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Watt View - So near yet So-fiane for Boufal
Thursday, 10th Sep 2020 08:06 by Matt Watts

Our poll on Sofiane Boufal showed the fan base is still split about him, this week Matt gives the case for the defence and why we should keep him.

There has been much discussion this week concerning the future of Saints' Moroccan international Sofiane Boufal.

Reports suggest the club may be willing to cut its losses on the £16 million man for as little as £3.5 million.

Since his arrival at St Mary's in 2016 he has split opinion as a result of his inability to perform consistently while periodically delivering moments of exceptional quality.

The statistics don't present a picture of resounding success for an attacking midfielder, with 83 appearances and five goals over three seasons (and three goals in 35 games on loan at Celta Vigo last season).

However, he is undoubtedly a special football player.

His top moments can be recalled easily by most Saints fans, from his debut curling effort against Sunderland in the League Cup in 2016, to his 30-yard match-winning strike against Middlesbrough a couple of months later and his unforgettable solo run at home to West Brom.

The latter earned him the Premier League's Goal of the Season award in 2017-18 - and they are not easy to come by.

Then there are the sublime skills, such as at the Etihad against Manchester City in 2017 when he took three defenders out of the game, ghosted past Fabian Delph and slotted in Oriol Romeu for the equaliser.

As a then-record signing when he completed his move from Lille on a lengthy five-year deal, understandably he commanded a significant wage.

That is no doubt on the minds of those fans who would not argue against Boufal’s departure in the very near future - and I can understand that perspective.

A poll of fans on TUI this week showed 62.4% of participants would be happy for him to go now, with 26.7% voting for him to stay and 10.9% unsure.

So it is not cut and dried among the fan base and I have to admit that I, personally, am in favour of him remaining part of the squad.

While it may go against the majority view, Boufal gives me the belief he can create something extraordinary from nothing whether he is starter or substitute and playing well or poorly overall.

I have developed an affinity for his silky style of play and, despite his inconsistency, I get a buzz when he is on the ball or coming off the bench.

I like the suspense he provides, not knowing if he will nutmeg a defender and curl one in the top corner or take on six players and slot in a winner.

Players who give you that feeling are few and far between in my opinion.

While I appreciate the argument about his position as a higher earner, i would much prefer to see Wesley Hoedt, Mario Lemina and Guido Carillo make permanent moves away from St Mary’s and off the wage bill before we say so long to Sofiane.

I would be disappointed to lose arguably the most skilful player in the current squad and an international for £3.5 million.

While, as my headline suggests, it has been a case of so near yet so-fiane for Sofiane when it comes to realising his potential, I hold out much hope he can deliver some more special memories before he departs.

Even if he were to remain just an impact substitute, I really struggle to see what better quality we could have in reserve than someone of Boufal’s calibre.

I hope to see him remain at the club and look forward to at least a few more spectacular contributions.

Photo: Action Images

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Billeewithers added 09:30 - Sep 10
He doesn’t deliver outside of extremely rare moments. We can all deliver amazing moments of entertainment if we focus only on that. Like a round of golf. When I hit that one superlative shot my day is complete. My score is crap thank heavens for that pint of beer.
I was a fireman ... we had amazing moments but beyond that we had to deliver day in day out or let everyone down. Including not covering the backs of our fellow workers.
Not an option.
This space would much better be used by a willing hand who can produce and grow. If the had some brilliance the great.

DorsetIan added 10:05 - Sep 10
I completely agree with this. Yes, he is a frustrating player but the excitement he provides is worth keeping him. And you've hit the nail on the head about the suspense - I'd never thought of it like that before but whenever he gets the ball there is always that possibility that he could do something magical. And who doesn't like watching a defender get skinned, nutmegged or completely bamboozled. It's part of why we go to the games to see moments like that.

I don't think he should start. He seems much better coming off the bench and when last season he did his toe we really missed that option for a while. As you say, at 70 or 80 mins, how are tired defenders going to feel seeing him come on?

The great mystery about Boufal is why can't he translate his obvious skill into more match winning performances. For me it's in his head. When he arrived he always looked miserable and last season he was starting to smile a bit more. If he could only get on a real run of match winning form, he might relax even more and get even better as a team player.

I know it's about the wages too (thanks to the Gao constraints) but £3.5m/£4m -what are going to replace him with for that?

