Quite what's gone wrong down on the south coast is something that football fans will never get around to understanding, as officials at Southampton FC will begin the club's post-mortem of its Premier League status. A combination of three different managers, risk-taking new owners and underperforming players have sent the Saints Championship-bound, and fans will be hoping it's not a one-way ticket.
From European nights at the San Siro under the tutelage of the forward-thinking Ronald Koeman, who had guided the club to its best finish of 6th and 63 points in 2015/16, before jumping ship to the then up-and-coming project at Goodison Park. As well as that League Cup final against Manchester United under Claude Puel, the Saints have now played Russian Roulette one too many times and has finally but critically caught itself in the crossfire.
Now a far cry from the jaw-dropping, exciting and promising Premier League outfit of old that provided a platform to boost the likes of Sadio Mane, Virgil van Dijk, Adam Lallana and more to global stardom. Southampton's once infamous 'black box' has been firing way too many blanks and has led the team down a dark alleyway of mediocrity.
A team who sadly became the victim of their own success, with the aforementioned Claude Puel's appointment after Koeman's departure delivering a largely solid 8th place finish and a trip to Wembley not seen as enough by both the Saints fans and hierarchy, who sacked the Frenchman at the end of the 2016/17 season. Oh my would we take those circumstances now.
A failed Argentine (Mauricio Pellegrino) and a Mark Hughes-inspired great escape later, on top of the sales of many of the club's key assets, the appointment of Ralph Hasenhuttl, who had finished second in the Bundesliga with RB Leipzig, led many to believe that the Saints of old had remerged as a Premier League force once again.
The Austrian, who was aptly nicknamed the 'Alpine Klopp', brought the Red Bull way to St Mary's and the team played exciting but intense pressing football and were always a threat to anyone they were pitted up against. Helping to revitalise the career of now Saints skipper James Ward-Prowse, Hassenhutl even guided Southampton to top of the Premier League at one stage of a season.
He worked under a strict and incredibly tight budget due to the ownership of Gao Jisheng - who acquired a majority stake of the club in 2017 before the now new consortium owners Sport Republic took the helm in 2022. But to quickly summarise Ralph's up-and-down tenure, which included not being sufficiently backed in the transfer market, two 9-0 defeats to Leicester City and Manchester United, and a dismal run of form leading the club to facing down the barrel of Premier League relegation at the mid-stage of this season, the once beloved fan-favourite and jazz hands-loving Ralph Hasenhuttl was a shadow of his former self. He was left visibly tired and defeated and ran out of ideas towards the end before he was given his marching orders - pardon the pun.
Sacking Ralph Hasenhuttl was absolutely the correct decision, not only was he making the same mistakes with team selection and tactics week in and week out, making us the Premier League's whipping boys, but he needed to leave for his own sake. His Welsh lady-loving Valley's boy replacement, Nathan Jones, however, will end up being one of the final blows that knocked Saints out of the top division.
Even though the former Luton Town gaffer did end any hopes that Pep Guardiola had for a Manchester City quadruple season by knocking them out of the FA Cup by 2-0, his run of one win in eight Premier League games, which included damaging defeats to Nottingham Forest, a 10-man Wolverhampton Wanderers, Fulham, Brentford and Aston Villa, rooted Southampton not only to the foot of the table but to a point of no return. Jones was then sacked only three months after his appointment, making him the south coast club's shortest-serving modern manager.
Over the course of the remainder of this season, the Saints were commandeered by Spaniard Ruben Selles, who worked under both Jones and Hassenhuttl in the coaching set-up. After an interim game in charge away at Chelsea, which Southampton won 1-0 thanks to a Romeo Lavia goal to seal a double over the London club, he was given his first managerial job on a full-time basis - what a poor and narrow-minded decision that was, looking back at it.
Even though Selles returned some familiarity with the tactical set up of his squad, which looking back at it was just Ralph Hasenhuttl 2.0 just much worse and far less efficient, he only won one more game after Chelsea which was the 1-0 win over Leicester. His losses, however, were significant in executing any chance of Southampton making a great escape, giving three points to relegation rivals Nottingham Forest, Bournemouth, Leeds United and West Ham United, making the mountain that separated them from safety way too high to climb. Now after the Fulham result, our Championship fate has been sealed - and it could have so easily been avoided.
