When the Saints returned to the promised land in 2013, many attributed the double promotion to a combination of momentum alongside the tactical guise crossed with charisma of their then manager Nigel Adkins.
The Championship, a division many consider as large a step up from league one as the BLP is from the former, was to an extent swept aside by the League One Champions of the 11/12 season. However, what the Second Tier doesn’t (or at least didn’t then) offer in the same way that the BPL does is a cut-throat tendency to sack managers for even a brief dip in results and a ruthless desire from the top clubs to snatch up over-inflated English talent in order to satisfy certain FA and UEFA quotas.
The Saints acclimatised quickly and found out the hard way that if talented players and coaching staff get recognised for their work, the competition will sniff them out and offer a price you can’t refuse.
It’s hard to refuse offers, even for your star players with cult followings, which in Southampton’s case were a crop of British talent reared through their famed academy system, when you invest what could have ended up being upwards of £35m on training facilities and take loans amounting to £50m (which owner Katharina Liebherr graciously set against her our assets) in order to sustain your top flight status.
This resulted in an English exodus come the 2014 Summer Window, with Lambert, Lallana, Shaw and Chambers leaving for a combined fee of over £70m, and with star defender Lovren also departing, Saints showed an intent to become a profit making institution, but many doubted their prowess to perform and thus remain in the top flight.
As a result, along with an improved Television deal and greater commercial revenue, the Saints recorded a profit for the 2014 Financial year, the first time since they were threatened with administration in 2009.
However, what was to come surprised many, as successive managers and smartly acquired players took the Saints to 7th and 6th place in the 14/15 and 15/16 seasons respectively. Interestingly their new culture of high staff turnover has been a double edged sword; the club haven’t been able to define themselves with any form of solidified playing style, for example the counter-attacking style that won Leicester their odds-defying BPL Title or the slow build up possession focus that has become synonymous with Arsenal. This has made it hard to have a specific expectation for players signing a contract with the Saints over the last few years, but it has made the South Coast side unpredictable to play against season by season.
As the 2016/17 season is now fully in swing Southampton have found a purple patch of form with their new manager Claude Puel, their third in three years, winning their last four league and cup games (before their Europa League tie in Israel). Even while the BPL gets more competitive year by year, what Leicester proved is that anyone can exceed expectations and merely avoiding relegation can sometimes become a platform to achieving remarkable feats the following season(s). However, as the club continue to establish themselves in the top flight, they continue to be the poaching ground for the bigger clubs, and the departures of players like Mane and Morgan Schneiderlin have arguably not been rectified with suitable replacements.
A final overriding factor that Puel’s Team have taken into account is maintaining a healthy chemistry by bringing in players from the home nations when cheap options from abroad seem so tempting, Shane Long, Ryan Bertrand and Nathan Redmond are all good examples of this. So long as they continue to do this they will always be able to manage what can often be a group of dissident mavericks with a conviction that they are at least in tune to the ideology of playing and developing home-grown talent.
Meanwhile if the Gaffer (whoever they may be in the Saints’ case) continues to be credited for the team’s success and subsequently gets poached by bigger clubs with bigger vacancies, Southampton will never be able to solidify any form of playing style and therefore brand, so will most likely fall short of the board and the fans’ criteria of success.