Southampton’s recruitment appears to be back on the right track following a few underwhelming windows under the previous regime.
With the likes of Les Reed and Ralph Krueger overseeing proceedings, Saints made some good decisions in the transfer market. However, towards the end of their respective tenures, it was hard to draw positives from their decisions off the pitch.
There now appears to be a new strategy in place, with player recruitment led by first-team manager Ralph Hasenhuttl and Ross Wilson, who now influences all footballing matters at St Mary’s.
Only three players have been added to the squad since the pair began work on identifying and signing targets, but there does appear to be some emerging trends already.
Firstly, and rather clearly, there is now an emphasis on recruiting players within a certain age bracket. Moussa Djenepo, Che Adams and Kevin Danso are all under 24-years-old, and all came in under Hasenhuttl’s watch, acting as a nod towards a more youth-centric approach.
The type of players with whom the boss enjoys working is quite apparent. What has been less clear, but is now becoming increasingly evident, though, is just where Southampton look to obtain lesser-known talents with significant potential and high resale value.
Adams was signed from the Championship, while Danso was recruited from the Bundesliga, which Hasenhuttl knows well. However, the more left-field acquisition was Djenepo, who signed from Standard Liege for £14 million.
Saints haven’t exactly shown a tendency to lean towards cherry-picking players from the top flight of Belgian football, but with their move for the exciting Mali international, it seems they have been keeping a close eye on Jupiler Pro League action.
Of course, Djenepo was signed because of other underlying factors: his age, his suitability to Hasenhuttl’s style of play and the cost of the transfer.
But Southampton now appear to be widening their horizons, and in the past couple of weeks, speculation has gathered to suggest that two more players from the Pro League are being targeted.
RSC Anderlecht midfielder Yari Verschaeren has been touted somewhat tentatively as a January target for Saints, but in recent times, The Guardian’s Ed Aarons suggested that KAA Gent forward Jonathan David is a player who is being watched by Southampton.
Twitter: Some interest from Southampton in Gent’s Jonathan David. The Canadian teenager has scored 11 goals in 10 international appearances so far (@ed_aarons)
The club’s team behind the scenes were once heralded for their unorthodox signings, who would then prove to be exceptional value for money. Following Djenepo’s start to life at Southampton, it’d be hard to argue against the perception that £14 million is already looking like a bargain.
In a transfer market that now sees relatively ordinary, unexceptional players move to the Premier League for exorbitant transfer fees, it is encouraging to note that Saints are attempting to do things differently once again.
Comparisons between Djenepo and former Southampton winger Sadio Mane have inevitably been made, but perhaps more pertinently than the similarities in their respective styles of play, what may be more alike about the pair is the nature of their arrivals at St Mary’s. Neither played in a top-five European league, neither were particularly well-heard-of, and neither cost any more than £15 million.
Clubs must now be savvy in transfer windows, with bargains far harder to attain in 2019 than they were in 2014 when a bustling Mane came through the door for just under £12 million from Austrian club RB Salzburg. By the process of tapping into less-publicised pools of talent such as the Pro League, maybe Southampton are onto something.
Whether or not moves for Anderlecht youngster Verschaeren and Gent striker David will materialise remains to be seen. However, it should be noted – and if reports are indeed correct, applauded – that Saints are reverting to their previously successful, more meticulous methods of looking for talent where others simply haven’t yet.