Scoring a league-low 31 goals, with the days of Matt Le Tissier, Rickie Lambert, Graziano Pelle and Danny Ings seem like too distant a memory, you are not going to get too far in the Premier League. Especially when January signings Paul Onuachu, Kamaldeen Sulemana and World Cup 2022 scoring Mislav Orsic (who only played a measly six minutes) were so poorly mismanged and underused to be the saviours they were brought in to be.
But as Southampton look ahead to a season in the Sky Bet Championship, marking the end of their 11-year stay in the English top flight, what is the situation going to look like. Here is a breakdown of what is expected.
Will James Ward-Prowse leave Southampton FC after Premier League relegation?
The set-piece specialist, who is one away from breaking David Beckham's Premier League record for most free kick goals, talked about his future after the 4-3 away defeat to Nottingham Forest on 8 May. Along with that, he rubbished any rumours that Southampton had told him that he was allowed to depart for pastures new in the summer.
James Ward-Prowse told reporters: "There's nothing in that, no [the rumours]. The club know my thoughts and my position in terms of what I want to achieve in my career, and nothing has changed within that despite where we are in the league.
"I want to give my all for this football club. and I always have done. Every time I put the shirt on I always give 100% and that's no different whether we lose our next game or we win it, it won't change who I am as a person and that's giving everything for this club.
The England international continued: "For me, it's just being focused on where I am now and giving my all for this club, which I always have done since I was eight years old. So that for me doesn't change. What happens beyond that, who knows, I don't know. But I'm just focused on doing everything I can in the next three games to give the club the chance to stay in the Premier League."
So the jury is still out on whether or not James Ward-Prowse will be pulling on the red and white stripes in the championship next season, even though many fans expect him to leave and will not begrudge him if so. Favourites to sign the midfielder includes the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle United, West Ham and Liverpool.
Which Southampton players will stay and leave the club after relegation?
Below is a breakdown of what I expect will be the futures of Southampton FC's current squad for the Sky Bet Championship next season:
- Gavin Bazunu (STAY)
- Alex McCarthy (LEAVE)
- Willy Caballero (LEAVE or RETIRE)
- Kyle Walker Peters (LEAVE)
- Lyanco (STAY)
- Romain Perraud (LEAVE)
- Tino Livramento (STAY)
- Mohammed Salisu (LEAVE)
- Jan Bednarek (STAY)
- Armel Bella-Kotchap (LEAVE)
- Duje Caleta-Car (STAY)
- Dynel Simeu (STAY, return from loan)
- Juan Larios (STAY)
- James Bree (STAY)
- James Ward-Prowse (LEAVE)
- Stuart Armstrong (LEAVE)
- Moussa Djenepo (STAY)
- Mohamed Elyounoussi (LEAVE)
- Ibrahima Diallo (LEAVE)
- Romeo Lavia (LEAVE)
- Joe Aribo (STAY)
- Ainsley Maitland-Niles (LEAVE, end of loan)
- Carlos Alcaraz (STAY)
- Will Smallbone (STAY, return from loan)
- Nathan Tella (STAY, return from loan)
- Kamaldeen Sulemana (STAY, potentially LEAVE on loan to a club in Europe)
- Adam Armstrong (STAY)
- Che Adams (LEAVE)
- Theo Walcott (LEAVE)
- Sekou Mara (STAY)
- Samuel Edozie (STAY)
- Mislav Orsic (LEAVE)
- Paul Onuachu (STAY)
Who should be Southampton manager in the Sky Bet Championship next season?
Simply put, not Ruben Selles. The Southampton hierarchy should look at what Burnley have achieved this season under Vincent Kompany, winning the league and automatic promotion, and look to follow their blueprint. Appoint a promising coach with plenty of ideas, a pedigree of promoting youth and an attractive style of play.
My ideal five candidates for the job are the following: Kieran McKenna (Ipswich Town), Michael Carrick (Middlesborough, if they do not get promoted), Graham Potter (long shot but has an affinity with club having played for us between 1996 and 1997), Marcelo Gallardo (formerly of River Plate) and Bo Svennson (Mainz 05).
Here are the latest betting odds on the next Southampton manager, supplied by Sky Bet:
- Steven Gerrard (5/1)
- Scott Parker (6/1)
- Wayne Rooney (6/1)
- Ruben Selles (6/1)
- John Dahl Tomasson (12/1)
- Chris Wilder (12/1)
- Graham Potter (12/1)
- Nuno Espirito Santo (16/1)