News that Tottenham Hotspur have successfully completed another raid on Southampton may have dropped beneath the radars of many football fans last week. While Mauricio Pochettino’s decision to leave the dugout at St Mary’s Stadium in May in favour of the managerial position at White Hart Lane raised some eyebrows at the time, the signing of Paul Mitchell was never going to be headline-grabbing stuff, not even during an international break when many supporters are looking for any excuse to direct their attention towards anything related to the Premier League. However, this latest loss for the Saints may prove to be the hardest one for them to take.
Mitchell is not an established Premier League footballer, a promising youngster nor even an up-and-coming football coach. He is the man who for two years was the Head of Recruitment at Southampton, and who will now be taking his expertise to North London, joining up once again with his former boss.
Anyone who has even a passing interest in Southampton’s hugely impressive start to the season will understand why his departure will come as a blow for the South Coast club. After a well-publicised summer exodus which saw the departure of not only the manager, but also of a number of first team players – including Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Dejan Lovren heading to Liverpool and the highly-rated defensive pairing of Luke Shaw and Calum Chambers moving to Manchester United and Arsenal respectively – Mitchell was in charge of reinvesting the £95 million earnt from these sales in order to strengthen a much-weakened Southampton side.
Such a task was always going to be a daunting one given how important the likes of Lallana, Shaw and Lovren were to the Saints, yet Mitchell carried it out with aplomb and has arguably improved the side on last season. He oversaw the signings of Dusan Tadic, Graziano Pelle and Sadio Mané – all of whom have played key roles in Southampton’s phenomenal rise to second place in the table – and the total of £65 million the club spent during the summer transfer window even saw them make a substantial overall profit.
There is no luck involved in Mitchell’s tendency to sign players who are able to adapt with remarkable ease to English football. As Jeremy Wilson points out in an excellent piece in the Telegraph, it is his skill in analysing football players that gave him such a high success rate at Southampton. At their football development centre, he was in charge of a whole team of staff who watch football matches from around the world all day, and their “black box” – a room containing a phone, a desk, a row of chairs, a giant screen and a computer software programme specifically designed for Southampton – allowed Mitchell and his fellow scouting geeks to obtain footage of any player in any league in the world in a matter of seconds.
Such detailed, state-of-the-art dedication to scouting is why Mitchell is held in such high regard, and it is no surprise that Spurs have made their move. The North London club were themselves recipients of a large windfall last year following the world-record sale of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid – appropriately a former graduate of the Saints’ centre of excellence – yet their cack-handed approach in reinvesting the funds came in stark contrast to Southampton’s economical, efficient and well-researched method.
By luring Mitchell to the Lane, Spurs will be hoping that any future recruitment drive does not end as disastrously as the one brought about by Bale’s sale in 2013. Judging by the 33 year-old’s record, they should be confident that profligacy of transfer funds is unlikely to happen under his watch. As for Southampton, the effects of Mitchell’s exit will only become apparent in the long run. Spirits remain high after their fine start under Ronald Koeman, yet several of the players who have contributed to this were ultimately brought in by Mitchell.
The Saints still have a fantastic scouting team in place who will have learnt much from Mitchell’s two years at the club. However, his importance to the whole setup cannot be underestimated. If they are unable to find an adequate replacement, Southampton may find it difficult to get over Paul Mitchell – the unsung hero of the club’s incredible rise to the higher reaches of the Premier League.
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