Since the clubs establishment in 1885, Southampton have always had an eye for a bargain. In more recent years, the recruitment and scouting at the club has impressed football fans across England as Saints continue to improve each season despite selling key players.
The following slideshow will take a look at the top ten best signings the club has ever made, featuring a Ballon d’Or winner, a European Championships winner, a 1976 FA Cup winner and a few Johnstone’s Paint Trophy winners too!
With such a wide array of international and domestic talents throughout the years, there were many players both recent and even from the 19th century that I considered however, of course, some unfortunately did not manage make the list.
I decided on my final ten by basing my judgement not only on how well they played in a Saints shirt, but also the reputation of the transfer and how big of a coup it was at the time.
10. Egil Østenstad
The Norwegian signed for Saints and made an instant impact following his £800,000 move from Viking FK. In only his third game, he scored a hat-trick against Manchester United.
In total, Østenstad scored nine goals from 30 appearances in his debut season and was voted the Fans’ Player of the Season ahead of Matt Le Tissier.
The next season, Southampton received multiple bids for the impressive forward but none could match the south coast club’s steep £7 million valuation.
He left Saints for Blackburn in 1999 after scoring 34 goals at the club.
9. Jim Steele
Southampton signed Jim Steele, a Scottish centre-back in 1972, for a club record fee of £80,000 with many other top clubs interested.
Four years later in the 1976 FA Cup final, Steele won the man of the match award due to his solid performance against Manchester United.
A fan favourite, the versatile hard-man went on to play 201 appearances in a Southampton kit.
After Saints, Steele went on to play in America and subsequently never played in English football again.
8. Claus Lundekvam
Another Saints signing from Norway, Claus Lundekvam joined in 1996 and enjoyed a 12-year stay at the club before retiring due to injury.
The centre-back captained the club for many years and remained at St Mary’s following the 2005 relegation. He also captained the side in their FA Cup final in 2003 against Arsenal.
He scored two goals in a Southampton shirt and was awarded with the Fans’ Player of the Season award in 2006. Lundekvam is now a pundit on Norwegian television.
7. Virgil van Dijk
The most recent acquisition in this countdown is another centre-back. Virgil van Dijk became the clubs most expensive defender when he signed for £13 million from Celtic in 2015.
The dominant figure of the Dutchman in the heart of Saints’ defence has been heavily relied upon and van Dijk has gone on to prove himself as one of the best in the league in his position.
In his first season with the club, van Dijk was voted as Saints’ best player by both the club’s supporters and his teammates.
Having signed a six-year deal, Saints fans will be hoping he doesn’t move on too soon.
6. Morgan Schneiderlin
Few people would have expected Morgan Schneiderlin’s £1.2 million move from Strasbourg to be one of the top signings the club has ever made. At the time, the midfielder was only a teenager with a wiry figure and only five professional games to his name.
Eight years, a Johnstone’s paint trophy victory, a player of the year award and 260 Southampton games later, the midfielder had proved himself as one of the most skilled holding midfielders in Europe.
With many top clubs after his signature, he was made to stay one more season on the south coast before a £25 million move to Manchester United was secured.
YouTube: #MerciMorgan | The best of Morgan Schneiderlin
Schneiderlin has now featured for his native France on 15 occasions but has found it tougher to maintain a squad place since leaving Southampton.
5. Jose Fonte
Fonte joined the club from Crystal Palace who were a division higher than Southampton in 2010. The £1.2 million price tag has since more than proved to be an absolute steal by Saints.
The Portuguese centre-back has found a long-term home on the south coast and could soon break 300 appearances in a Saints shirt.
When Adam Lallana left for Liverpool, Fonte took over as captain and has led by example since. Having witnessed the clubs euphoric rise through the divisions as well as the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy success, he is now the longest serving player at the club.
Fonte was rewarded with a national team call up in 2014 and has gone on to play 18 times for Portugal, including starting the famous victory in the European Championship final alongside fellow Saint, Cedric Soares.
I would say that he’s nearing the end of his career with at most two more seasons in him. I would not hesitate to say he’s truly a hero at the club and his two Player of the Season awards are thoroughly deserved.
4. Rickie Lambert
The most iconic, post-relegation legend at the club. Rickie Lambert was bought by then-manager Alan Pardew for a bargain fee of £1 million. The goal machine bagged 117 goals for Saints during a five-year spell.
