Reality check for European ambitions

Last updated : 08 May 2002 By Christian Kelly
I must be missing something. Perhaps you can let me know where my reasoning is going wrong. Our chairman, Rupert Lowe, seems to think that in the next year or two Saints will be able to push for a European place.

Now ask yourself, is the Saints squad, as it stands, good enough for a push for a European place. The answer is a resounding no. And yet we are not going to be improving the first team to get a chance at a European placing. Something's wrong somewhere.

Saints could possibly finish 16th this season, and only a miraculous run of results will see us finish tenth. With each place in the league worth a massive £440 000 I would have thought that the players would have been going flat out in the last month or so. Instead, we've been honoured to sit through a series of insipid displays by players clearly with summer on their minds. Once safety has been reached , our squad turn off. I believe that teams finish exactly where their level of ability puts them and to be honest we're one of a pack of lower half clubs. Saints may have a nice new stadium now, but we are still paying it off, and every penny we can get form the league will be needed if we are to strengthen our squad.

Now that I've established what I think our playing staff can achieve, you would have thought that some serious quality would have to be brought in to boost our talent pool and hopes of a higher finish. Apparently not. Gordon Strachan is looking to bring in only a few players, which is fine as you don't want to unbalance the side. But he's not looking for first team players, oh no, he's just looking to bolster the squad. Gordon said: "They will not be a threat to the ones who are here, but coming in to help them - either to give them a rest or to put pressure on them.

"For instance, Brett Ormerod has really kept James [Beattie] and Marian [Pahars] on their toes. He just gets on with it, which is typical of the attitude at this club.

What in the hell is the point of that. Although we're better than a lot of clubs, we still have our share of luggage to dispose of in the shape of Ripley, Draper, Petrescu and now sadly Davies. Why on earth bring in more people who have little chance of regular first team football and who are only there to make up the numbers and pick up their pay checks.

I don't expect Southampton to go out and spend lots of money on a player. We've never done so in the past and the larger amounts we do pay have had dubious success; Beresford, Hirst, Ripley, Delgado, Delap, etc.

What I do expect is that we get as much quality as we can for the funds we part with, and at the bare minimum each addition should be for the first team. If that means we can get fewer players, then fine, the overall improvement can take a bit longer.

Strachan is looking for up and coming players saying: " We want players to step up, who are hungry and who want to improve and do well for Southampton."

While he may tout Brett Ormerod as an example, the former Blackpool striker has a very long way to go before he can think of getting ahead of James Beattie or Marians Pahars. There are precious few others even as good as Ormerod pushing for first team places, which is why Strachan settled pretty quickly for a reasonably settled first eleven. I'm not convinced Ormerod will develop into a 15 - 20 goal a season striker and I wonder if Saints can wait around on too many players in their squad making the grade before disaster strikes.

While I consider every year in the Premiership to be a bonus, that view is being changed by our ambition to break into, if not the top tier, the second at least. To make the step up you need to increase the quality of your playing staff and the coaching structure around them.

I fail to see how the quality of the side can be driven forward when the purchases we make are worse than the players we already have.

Squad players are best created by bringing in players of the same or better quality. The fringe players could well be the players who were formerly first choice and who now have to fight for their place. It is not the best policy to bring in players who will only get a game through chronic injury or through a major screw up of a first teamer.

Strachan has released numerous fringe players such as Ashford and Gibbens to allow the reserves to used for what it was intended for; to nurse first team players back from injury and provide a stepping stone for the new crop of youngsters. Having done a lot of good work to clear the decks, we will now be seeing the addition of a few players just to take up regular reserve spots. The only thing this will do is restrict the chances of our youth players to break through and add unnecessarily to our wage bill.

So in summary, as things stand , I don't believe that we will pull away from the clubs surrounding us. Furthermore, I feel that signing players of lower quality than we already have is a sure fire way of pushing us further into that pack. With the Premiership being a bit of a free for all among the bottom half, any position is possible, and without improving the first team, our side may well be one of the bottom three.