SaintPaulVW added 10:44 - Sep 10
He's great to watch right up to the 99% of the time flubbed final ball.

For me, it's not the magic stuff he performs when it all goes right, it's the incredible number of squandered opportunities from broken down attacks that his invariably final missed pass/ lost ball that should be really taken into account when judging his value to us.

Unfortunately, he is just not a team player out to win a game, just a one man Harlem globetrotter's exhibition match.

TeamCortese added 11:38 - Sep 10
If we're going to get £3.5 million for him I'd rather maximise his talent till January and lose him on a free. The money isn't substantial and I feel if he makes a positive contribution in the first half of the season that could earn the club a lot more money through a higher position in the table.

The truth of the matter is Boufal has been at the club for 4 years now and hasn't managed to cement a position in the team. For whatever reason, managers haven't fancied him.

Ralph is by far the best manager we've had since Koeman and Poch and I trust his judgement more so than the previous.

However, I would like to see if Boufal could help us in the attacking midfield position because I still don't think we have enough creativity to breakdown teams that sit back--especially at when playing at home! If Boufal could pitch himself to Ralph to fill that void and deliver before January then I think he still has a future!

One thing a lot of people forget about with Boufal is his dribbling. Not many players in the world can match his dribbling ability (not even Messi! statistically). If Ralph can nurture that dribbling in scenarios where it's most relevant and polish his end product that would get us to definitely put us in contention for European qualification.

The only potential issue that Boufal will have with Ralph is his fitness to deal with the press. If he's willing to put in the work defensively then I'd keep. But it might be too late now I think.

SaintNick added 12:33 - Sep 10
I think everyone agrees that Boufal is a talented player, all that is in question is whether it's better getting £3.5 million now plus a saving on wages of at least the same and cutting our losses.

Last season we were saying the same things as this, we could probably have got £8 million for him a year ago, so for a couple of assists and a few mazy dribbles we have paid £4 million, for me there is not enough evidence he can have the end product and we could use that £7 million towards a new central midfielder

Colburn added 13:01 - Sep 10
When has he had a proper run in the team? NEVER.. This has been the problem, either through lack of faith or injury, he has not had a fair crack of the whip. I have pulled my hair out many a time in the same game watching Redmond do exactly as SaintPaulVW suggests of Sofiane but he never gets dropped, even after many average performances. If Boufal actually had a decent run and finally got 'match fit', he could tear any defence apart. We've just never had the chance to see this and judge him fairly. Another victim of poor management choices by the club in recent times. There is absolutely no point in letting him go for peanuts now. If we wanted to sell him, it should have happened before now!

HoustonSaint added 13:35 - Sep 10
Agree that Boufal is a decent option when teams sit back on us, but he doesn’t offer enough constituency otherwise. Seems like Ralph is keeping Him for those tight last third of the pitch situations because he doesn’t have enough other options. Doesn’t appear that we want to pay the money to upgrade.

underweststand added 14:29 - Sep 10
For those who maintain we should keep him, look at his goal tally v. appearances and it makes very poor reading. If you base it purely on the quality of the very few goals he has scored then we would keep him and ...Dani Osvaldo and Gaston Ramirez also ...
..aside from the goals we are always admiring , it has to be said that he goes missing in for long periods, rarely makes good passes to others .and then is quick to make stupid fouls instead of using his skill to win the ball. Playing with him is often akin to playing with 10 men, as he does not have a team ethic to play alongside others, and just when he frustrates most ..he turns up with another "worldie" - and everyone forgives him.

So Sorry ...I'm sure his talent will be appreciated by other clubs, but he doesn't fit into Ralph's plan and it's only sensible to get "something" for him now than have him go on a free when his contract expires having paid out his £3 million salary for yet another year..


SonicBoom added 15:05 - Sep 10
You say you like not knowing if he will dribble past three and curl one into the top corner. I can help you with that.
He won't.

His goals record shows that he rarely if ever achieves that. You'd get more goals from a decent centre back.

ElSanto added 19:37 - Sep 10
Love Boufal, but I trust and believe in Ralph.

If he isn't going to use him then it's best for us and Boufal to part ways. £7/8m saved is good money!

zonehead added 13:20 - Sep 11
If only art imitated life, I play him as a traditional number 10 in Football manager behind 2 strikers, result 16 goals and player of the season!

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