With Southampton’s season pretty much concluded with the draw against Bournemouth at St Mary’s Stadium last month, attention will inevitably turn towards the summer window, with some futures hanging in the balance and others surely being lined up with a move to the south coast.
Perhaps switching focus to last summer, when the Saints were so close to signing one of the brightest, young English prospects around, is more interesting though.
James Maddison snubbed a move to Mark Hughes’ Southampton in favour of Leicester, with whom he has shone this season.
The midfielder has taken to the Premier League like a duck to water, connecting the dots between midfield and attack, oscillating in front of the defence in search of pockets of space and finding the net with a notable level of regularity. Soon he could be on the move again, with a number of top sides surely impressed by his exploits during his maiden campaign.
Southampton fans are often made to mourn the players that have departed the club, with the likes of Virgil van Dijk, Sadio Mane, Adam Lallana and more recently Dusan Tadic having gone on to achieve great things since seeking pastures new, although they may now be anguished by a player who never even made it to St Mary’s Stadium.
Most would love to have the 22-year-old in their ranks and some of the Saints faithful are no different, although perhaps they should be counting the failed swoop as a blessing – had Maddison signed, it’s unlikely they would ever have seen the rejuvenated James Ward-Prowse.
The 24-year-old has been a different beast since Ralph Hasenhuttl took the helm but particularly in 2019, with his goals from midfield earning him a spot in Gareth Southgate’s England squad ahead of the aforementioned Maddison, and his efforts from range putting stars in Saints fans’ eyes.
Like so many of his teammates, the number 16 has stepped up massively in the past few months and has impressed with his versatility, but it’s difficult to envisage a side featuring both Ward-Prowse and Maddison working in tandem.
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Both players’ greatest strengths lie in their playmaking abilities and neither would shine to the extent they have at their respective clubs if they shared a pitch week-in week-out, while you could also argue that Maddison doesn’t have the legs or steel to succeed in Hasenhuttl’s high-octane approach.
These Saints fans have been drooling over the resurgent Ward-Prowse since January, but they might not have been arguing his case for a Three Lions call-up when Southgate initially left the free-kick wizard out if Maddison, who signed for Leicester in a rumoured £20 million deal, moved to the south coast instead last summer:
A completely different and improved player under Ralph. A well deserved winner #saintsfc
— David Austin (@dkaustin87) May 7, 2019
— Joanne Buckley (@joanne_buckley7) March 9, 2019
James Ward-Prowse has scored three goals in four games and two different positions, gone unbeaten, single-handedly gotten Zaha sent off, controlled games and has become an absolute revelation this month but yer son thinks Rashford deserves POTM doing his job as a striker.
— Jack ?? (@HasenhuttlIn) February 1, 2019
James Ward-Prowse was unreal tonight. Going full blooded into every challenge, chasing every ball, deservedly getting a goal as well. MOTM performance, such a different and improved player under Hasenhüttl #saintsfc
— Harry (@ffsHaarry) February 27, 2019
I've been a huge critic of Ward-Prowse in the past but the last few weeks he has been transformed under Ralph and adding goals to his game. i think Ralph is the man to get the potential we have been waiting for finally come through. Always glad to admit i'm wrong! #saintsfc
— Jay (@FatalJaay) January 19, 2019
There is little doubt that Maddison would have been the perfect type of number 10 for Hasenhuttl to mould into a top player but, with the likes of Yan Valery, Jan Bednarek, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Ward-Prowse showing outstanding potential under the Austrian, there will be another Maddison at St Mary’s Stadium in no time.
Here’s hoping that they can keep whoever it is out of Liverpool’s clutches.