Southampton – The small time club with big ambitions
When Southampton were relegated at the end of the 2004/05 season it brought a halt to 27 consecutive years of top flight English football at the club. Each year they scratched and scraped their way to safety, but the modern-day Saints are about much more than that.
It was often deep into the final weeks of the season before safety was secured, even coming down to the very last day on a couple of occasions, but the fans were content enough just to remain in the big league.
Nowadays, though, the club is about much more than just survival – under the guidance of their ambitious manager Mauricio Pochettino and even more driven chairman Nicola Cortese, the south coast club are looking to claw back those in front of them rather than avoid being caught by those behind.
Last season (their first back in the Premier League after a seven-year absence) was always going to be about securing survival. A feat which was duly achieved in May when Southampton recorded a 14th place finish but it was the controversial events off the pitch that really began to display that the club had ideas above what many would argue is their station.
Nigel Adkins, the man who led Saints from League One to the top flight in just two seasons, was removed from his position as manager and replaced by former Argentina international Pochettino, a decision that caused uproar amongst fans who felt their club was being made a mockery of.
Fast-forward eight months and those same dissenting voices were hushed as they watched their side travel to league leaders Liverpool and win before securing a well deserved point at champions Manchester United as part of a start to the season which has been their best ever and sees them being tipped for a surprise raid on the European places come May.
Cortese stood firm on his decision and the results have spoken for themselves.
Even the players on the team sheet have a distinctly international flavour to them and the signings made during the summer are a clear signal of intent. Dejan Lovren is a Croatian international whilst Dani Osvaldo has also been a key part of the Italian set-up and Victor Wanyama made his name with Celtic whilst starring in the Champions League last season.
Other internationals are Gaston Ramirez (Uruguay), Artur Boruc (Poland), Rickie Lambert (England), Steven Davis (Northern Ireland) along with Japanese duo Maya Yoshida and Tadanari Lee. The calibre of player continues to develop year on year as the chairman continues his consistent policy of refusing to allow the club to stagnate and accept anything less than the best realistically available.
But can Saints really make it into Europe this season? Well with the way the season has begun in the Premier League who could realistically rule them out?
Some may argue that despite the obvious quality in their first eleven it will be a lack of depth in numbers that will eventually see them falter, this is the type of comment that I feel just cannot be lobbied at Southampton without really looking into the facts.
Two of the international players mentioned previously in Gaston Ramirez and Tadanari Lee barely get a look in at present whilst Steven Davis, although seemingly in favour with the manager, is often pushed out by the mercurial form of Morgan Schneiderlin and ever-impressive James Ward-Prowse.
Indeed one of the stand-out players of their Championship promotion campaign, Jack Cork, is now very much utilised as a bit-part player and even the club captain Kelvin Davis is nowhere near realistically starting a match. There is more depth than initially meets the eye.
The Saints fans only have to look at the gleaming example set by Swansea City over the past couple of seasons to see that they have every chance of shocking the big boys and claiming glory for themselves.
I’m not saying that Southampton are realistically looking at breaking into the Champions League places this time around but what I am certain of is that you can bet their Swiss-Italian chairman certainly has one eye on that for the future.
It is that kind of ambition, ruthlessness and will to succeed that may yet see Southampton reach heights that only he can not only have imagined, but envisaged.
Once thing that is certain, it is an exciting time to be a Saint.
By Jack Murphy