Why Southampton owe all their success to their failures

Some things you just can’t stop from coming back. A persistent rash, bathroom mould and Jose Mourinho’s sense of persecution just don’t seem to go away. Another thing to add to that list is Southampton – they just won’t die.

It shouldn’t be surprising, of course. Every year since they arrived in the Premier League, they’ve been competitive. They’ve pulled off good result after good result, played football in the right way and signed both players and managers wisely.

But there’s always a sense that they’re a house of cards, and that they’ll come tumbling down one day, landing in a pile spread out all over the floor. And that’s not surprising either – for years Saints have been a selling club, building the careers of kids from their academy before shipping them off to bigger clubs for big fees. How could a club run in such a way ever challenge the big boys who throw money at players like it’s going out of fashion? When they lose their best players we think it’s even more inevitable – and they lose some of their best every year.

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All of this leads a friend of a friend, a Southampton fan, to monger doom and gloom about his club every August: ‘What do you think about Saints this year?’ I ask, ‘Ah, think we’ll get relegated,’ he’ll reply without a hint of irony and a dour look on his face that tells the whole story.

Admittedly this isn’t the attitude of many, if not most, Southampton fans, it’s more the musings of a particularly pessimistic young man. But it still shows how sustained success is to that particular set of fans.

After all, they did find themselves in League 1 only six years ago, and it took them two goes to get back out of it. There’s an attitude that says Southampton are still a small club, but it’s the resilience of those who are involved in the day to day runnings of the club that have the opposite effect.

So many teams make an impact towards the business end of the Premier League, only to lose their best players and fade away. Aston Villa and Everton have suffered like that for years, though Everton have always managed to do alright. But Southampton have to keep rebuilding year after year, they need new players because their old ones are poached, and they need new managers because, again, their old ones are poached.

And this season I was sure it would go terribly. They lost Morgan Schneiderlin and Nathaniel Clyne, qualified for Europe but couldn’t get through to the group stages, and their season didn’t end brilliantly last time. So the loss of form as well as personnel made me fear for them. And the bad start didn’t persuade me otherwise. But they’re back – or at least showing signs of coming back – just like bathroom mould.

They say the day gets darkest just before the dawn, and for Southampton that’s probably the case. Having to fight their way out of English football’s third tier, they gained a fighting spirit and a togetherness about the club. And although few of the players from that era are still at the club – only Jose Fonte and Kelvin Davis remain – the club has a character about them that they haven’t lost. They haven’t lost the ability to dig in together and fight the good fight.

Not many clubs have that identity – it takes years to foster, and usually only comes about when there’s some sort of trauma. Manchester City’s successes can be traced back to the same root – if they hadn’t fostered the belief that they could score two goals in injury time in the League 1 play-off final in 1999, City wouldn’t be the richest club in the world. But that ability to score late goals hasn’t left them, even though none of the players remain.

When you walk into a club like that you get a sense of the history and the mentality, and you buy into it. That’s where the success comes from. Southampton don’t have the money, but they have the mentality, and they’ll go far with it because it’s now built into the club.

Even if the average fans themselves don’t have that faith, those woven into the fabric of the club do, and I should know better than to write them off. They simply won’t die.