also here under Rafa Benitez, so with a system other than the one Sarri uses he should have a better chance of being decisive. I thought that his performance in the first season was due to physical issues, but that wasn’t the case. He is simply not suited to Sarri’s football.”
It was an exciting signing for Southampton, as they were bringing in an Italian international with a lot of potential. His goal-scoring record in Italy was patchy, but he was often on the move and wasn’t allowed to develop at a single club. During his time in Serie A, he scored a goal every 209.9 minutes. Taking all things into consideration, this is an impressive record, but the South Coast club would have hoped that he could push on and be a one in two striker for them.
Gabbiadini had a superb start to life in Southampton, as he scored six goals in his first four matches for the club. This included a brace in the EFL Cup final against Manchester United, a match that featured a wrongly disallowed goal from the Italian. He could have had a hat-trick and it can be argued that Saints were the better team on the day.
The future looked bright for the 25-year-old and there were some already talking about a move to a bigger club, but he then suffered a groin injury and that halted his progression. He missed the next three league matches and failed to score again for the rest of the campaign. The style of play under Claude Puel wasn’t great and the side failed to score in six of their last eight matches.
His start was quickly forgotten about and Gabbiadini lost all the momentum. It is impossible to state where he would be if he didn’t suffer the injury, but he was full of confidence and looked like scoring every time he stepped onto the pitch.
How has he started this season?
Although Southampton have a new manager in Mauricio Pellegrino, the side is still struggling in front of goal. They have failed to score in four of their first eight league matches, but they have found the net three times in their last two fixtures. There are signs of encouragement and the return to form of Gabbiadini is central to that.
Southampton have scored seven times in the league and their Italian striker has got three of those. The first of which came against West Ham United in August, but it was his brace during this past weekend that served as a real indication he was on the way back. Newcastle United were well organised and Gabbiadini had only two chances, both of which he took.
The first was a great piece of individual work, as he collected the ball deep into the box and had to work hard to find space for the shot. It was a tame effort, but aimed into the bottom corner and crept past Rob Elliot. The goalkeeper may have been able to do better, but it was just the luck that Gabbiadini needed. He was then given the chance to equalise from the spot and he did so with an emphatic finish. Pellegrino talked up the importance of his striker and hoped this would be the confidence boost that he needed:
“Manolo is an important player for us. It’s positive for his confidence but the most important thing is he was working really hard, not just for himself but for the team.”
The penalty suggested that his confidence was returning as it was a powerful finish that gave no chance to the goalkeeper. The main problem for Gabbiadini has been a lack of chances, due to the creative issues that Southampton have. He is averaging 2.34 shots per game and his accuracy currently stands at 40%. An increase in both will be needed if he is to score double figures this season.
This past weekend was a positive first step back to the player that was witnessed during the first few weeks of his Southampton career. Gabbiadini took both chances that came his way and showed a clinical edge that has been lacking since his groin injury. The next few weeks see him come up against West Brom, Brighton and Burnley. There is an opportunity for him to add to his tally and push on to become the star of this team.
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.