Call me an old cynic but I’ve got a feeling Southampton are going to get relegated this season. You don’t have to be Mystic Meg to think the latest scrap for survival is going to take some getting out of.
Thanks heavens then that new Saints boss Nathan Jones has a player in the mould of James Ward-Prowse to turn to in this dark hour down on the south coast.
Plonked handily in the centre of midfield he is the one shining beacon of hope in yet another dreary season for the Saints. And with them stuck at the bottom of the Premier League table it looks like the light is finally going to be turned out on Southampton’s 11 years back in the top flight.
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Ward-Prowse is a loyal sort. He has never played professionally for any other club. He is to be admired for that because there has been plenty of interest. Manchester City, Manchester United and Newcastle have all been mentioned in connection with the player who is carrying his entire club at the moment on those slender shoulders.
With seven goals, an eagle’s vision at set pieces and an astonishing work ethic and mentality, he is the only saleable asset at gloomy St. Mary’s. That Ward-Prowse has so far snubbed all offers and has not agitated for a move to bigger and better clubs is honourable and not uncommon down by the docks.
It has echoes of Matthew Le Tissier’s refusal to up sticks and try his luck on a bigger stage in a career spanning 16 years when there were big name takers such as Tottenham and Chelsea.
‘Le God’ as he was and is still known locally got lucky. He was never relegated with Southampton so at least he can hold his head up high on that subject. But he was capped by England only eight times and eventually Le Tissier’s reluctance to test himself on a bigger stage became a millstone around his neck.
Ward-Prowse has 11 England caps to his name and he is now at his peak. There is no doubt he warrants more with such a wide range of talents on his CV. Yet he was overlooked by England boss Gareth Southgate for the World Cup for an unfit Kalvin Phillips, who plays for Manchester City. Had he still been at Leeds would the same thing have happened?
Saints are only three points from safety with 18 games to go and admittedly they are used to winning last minute scrambles for survival. But even if Southampton drag themselves out of this latest hair-raising brush with the drop, Ward-Prowse needs to get out or else risk becoming the next Le Tiss.
There were doubts about Le Tissier’s commitment to the, er, physical side of elite football. In other words the very top clubs were suspicious that the Guernsey-born genius relied too heavily on his God given talent to take training too seriously.
Nothing wrong with that of course. The most mesmerising players to watch are those who stroll around with the ball under their spell while lighting up a cigarette and sipping on a large Martini without spilling a drop. Those blessed magicians are fewer and further between nowadays and tend to be found out a lot quicker.
There is also a fundamental difference between Le Tissier and Ward-Prowse in that the latter plays like he could run 26 miles after every marathon effort keeping Southampton afloat.
Should Saints go down then questions regarding the future of Ward-Prowse will be answered for him. The club will want his wages off the books, a long queue of Premier League clubs offering a direct route back to the top flight will form overnight.
The problem will arise if Southampton somehow find enough resilience within themselves, not to mention a proper striker who can hit the net, and stay up. That is when there will need to be some long, hard thinking done over the summer.
Le Tissier retired from football in 2003 and has a lounge named in his honour at St.Mary’s Stadium. It goes nicely with the runners-up medal from the 1992 Full Members Cup.
So far Ward-Prowse has a losers’ medal from the EFL Cup on his mantlepiece. It really shouldn’t be a difficult decision about what to do next.
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