Since their return to the Premier League in 2012, Southampton have become widely perceived as being one of the best run football clubs in the world – which is strange considering The Saints always seem to be in a constant state of transition.
The club is famed for its youth development system, which has introduced us to the likes of Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale and James Ward-Prowse in the last two decades, with a seemingly endless conveyor belt of talent being produced and integrated into the first team picture on an annual basis.
Southampton have also implemented a dynamic scouting structure, which identifies little known foreign imports that can be brought in at little cost and then moulded into global superstars.
This mixture of home-grown talent and intelligent player recruitment has meant that the club has been able to retain its Premier League status with relative ease whilst also having dipped their toes into European football.
However, each and every summer The Saints seem to undergo a tumultuous transition that sees the so-called big clubs strip Southampton of their prized assets – both in terms of players and management.
At no point have they seemed capable of resisting the approaches of the footballing elite and the club are now synonymous with seeing their best players leave on an annual basis.
Nathaniel Clyne, Dejan Lovren, Calum Chambers, Luke Shaw, Victor Wanyama, Morgan Schneiderlin, Adam Lallana and Sadio Mane are just a handful of stars that have been sold by The Saints in recent years for in excess of £100 million.
It is worth noting that this policy of buy or promote, develop and sell has had little impact on Southampton’s overall success in recent campaigns, although it has left many onlookers wondering what may have been had the club not cashed in on their prized assets on a regular basis.
However, The Saints have taken a different approach this summer and have firmly rebuked interest in their star central defender Virgil van Dijk, refusing to sell at any price and forcing the Dutchman to train away from the first team.
In June, the club went as far as to report Liverpool to the Premier League and asked for an investigation into an illegal approach for the player from the Merseyside outfit which resulting in The Reds publicly withdrawing their interest.
It is a significant change of tact of Southampton and the chairman, Ralph Krueger, is adamant that this new approach is a “statement” that signals a “change of course”.
Speaking to The Guardian about interest in van Dijk and The Saints’ refusal to entertain any offer for the player, Krueger explained:
“Virgil is not for sale in this window. It’s not about him, it’s about an overall much, much, much bigger picture – a change of course for Southampton. … That’s one player in the whole equation of 25 and it is a visible one. But for us it’s the principle and it’s the path and it’s the statement we need to make to get to a new place as a club.”
“The first summer I was here five players went out and six went in. Second summer three went out, seven came in – and third summer five went out, five came in. Now it is one out and two in – this is who we want to become.
“We want to mature, we want to be a team that can profit from synergies that create much more attractive football and a better product for the fans and gives us a chance to get back into Europe.”
Southampton’s disinterest in selling van Dijk is a definitive statement of intent from Krueger and the club hierarchy.
No longer are the Saints to be seen as a selling club – an institution that can have its best players cherry-picked on an annual basis by so-called big clubs – the south-coast outfit now has much more lofty ambitions, namely European football.
However, the influence of player power should not be underestimated and even if the club do hold on to van Dijk during this transfer window there is no guarantee that he will be willing to reintegrate himself into the first team picture.
This summer’s longest running transfer saga will still have a number of twists and turns as it runs until the end of the month, although Southampton’s attitude suggests that they no longer want to be synonymous with selling their star assets.