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Is a change in Saints transfer strategy needed to progress ?
Tuesday, 27th Jun 2017 12:15 by Ethan Evans

Our new contributor Ethan Evans asks whether Is a change in transfer strategy needed for Saints to progress ?

It is widely known that Southampton are considered as being ‘a selling club’ with the Saints continuously selling key stars summer after summer. After a while, this strategy seems to thoroughly anger the saints faithful with many on numerous social media outlets deliberating their sheer discontent at not just the transfer strategy, but also towards members in the Southampton hierarchy such as Les Reed.

There is no doubt that this strategy has been successful with the Saints as of recent years, showing signs of progression and improvement season after season. But one could argue that this only works because of the stellar recruitment policy (i.e ‘The Black Box’) that helps Southampton replace key stars, usually on the cheap.

Although, as fans we want to see our club continue this ‘rise up the ranks’ and progress even further, but the transfer strategy adopted by the club at this moment is a barrier to further progression.

Is a change needed?


One could argue that a change is needed and this links with the potential takeover of Southampton by Chinese business Lander Sports.It has been rumoured that Saints are close to being taken over by a Chinese investor which could only mean one thing. Money.

This will bring change to the way the club operates, with Southampton known for adopting the method of buying prospects instead of the finished article. This foreseen takeover will increase the financial standing of the club giving us a better chance to progress by buying players that are at the pinnacle of their careers. Football, these days, is all about the big bucks and in order to compete with the ‘big boys’, which is what all saints fans adhere to, we need to simply spend more.

Moreover, change is needed because it could result in what all fans want at Southampton, and that is for them to keep star players !

A change in strategy could accomplish this as stars that have left in the past are known to have stated that the club do not show enough ambition. One common critique and problem with Saints and their star players is that the bigger clubs can offer more money.

There are different ways that we can show ambition to keep our star players by changing strategy, one simple way is to, as stated previously, purchase finished articles that can progress the club. We can also show ambition by paying our best players the best wages to ensure they stay. So to sum up, a change in ambition through altering our strategy could keep our greatest players and help with taking our club forward.

To conclude, we all know that Southampton are one of, if even the best run club in England. We continuously progress as a club through the heartaches and difficulties of losing our best managers and players. Although, that way of doing things has a ceiling, and we have reached that. Our progression has halted, and in order to re-start the engine, a change in how the club operates is required to ensure that this club achieves its fullest potential. Not at all is this hypothetical, there are even examples today where we are seeing slight alterations with Saints standing up to Liverpool regarding VVD.

Change is desired, and it is coming.

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Keesie66 added 12:35 - Jun 27
Agreed, you can not sell a top & experienced player (read Mane) by a nearly top & inexperienced player (read Redmond) and still expect to grow as a team, at the most you will stay the same but you will not get better.... Saints need to keep on buying talents that are 75% there but also buy established players 100% there already. Then the team can be expected to grow and realistic expectations can be put on managers for top 6 or even top 4 finish, look at Spurs, Arsenal and now also Everton.... money is being invested in young & experienced.......

ItchenNorth added 12:55 - Jun 27
Its all about the player wages for me. Saints could go and spend 50-60mil on a player right now, but this quality of player won’t accept 70K a week: they’ll be looking at 100-150K and we simply cannot afford that unless we have an owner willing to throw money around for fun. To truly compete (not just for a cup once every 5-10 years, but establishing yourself within the top 4), you need your club to be paying not just one but most of your players 100K plus a week. It’s just not going to happen at a club like Saints unless a Sheik rocks up. Lander are NOT going to be that type of owner though.

As frustrating as our transfer strategy might seem, it is broadly working and we are balancing our books. A top 10 finish each year and a cup every 5-10 would suit me fine just down to the ground. You never know what might happen if you go throwing silly money about in pursuit of glory: just look at Leeds or Pompey as examples of how it can go horribly wrong if miss managed !

wolf660 added 12:55 - Jun 27
Financial Fair Play rules. Every Premier League club is only allowed to increase the money spent on player wages and transfers by a certain percentage each year from what they currently spend. This rule was introduced at the time Saints were promoted, when the wages structure was a lot smaller than other established Premier League clubs. Therefore, until we start selling out the stadium every match and expand it, we will always be behind other top clubs in terms of turnover and therefor how much we can expect the club to spend. I like the positive and aspirational ideas in this piece but there is no commentary on how this can be achieved. I thought the days of wealthy business owners being able to put extra money into a club were over? Clubs need to be self-sustaining no? These are the key points to comment on. I think the idea of wealthy owners means a larger loan can be aquired perhaps but this just means more debt for the club. If we have reached the ceiling of our progression I for one am happy with where we have ended up. Just think progressing any further is going to take a long time of smaller increments.

