WHAT CAN you really say after a 9-0 drubbing except sorry? You had to feel some sympathy for pale-faced Ralph Hasenhüttl, facing the TV cameras after a seismic home defeat that extended Southampton’s current run to one point from five league games.
Southampton have said they have no interest in sacking Hasenhüttl, but look at the fixture list and see what’s on the horizon – two trips to Manchester City in a week, in the League Cup and Premier. So, things won’t be getting better in a hurry. What price an impromptu sacking in the corridoors of the Etihad?
When a club gives a manager an immediate “vote of confidence” they really have no choice. They are not going to express a vote of no confidence as that exposes weakness and possible discord in the boardroom and can spread discontent across a club, from the dressing room to the terraces (if they had them).
Southampton currently have the hangdog look of relegation candidates and most probably, the c-suite will look to see if that summary is correct before they send Hasenhüttl home. If nothing else, a temporary stay of execution gives the club the chance to assess the situation and also potential successors to the Austrian.
However, the club’s owner, Gao Jisheng and CEO, Martin Semmens, are – at least publicly – 100% behind their hapless manager. Southampton have said they are looking to appoint a director of football to assist Hasenhüttl.
This is not a club with a lot of patience, despite its status as one of the Premier League’s “glad to be there” gang. The last manager to reach 100 games was Nigel Adkins, who left the club with a win rate of 54%. Nobody has matched that since, not even the much-vaunted Mauricio Pochettino, whose win rate was 38.33%.
Southampton, historically, has always been a place that can be difficult for away teams, going back to the eccentric stadium that was the Dell. Over the past three seasons, though, home wins have become scarcer and this season, they have picked up just one point from five games at St. Mary’s. Their last two league games, against Chelsea and Leicester, have seen the Saints defence concede 13 goals. In response, they have scored once, bringing the total to nine in nine games. Almost half of their league goals have come from Danny Ings.
The club claim they have been unlucky in that a number of transfers have not worked out as planned. That’s not Hasenhüttl’s fault as the now departed Ross Wilson was largely responsible for player recruitment. Wilson joined the club in 2015 and was involved in the acquisitions of Virgil Van Dijk, Cedric Soares and Oriol Romeu.
Wilson, who left Southampton for Rangers just a few weeks ago, was partly responsible for attracting Hasenhüttl to St. Mary’s but also spearheaded the club’s player trading strategy which has been very successful. Liverpool, who have spent £ 160 million-plus on Southampton players in recent years, certainly underlined how good the Saints’ system has been.
More recently, players like Wesley Hoedt, Mario Lemina and Mohammed Elyounoussi were brought in for over £ 15 million apiece, all on five-year contracts, but they have been loaned out to Antwerp, Galatasaray and Celtic respectively. Is this an admission of bad decision-making, a symptom of cost management or are they simply incompatible with Hasenhüttl’s system?
The Saints players have demonstrated their shame at losing by such a crushing scoreline, donating a day’s wages to the club’s foundation. It’s not exactly hair-shirt time, but at least they acknowledge their capitulation wasn’t the sole responsibility of their coach.
On a less positive note (are there any positives?), some media reports suggest Southampton are gearing-up to dispose of Hasenhüttl.
Can he survive this severe setback? When he arrived at St. Mary’s there was considerable enthusiasm after his time at RB Leipzig. He talked of a “mind-blowing” training regime and a very progressive approach to player development. He led a dynamic young team to the runners-up spot in the Bundesliga.
There are some media reports suggest Southampton are gearing-up to dispose of Hasenhüttl, so they may not stick with their man, but what happens next will say a lot about the club’s ownership and management. It would be so easy to sack Hasenhüttl – indeed, many Saints fans are probably expecting it. But who will replace him and will the outcome be any different?
With a group of short-term managers preceding him, the squad is mostly a legacy structure ill-equipped to adapt to the manager’s style – the very thing that attracted Southampton to him in the first place. If they are to survive, they need to regroup, assess their resources and make the right transfer decisions come January – whether or not Hasenhüttl is still in the dugout. Sometimes, cultural change comes at a short-term cost, however painful that might be.