Upon his arrival, people knew he was a threat in League One. Lambert scored in the club’s memorable Johnstone’s Paint Trophy win in his first season at Southampton.
Despite his proven record, he had doubters when the club were promoted to the Championship but he scored 27 league goals that season and finished as the top scorer.
His prolific finishing lead to back-to-back promotions for Southampton and once again his ability was doubted. At 30-years-old, he was making his top flight debut and went on to score 15 goals that season; the top English scorer for that season.
In his final season at the club, Lambert shared the goals with Jay Rodriguez who also impressed. The pair scored 30 between them despite Rodriguez’s injury. Throughout his time here, Lambert scored every single one of his 34 penalties, which is a record only beaten by Matt Le Tissier.
In 2013, Lambert’s ability was finally realised by England as he was called up to face Scotland. He scored on his England debut with his first touch of the game with a trademark header, two minutes after coming on to secure a 3–2 victory. He got his second goal against Moldova with another header, making it two goals in consecutive games.
Perhaps the biggest moment of his career was when he was named in the England squad for the 2014 World Cup. He scored against Ecuador in a friendly and made his first appearance at the finals in a 2–1 loss against Uruguay.
Following the World Cup, Lambert departed St Mary’s in a £4 million move to his boyhood team Liverpool. It’s hard to argue against his move as it was always a dream of his to pull on the famous red shirt, but in hindsight it wasn’t the best career move. He scored only three goals in his sole season at Anfield.
YouTube: Thank you Rickie Lambert | Southampton FC | L1 – BPL
He has since played for both West Brom and currently, Cardiff where he has made a promising start to life in Wales.
In the future I could certainly see the big man return to Southampton if we ever need a finishing coach.
3. Ron Davies
In the 1960’s, Ron Davies was one of football’s biggest stars. He was well known for his unbeatable heading ability which no doubt convinced Ted Bates to splash a then-club record £55,000 fee on the established Welsh international forward, who had scored 58 league goals in 113 games for Norwich.
In his first season at Saints, Davies scored in ten consecutive games with a total of 12 goals. He continued his sublime scoring form and ended his first season on the south coast with 37 goals in 41 games; the most goals in the division.
It didn’t stop there for the big forward; he retained his top goalscorer feat and this time shared the honour with one of footballs greatest, and Davies’ future team-mate, George Best.
The most memorable game in his career would surely have been at Old Trafford in 1969. Davies scored all four Southampton goals, all of which were headers. Following the game, Matt Busby described him as “the best centre forward in Europe.”
YouTube: Big Match Man U v Saints 1969
The Welshman ended his seven year stay at the cub with a highly impressive 153 goals in 277 games across all competitions. He went on to play for Portsmouth and Manchester United before moving to America.
Following his retirement, Davies remained in America and lived in motor-home whilst working in the construction industry. During this time, he lost contact with his friends from England and unfortunately became a recluse.
Sadly, Ron Davies died in Albuquerque on 24 May 2013.
2. Peter Shilton
England’s most capped player of all time Peter Shilton comes in second place. The record-holding ‘keeper joined Southampton from Nottingham Forest to link up with previous teammates Alan Ball and Kevin Keegan and went on to play 242 times for the club.
In his five season stint at Saints, he won Southampton’s Player of the Season on two occasions. He was also named in the PFA First Division Team of the Year for four of his five years at the club. During the 1983-84 season, Shilton was a crucial member of the Division One runner-up side.
50 of Peter Shilton’s 125 England caps came whilst playing his club football at The Dell. Eventually he was sold to Derby before moving onto a number of teams where he barely featured.
YouTube: Peter Shilton OBE – Greatest Saves
1. Kevin Keegan
For me, it’s an obvious decision. Southampton’s best ever signing was European Footballer of the Year, Kevin Keegan.
The striker returned to English football for £420,000 following a three-year stint at Hamburg. He had also captained England in the 1980 European Championships.
YouTube: Lawrie McMenemy recalls Kevin Keegan signing
The double Ballon d’Or winning forward enjoyed his best ever top-flight scoring period at the club. Following an impressive second season, he was named Saints’ Player of the Season and PFA Players’ Player of the Year, as well as ending his final season at The Dell as the First Division’s top scorer with 26 goals.
He left Southampton following a fallout with legendary manager Lawrie McMenemy after two seasons for Newcastle, having scored 37 league goals in 68 games.