As for Van Dyke, he was happy to sign a lucrative 5 year deal last season and it shouldn't take even more money to keep him here this season. Good to see the club standing up as you say.

hmmm added 13:14 - Jun 27
I can never understand why people continue to believe the smaller clubs in the Premier League (ie 7th-20th) will ever be able to compete with the Big 6 on a sustained basis.
The reason for the split between the Big 6 and the rest is that they gain so much more revenue from commercial (worldwide supporter base) and matchday income (bigger stadiums + champions league).

2015/16 revenue: ManU £515m, ManC £392m, Arsenal £350m, Chelsea £334m, Liverpool £302m, Spurs £209m. The rest £100m-£140m. Saints were £124m

As the figures above show the other 14 clubs have relatively similar revenue. This is because the bulk of their revenue comes from TV. In 2015/16 73% of Saints revenue came from Premier League TV income (only 27% for Manure). Hence we can't, and probably never will be able to, pay anywhere close to the wages the Big Boys can offer. And any new investor, Chinese or otherwise, would not be able to bridge this huge gap. As we all know, Leicester City's fantasy season was a one-off. The similarity in revenue also explains why it 's nearly always so tight from 7th downwards. Although all these teams are capable of having the odd good season. They key difference between these 14 teams is basically: 1) Quality of manager 2) Recruitment strategy 3) Academy. Probably in that order. And Saints are pretty good at all 3 most of the time.

We have had a very good run over the last 4 seasons, arguably outperforming what our long term average should be based on revenue. A dip would, sadly, be no surprise.

Of course I would love us to kick on. However, the numbers say this isn't going to happen.

Hence I believe our transfer strategy is spot-on, and I hope we are able to continue spotting and buying under-valued developing gems. My bigger concern next season is how many opportunities our academy players will get given we are not in Europe, and hence have many fewer games.

EthanEvansDDT added 13:47 - Jun 27
Thanks for the feedback guys. Yeah, I understand all your points and obviously I don't mean throw money everywhere because we know what happpned the last time. I just want my club to be successful and they were ways/ suggestions of which we could achieve that whether realistic or unrealistic. All I was stating was that if Lander is an owner that's going to give us good funding, then we should use it well by at least attempting to bridge the gap. Obviously, getting the so-called finished article is going to be difficult with competition from richer and bigger teams but it is not at all impossible. The main premise for the article was that we should show much more ambition to progress, both in transfers and keeping our best players

davej added 13:52 - Jun 27
Can not happen because of FFP

abingdonsaint added 14:02 - Jun 27
Some decent points here, but Wolf660 hits the nail on the head when he refers to FFP. I've talked about this numerous times before in this 'selling club' debate. We cannot, at the moment at least, offer the same wages as the top 6 due to the massive gulf in income generated. Even a sheikh would not be allowed to put in unlimited cash, and Man City will probably be the last club to have been able to do this.

Our selling is therefore not a strategy as such, merely a byproduct of the excellence of our recruitment policy. We are no more a selling club than any other. It's just that we have more players big clubs actually want! A lot of our sales were no doubt reluctant, but forced by financial reality. The difference now with VVD is that we are more established in the PL, so were able to offer longer contracts, hence more control of the situation.

We will continue to build gradually because we have to....

EarlsCourtSaint added 14:02 - Jun 27
I would urge extreme caution when suggesting we start buying top players at the pinnacle of their careers and attempting to pay them the same wages as clubs that have a far greater turnover than ourselves - this would only lead to a short term gain that could then cripple us for a decade, or longer. Just look how well that worked for Pompey!

I am all for ambition, and we should always strive for more, but taking that extra step could just push the club closer to the edge of a cliff. The current strategy has seen us finish 8th, 7th, 6th, 8th and reach a Wembley Cup Final - could any of us expected such a meteoric rise just 6 years ago? Once in a millennium a Leicester might just happen, we can all dream, but the likelihood of such an event happening again in our lifetimes is incredibly distant.

Puel has come and gone, not because of his overall achievements, it could be argued he surpassed those of Pochetino and equaled those of Koeman, but he went because the style was boring and the fans were unhappy. And who is to say that Lander Investments will bring pots of gold, we have absolutely no idea that will be the case - they might be buying 80%, but what they will then further invest in the transfer kitty is absolutely not know.

I really dont understand why the Club, and in particular Les Reed, get such a hard time from some sections. On the whole we have sold when we have had no other choice (we CANNOT compete financially with Europes elite), we have dug our heels in when necessary and is there another Club in the League that can beat us in terms of unearthing rough diamonds that we then develop and improve. VVD was bought for £12m, yet two years later we are talking about selling for £60m, how many more diamonds will that buy us?

The current model works, its proven, we are established as a top ten side - if it continues to be as successful the future remains bright!

