Graziano Pelle: Younger and better than Lambert.

by Jake Garner

It’s been called an exodus. The Southampton Summer Exodus is quite catchy admittedly. However, as someone who doesn’t write to sell newspapers or page clicks, but solely for the interest of discussing football, I would be inclined to disagree.

Southampton were criticised for selling their key players. But what made these players so important to the fans and neutrals? Probably just the fact that they had either been with the club since their rise from League One, the fact they were youth academy products, or perhaps both. If you take an objective view of the team before the transfer window and after, it appears that they have significantly improved.

I’ll start my explanation from the back of the team. Fraser Forster. Anyone that is nicknamed ‘The Great Wall’ via the Catalan press must be producing some pretty special performances right? Personally, with Joe Hart’s poor decision-making evident and Forster’s proven ability in the Champions League, I think it’s only a matter of time before the Southampton’s shot stopper is England’s number one. Now that they’re playing in the same league, Fraser Forster’s confidence and consistency will prove that he is the best English goalkeeper available. At £10m, he is the 6th most expensive keeper of all time, which makes him an underrated yet marquee signing for the Saints.

In defence, the club have made a profit of £47m while seemingly retaining the same quality. Luke Shaw, 19, was sold for £27m. £27m! As a Chelsea fan, a club which has no need to sell any of their players, I would be more than happy if we sold all of our academy products at that price. Also as a Chelsea fan, I’m very familiar with their replacement, Ryan Bertrand. He isn’t going to be signed for Real Madrid’s Galactico’s any time soon, but if you use him correctly you have a very capable full back. His biggest weakness by far, is marking a player who is running at him with the ball. This doesn’t seem to be something he’ll be required to do often in Ronald Koeman’s side though, as they play a high pressing, possession based game, which involves making an early tackle, rather than using a low block and absorbing pressure. Bertrand will also find himself involved in the final third more frequently. To explain his ability in this part of the field, I’ll just mention that he made his Champions League debut in the final of Chelsea’s 2012 campaign, starting in an advanced left wing position. This deal is made even sweeter because Southampton have a try before you buy option, again at £10m.

The other top youth talent they had is Calum Chambers. Sure, he is looking to be a quality signing for Arsenal already, but Southampton only had to give him 18 Premier League starts before they fetched £16m. That’s £880,000 for every starting appearance in the league. You can’t always convince your youth products to stick around, but you can certainly sell their undeveloped potential for a lot of money. His replacement? Dutchman, Toby Alderweireld; winner of three Eridivisie’s, one Dutch Cup, one La Liga and one Ajax Talent of the Year. He’s also the starting Right Back in the Belgian golden generation, starting four out of five of this years World Cup games. He considers himself a Centre Back but is just as good at Full Back. He came through the Ajax youth machine to replace outgoing Thomas Vermaelen and partner Jan Vertonghen which gives you an idea of how comfortable he is in possession. How much did he cost? Nothing. More playing time and the opportunity to work with Koeman was enough to lure him to St Mary’s on loan from Atletico Madrid.

The third defensive player who left the club was Dejan Lovren. Admittedly, they have lost a great player here. However, Lovren had only spent one season at the club after moving from Lyon for £7m. He was sold for a profit of £13m. That’s a fantastic return for only one season. Brought in to replace him is Florin Gardos. The Romanian international had spent four years at Steaua Bucharest and became first choice last season, playing six times in the Champions League and putting in some stellar performances. At £6m he cost even less Lovren. In Koemans words, “For now and for the future, we have a very good central defender”, so long as he doesn’t prove to be a bargain and a top four club decide to pry him away.

“Get in! I’ve heard Brendan is watching today”

Undoubtedly, the best talent to leave this summer was Adam Lallana. Again, the Saints have done great business as they sold him for £25m. People say Liverpool were ‘held to ransom’ and it does seem that way, being Cesc Fabregas cost only £5m more and Toni Kroos cost £5m less! I completely understand why the Southampton fans are aggrieved that the player was allowed to leave though. He had been with the club since the age of 12 and was part of their rise from League One to the Prem. But I wouldn’t be too down as they could very well have an even better replacement. Dusan Tadic was brought from Twente for £10.9m. In 33 appearances, he notched an incredible 16 goals and 14 assists. Compare that to Lallanas 9 goals and 5 assists in 38 appearances and a price tag difference of £14.1m, it appears Southampton have upgraded while making a substantial profit. They’ve also offloaded transfer flop Gaston Ramirez on loan. Academy graduate James Ward-Prowse looks to fill his boots and become vital to the first team this season as he’s already started the first three games in the league, continuing the clubs ethos of churning out youth players.

And finally, the front line. Rickie Lambert was sold for £4m to Liverpool. Blocking what looks like a 32 year olds last chance to play for his hometown club, plus getting his first ever taste of Champions League football, would just be wrong. If the club didn’t sanction this move, they would have the most depressed player in the entire country lurking around the club. He has served them well and deserves this opportunity. His primary replacement is Graziano Pelle. If you subtract Lamberts fee, this transfer only cost Southampton £4m. For that, they have a player who is three years younger at 29, and has netted 50 goals in the Eridivisie over the last two seasons. This is now the third time Ronald Koeman has signed Pelle, so he should adapt with ease. No risk involved here: they have an experienced striker with an eye for goal that can fit into the new system. Again, it looks as though the replacement, at a minimum, is just as good if not better and will be certainly playing for longer. To accommodate Koemans 4-3-3, the club have also signed Shane Long for £12m, who looks like he’ll play as a Second Striker/ Right Winger. Should Pelle get injured, Long can easily fill in. Their last signing is Sadio Mane, who is somewhat of an unknown quantity but has scored 45 goals in 87 appearances for Red Bull Salzburg and can play on either wing or as the lone striker. The third player to cost £10m, he has proven track reckon in front of goal and will provide invaluable depth to the team. Another transfer flop, Dani Osvaldo, has moved on loan to Inter with an option for them to buy at £5.6m.

All in all, it seems to me that Southampton are much stronger than last year. They’ve traded youth for experience, got rid of unwanted players and added quality and depth. Presuming that the options to buy are followed through, improving the squad has actually pocketed them £29.7m. That can be used off or on the field, depending on the clubs immediate needs. To me, it looks like they’ve be very, very smart in this transfer window.  Executive Chairman, Ralph Krueger, said himself that the club set premiums for the players and they have achieved those premiums. Morgan Schneiderlin was retained and his value will only begin to drop next season when he enters the final two years of his contract. They also keep Jay Rodriguez after rebuffing interest from Tottenham for the pair.

In Ronald Koeman, they have a top manager. If you saw their game against West Ham last week, you would know that the attractive football we saw from under Pochettino will continue to be implemented in the new regime. The board at Southampton know exactly how they will take the club forward, which is the only thing that has happened since they took over. This summer might be called an ‘Exodus’ but to me it seems like another step in the right direction.