Southampton: The Ronald Koeman philosophy

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Football News

As deal after deal was agreed, Southampton fans looked on helplessly as they saw their star players one by one leave the club.

With chairman Cortese and manager Mauricio Pochettino long gone, the summer of 2014 looked bleak for Southampton. At the end of the season where Southampton achieved their highest league position (8th) in the Premier League, it was of no surprise when top four teams came swooping in for their key players.

The trio of Dejan Lovren, Adam Lallana and talisman Rickie Lambert joined Liverpool, while Chambers and Shaw left for greener pastures in Arsenal and Manchester United respectively. The Saints faithful were starting to feel their joy was short lived. The unrest in the dressing room was clear, senior players were unsettled, questioning the ambition of the club. The ominous atmosphere surrounding St. Mary's even sparked talks of relegation, leaving fans to ponder what might lie ahead for Southampton.

In June 2014, Ronald Koeman took over from Pochettino, arriving from Feyenoord. Koeman took on what seemed to be an impossible job, a club whose fairy-tale rise seemed to be intruded on by cruel reality. Having seen his club's crown jewels leave the club in quick succession, Koeman acted swiftly.

He immediately stamped his authority in the dressing room, starting by convincing midfield stalwart Morgan Schneiderlin to stay, who has been their best player this season by far. He ensured the players were made known of his ambition of how Southampton could move forward. With £92m available to spend, Koeman didn't waste a single cent.

What he has done in the transfer window was no magic. Koeman simply brought in players that suited his philosophy to fill positions that were short handed. He went back to the Eredivisie to bring in the league's second best creator and top scorer, Tadic and Pelle, to St Mary's.

Doubts were raised if the duo could shine in the demanding Premier League, with history of Dutch players failing to adapt to England due to the physicality of the league. However, Koeman has proved them wrong. Under his expert guidance, they blossomed to form a brilliant partnership.

Tadic picked up where he left off at FC Twente, showing his amazing vision and technical ability, acting as the Saints' main provider with nine assists. Pelle has been brilliant for Southampton since signing for the club, displaying his prowess in the air, holding up the ball for his teammates, playing the role of a great team player. The former Feyenoord striker immediately became a fans' favourite, scoring eight goals just halfway through the season.

New signings

The additions of Fraser Forster, Sadio Mane and Shane Long along with Ryan Bertrand and Toby Alderweireld on loan further strengthened the squad. The trio of Forster, Bertrand and Aldeweireld have all been in superb form, keeping the Southampton defence rock solid with 10 clean sheets in 22 league games, second only to Chelsea with 11.

Mane also added a different dimension to Southampton's play, his trickery and pace always caused problems even for solid defences, contributing with two crucial goals against Chelsea and Arsenal. Koeman replaced the outgoing players well with another batch of players that outperformed the old guard of players.

Since their 2-1 loss to Liverpool at Anfield in the opening game of the season, Southampton never looked back, albeit a period in December when they went winless for a couple of games. Yet with 22 games of the season gone, Southampton sit third in the Premier League, having already faced most of their rivals for a top four spot.

The supposed sinking ship just a few months ago has been gathering buoyancy week by week. Credit certainly has to go to Ronald Koeman for the incredible revival of the club. As manager, his transfer acumen and uncanny ability to inspire his players has seen Southampton continue to go strong midway through the season.

At the age of 51, Koeman is an experienced, calm and ambitious manager, and that has been demonstrated by the way his team performs on the pitch. Tactically adept, he emphasises a tight and compact defence, and at the same time wants to be clinical in front of goal.

Defensive solidity

Fullbacks Nathaniel Clyne and Ryan Bertrand are given permission to overlap consistently and help stretch defences, but are reminded that defending is their number one responsibility. Under Koeman, the Saints play free-flowing attacking football without compromising their solid defence. He isn't the most charismatic manager you've seen, but his approach can be best seen as flexible yet practical.

He is well known for the way he sets his team up, organized and compact, shaping his team around the players available. Koeman also has huge faith in his academy players, previously guiding the likes of Wesley Sneijder, Thomas Vermaelen and Nigel de Jong from the youth set-up to the starting 11.

The Dutchman also received plaudits for his time at Feyenoord for the faith he put to the academy graduates. In that sense, his philosophy is parallel to that of Southampton's, making him the perfect man for the job. Besides Koeman ensures a good mixture of youth and experience in his team, giving academy graduates the occasional start yet ensuring that the core of the team remains. The likes of Matt Targett, Jake Hesketh, Harrison Reed and Lloyd Isgrove have all been given stints in the first team from the famed Southampton youth academy, which can only increase in reputation with Ronald Koeman.

What's next

Here we are, midway through January, and with Southampton firmly sitting in 3rd place and on course for a Champions League spot, the future looks promising under Koeman. As he maintains his consistent level of performance at St Mary's, big clubs will surely come knocking on the door. There have already been rumours of Koeman heading back to Barcelona, the club he made his name at as a professional player, replacing the under-fire Luis Enrique.

However, there's no reason for Koeman to leave, for a few seasons at the very least, as he's ready to take on a long term project at the club. Besides having a solid first team, he aims to develop and nurture a new generation of young players. With matching philosophies, the ‘Koeman Way’ is yielding success both on and off the pitch. With Southampton's foundations in place, under the leadership of Koeman, the Saints are set to continue marching on.

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