Southampton don’t have a manager right now, but given the way their Premier League season has materialised so far you might be forgiven for thinking that’s no bad thing.
First there was Ralph Hasenhuttl. Everyone loved Ralph! He’d spent four years at St Mary’s, ridding the place of the stench of what had preceded him. Mark Hughes had won five games in 27 and steered Saints into the bottom three. Before him Mauricio Pellegrino had taken a similar path, winning one of his last 17 with some instantly forgettable football.
Under Hasenhuttl it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows but there was at least a sense of identity, a common goal. They stayed up in his first few months, eventually securing their place in the top flight with five points to spare. The following season was a glimpse into the rollercoaster world of Ralph.
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They lost 9-0 at home to Leicester City in October but rallied to finish 11th. It was same again the year after, with a 9-0 loss at Manchester United in campaign which saw them safe by a good 15 points. In 2021-22 there was a second straight finish of 15th but this time with just five points to spare.
So when the axe fell on the Austrian in November with Saints after a 4-1 home defeat to Newcastle United had left them in the bottom three, it wasn’t a complete surprise whatever their patience with him through some of the stickier times of the previous four years.
In his place they brought in Nathan Jones, a massive success twice over at Luton Town but an abject failure in between times at Stoke City. The Saints board had banked on mirroring what he had achieved in Bedfordshire, but what they got was a recreation of his disastrous spell at the bet365 Stadium, where he’d won just five of 34 league games in 2019.
While his one win and seven losses in eight Premier League fixtures was never going to wash, his attitude also quickly became of some concern. Ashley Williams, one of his charges at Stoke, told Vibe with Five that he was not the least bit shocked about Jones’ speedy exit from St Mary’s, calling his former boss ‘insecure’ in the process.
“It hasn’t surprised me what’s happened because he came from Luton, where he did well. We had a Stoke team in the Championship that on paper should have walked it, but we weren’t doing very well. We had some Champions League winners in there, Bojan, Darren Fletcher, Ryan Shawcross, myself, Charlie Adam, Jack Butland.
“But when he came in, the first speech he gave was along the lines of ‘I’m not going to teach you lot how to play.’ We all came out of the meeting straight away going ‘That doesn't make sense.’ He already had an inferior attitude to what he was seeing in front of him instead of taking control.
“All the lads were great lads at Stoke but he straight away came across as a little bit insecure and now I’m looking at all these faces I’ve seen in the Prem for so long. It was like one of the rants that he had… ‘I’m going to bend to what you guys want.’ We didn’t want anything, we just want you to tell us what to do and we’ll try our best to get it done.”
Jones himself seemed to be signing his own P45 when he reacted to the 3-0 loss at Brentford earlier in Feburary by saying: “I take full responsibility, in terms of everything. We weren’t aggressive enough and I’ve been recruited to be a really aggressive front-footed side, and I haven’t delivered that yet. I’ve compromised certain principles because of personnel, but also the way people want to play and so on, because of fans and so on.”
He followed that with an extraordinary press conference prior to his final game in charge against Wolves last week in which he claimed: “I enjoy a challenge, I want to be the best version of me. I could have stayed in a mining community, been a PE teacher and had a nice life, married a nice Welsh girl, beautiful. But I didn’t. I want to test myself on every level. And that’s nothing against Welsh women.”
Having previously claimed to be one of the best managers in England, nothing of what Jones was supplying or saying came anything close to adequate. Saints head to Chelsea on Saturday with caretaker boss Ruben Selles in charge. Frankly, they could go there with the players deciding between them what formation and tactics they’d use and would probably be in better shape than they were in under Jones.
Even a League Cup quarter-final win over Manchester City couldn’t kid you that this was a relationship built to last.
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