EthanEvansDDT added 14:09 - Jun 27
@EarlCourtSaint I do agree with some of your points there. All I'm going to say is I really want my club to be successful, and the points in this piece Were suggestion whether they were realistic/unrealistic or just sheer impossible. I just made suggestions that I believed would improve the standing of the club I love. And yeah, if you read my earlier comment in response to the others, we can't compete but I feel that we may hope to try to bridge the gap with the new owners. And at all did I never suggest we should risk the club by throwing money everywhere, I just want it to be used responsibly to continue our progression and to keep star players. I know this method is working very wel now for us at the moment, but there has to come a time when we want to push much further forward or at least attempt to.

hmmm added 14:41 - Jun 27
EthanEvansDDT if you define success as being top 4/winning the Prem, then I'm afraid that you will forever be disappointed. As ItchenNorth says, given our relative financial power, Top10, the occasional cup, or at least cup final, and European tour is what constitutes success for us.
For teams such as Burnley or Huddersfield, realistic success for them is the odd few seasons in the Prem. I doubt whether either of these two clubs would really expect to become (semi-) permanent residents of the Prem as clubs like Saints and West Ham are (and Newcastle, Leeds, Aston Villa and a few others should be).
I understand why you, and indeed all of us, want more. But the reality is each club more or less has a ceiling of what can realistically be achieved given their revenue. Over the last few seasons, we have reached ours. A little depressing perhaps, but that's the way it is. Just remember where we were a few short years ago ...

EthanEvansDDT added 14:57 - Jun 27
@hmmm Think you may be misinterpreting my words. For us at this moment in time, europa league (6:7 place finish) would be successful . Top 4/6 isn't my only view of being successful. Us being a successful club either lies with our domestic successes, Europe and/or progression of saints youth. I understand that the ceiling is not that high at the moment, the point of this piece was to identify what we could change, again whether realistically or unrealistically, to help us bridge the gap to be more ambitious. In no way did I write this thinking these are the only variants of success I want our club to pursue.

grumpyoldsaint added 15:42 - Jun 27
No one knows what the chinese will do, if and when they take over. There is no guarantee they will invest further money into the squad either in buying high profile players or indeed carrying on as we are now

GeordieSaint added 15:51 - Jun 27
Look at Monaco, French League winners, Champions League semis with some of the best young players on the planet straight from their academy. I doubt they will have more than 3 players left next season. It is very difficult to match the big boys financially. Apparently they are offering that centre forward a 900% pay rise which is about half what he could earn at Madrid.

Jesus_02 added 16:47 - Jun 27
We have already changed our transfer policy, we where not a selling club till Cortese left.

Our recruitment policy is OK , what we don't want to do is collect a large number of average players. With the sale of our best players this is something that is a genuine risk.

The actual nunumber of players starts to limit the amount of game time players get and the opportunity to improve themselves. It basically what got us relegated last time. Classie is a reasonable player and if he got more time he could become good. But if we spend 15-18m on another average player he isnt going to progress. I think what im trying to say is that occasionally you need to buy a lot better that we already have.

SaintBrock added 18:25 - Jun 27
News to me Nick, I didn't know we had a transfer policy other than to sell anybody who is half decent enough to attract a bid and buy journeyman from abroad to plug the holes before the ship sinks.

BoondockSaint added 18:41 - Jun 27
FFP was only meant to protect the exclusive club of the top 4 in the Prem and the top 2 in other leagues. They didn't want another team getting a sugar daddy who would drive up their costs. However, as ManCitehad showed you can get around this by being your own shirt sponsor, and there is no limit to what you can charge.

We need shake up in the marketing department.

We need to grow the fan base, we have had no competition on the South coast the last few years and have just assumed football fans will gravitate to us, but while we were sleeping, Bournemouth has caught up with us and will now be courting the same fan base.

Growing the international brand of the club is also important, but we play pre-season games in Baltimore?????

StRipper added 23:14 - Jun 28
Good article. Look forward to more in the future.
Some good points raised. Though with Saints it is always about little steps. You're right about us changing strategy but I think the next step for us is to:
- have players all on long contracts (tick)
- have strength in every position (I'd say currently we're at about 3 or 4 short)
- hold on to the ones that we get to reach 100% for more than their breakthrough season (Reid indicated that this is that year)

So though we will never buy players at their peak, we can still have all top players if the conveyor belt of talent is effectively managed.
That's how we can break into the top 4 on a budget. No worries on FFP either if we can align our spending with growth in revenue with a reasonable extra injection of capital from new owner. FFP is worked out over 3 years after all and we are currently roughly net neutral. Option to still sell van Dijk, Soares for 100m next season to go into the pot, so plenty available for reinvestment.
I've got big hopes for this season. Depending on Pellegrino being the right man and the stars being in our favour, this has the potential to be the starting season towards something great.

Chesham_Saint added 18:33 - Jun 29
I have no expectation that the Chinese will pour money into the club, quite the reverse in fact.

Just accepting that we can't progress more radically than 'little steps' is depressing.....

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