If someone had told you at the start of this decade that halfway through it, Southampton FC would become the envy of world football, you’d have laughed in their face and pointed them in the direction of Martin O’Neill’s Villa.
In 2010, the South Coast was shaping up to be the place where football went to die. Portsmouth had almost gone bust and been relegated, Bournemouth had almost gone bust and Southampton had almost gone bust, been relegated and had Alan Pardew at the helm.
Fast-forward a few seasons and Southampton did indeed fulfil that lunatic’s promise of being a shining example to clubs everywhere. Promotion to the Premier League was followed by a series of top 8 finishes, driven by the likes of Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw; products of an academy that was once nothing more than an open shop window for the likes of Arsenal and Spurs.
Throw in the discovery of one of the world’s most progressive young managers in Mauricio Pochettino and the never-ending list of transfer market triumphs by way of Sadio Mane, Victor Wanyama et al and Southampton, for all to see, were only heading North.
Every year, a club Liverpool threatens to upset the balance by poaching their greatest players (and Dejan Lovren) but each and every time, there is a wonderkid waiting in the wings or another future £75m star ready to fill in the blanks.
This season, however, is different. James Ward-Prowse is the last academy prospect standing in the first team, Manolo Gabbiadini looks more and more like a flop with each passing week and even the reliable stalwarts of the side are struggling.
Has the academy dried up? Was Gabbiadini a half-a-season wonder? Or does the buck stop solely with Mauricio Pellegrino? We ponder Southampton’s predicament in the video above.