In January 2022, Southampton was taken over by Sport Republic, with chief executive Martin Semmens describing it as “a pivotal moment” for the club.
A year on, the Saints are bottom of the Premier League and co-owner Rasmus Ankersen has summed up their first 12 months in charge as a “really tough run”.
So what’s going on? Has the rot set in, or are these just start-up issues for ambitious new owners?
A Carabao Cup semi-final first leg against Newcastle on Tuesday suggests progress, so BBC Sport set out in search of answers.
A miserable year on the pitch
Of the 17 teams that have started and ended 2022 in the Premier League, Southampton have collected the fewest points (31), lost the most games (21) and had the worst goal difference (-32).
It was not to be so.
Excellent form in January and February 2022 brought memorable results against Spurs and Manchester City as well as progress to the FA Cup quarter-finals.
Then their season imploded.
“They went to Aston Villa, got whipped and never recovered,” BBC Radio Solent’s Adam Blackmore said of a Hammering 4-0 at Villa Park in March. “They fell off a cliff.”
From ninth with 35 points after 26 games, they collected only five more points and finished 15th.
This season, an encouraging win over Chelsea in August was followed by just one of 13 wins, Ralph Hasenhuttl is sacked and the mischievous atmosphere on the south coast.
Money to spend – but with what success?
The investment was much needed at Southampton after years of bleeding talent, with key players such as Virgil van Dijk and Danny Ings leaving for new pastures since 2018.
Over the summer, over £70million has been spent on exciting young players, including Manchester City youngsters Romeo Lavia and Gavin Bazunu.
However, the departures of experienced pros Nathan Redmond, Fraser Forster, Shane Long and Oriel Romeu have left a leadership vacuum, with former Saints midfielder Jo Tessem claiming there have been too many changes, too soon.
“There is a long-term plan and they will get better,” he said. “They are talented – Lavia is one of the top three young players in the Premier League in my opinion.
“But, because they have sold so many good players, there is too much responsibility on young players.”
Ankersen disputes that, citing the signings of internationals Joe Aribo and Duje Caleta-Car as evidence of a more pragmatic approach.
“We said goodbye to just one player from the starting XI in Romeu,” he said. “And our strategy is aligned with what Southampton has been for many years, turning potential into excellence.
“We have some really exciting talent that can be some of the best in the world, but it’s always a balance.”
Semmens agrees, saying, “There is a clear plan and we are moving in the right direction.”
Southampton The Saints Score podcast co-host Harry Tizard appreciates their logic, telling BBC Sport ‘a young dressing room breeds inconsistency’.
“When you lose and your team hasn’t had the toughest side of football, it can be tough,” he said. “We can’t compete financially, so we have to take a different approach.”
Indeed, on Monday, Southampton recalled 26-year-old Jan Bednarek from his season-long loan at Aston Villa, with boss Nathan Jones citing the need to add more “experience” to his defence.
For Blackmore though, it’s a simple problem. Southampton have long needed a goalscorer – and the summer’s failure to fix the problem has made this season’s problems inevitable, although a recent tactical adjustment has brought more goals for James Ward-Prowse.
“Ralph was promised a striker and he never got one,” he said. “If they had signed they wouldn’t be in this position and he might still have his job.”
The new man at the helm
Luton Town boss Jones replaced Hasenhuttl on the eve of the World Cup and had five weeks with his new players. This, according to Blackmore, did not help.
“He promised his team would have a clear identity and he had all this time to prepare for the Christmas games, but that didn’t seem to have an impact,” he said.
“Maybe the players got bored training without a match. He didn’t have a honeymoon period.”
Tessem agrees, saying in the Boxing Day loss to BrightonSaints looked like they were playing someone “from a different division”.
Form reached its nadir against Nottingham Forest at St Mary’s earlier this month as Southampton had no shots on target and lost at home to the division’s worst side on the road.
With the press, Jones sometimes cut a frustrated figure. Three impressive wins in all competitions in seven days against Crystal Palace, Manchester City and Everton helped build confidence, but a narrow home loss to Aston Villa on Saturday prevented Saints from overcoming what he described as “the first psychological barrier” to escape the last three. .
“I hope someone advises her to be less defensive in interviews,” Blackmore said. “He doesn’t have to justify his existence. He needs to have people on his side.”
Above all, his bosses are on board. It’s not in Southampton’s DNA to make impulsive managerial decisions.
Ankersen admitted Jones was ‘never going to be a date for good PR’, but his record as manager of the year in the Championship last season – ‘the sixth biggest league in Europe’, insists the co-owner – suggested he might succeed at a higher level.
“He ticked boxes for us,” Ankersen said. “We needed a manager who believed in what we believed in. We knew the issues – team unity, set pieces, keeping the sheets clean and being harder to beat.
“He has a professional track record of solving these problems.”
Tizard agrees with Sport Republic’s message: “Most of the things they said made sense,” he said. “You’ve seen a team in recent games playing for their manager.”
The owners’ plan could take off if they can sneak past Newcastle and reach a first domestic cup final since 2017.
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