Exclusive Saints’ Guest Post: What can Rangers Learn from the Southampton Way?

The Southampton Way

Soon after taking control of the club, Rangers Chief Executive Graham Wallace proclaimed that he is implementing a five year plan to regain the club’s place of competing with Celtic on a domestic level  & competing against Europe’s best in the Champions League.

Rangers Report is publishing an ongoing series that is meant to assess & provide a recommendation or two as Rangers have publicly embarked on their five year plan.

Part Two:  The Southampton Way

Ben Gammon  who covers Southampton for the blog – Go Marching In analyzes Southampton’s five year plan which brought the club back from administration & relegation to the third tier of English football, to the club’s glorious return to the English Premier League where the club now finds itself among the elite clubs in the nation.   Read the previous post on The Southampton Way for more context on their success story.

Note – as a Rangers supporter there is much to emulate in how Southampton has succeeded.  There are similarities in the clubs’ approaches, but there are instances in which Rangers could commit more to certain ethos that have worked for the Saints

Written by – Ben Gammon

Recovering from Administration

The biggest financial difference coming out of administration owned by Markus Liebherr was that all of a sudden Southampton had no financial worries. The debt had been wiped clean.

Despite having just left administration we began spending again – a move which some fans questioned. Should Southampton be spending these large sums when the club came so close to being wound up just a few months previously?

Luckily for us the money for those transfers wasn’t coming out of the club’s pocket, it was coming out of Markus Liebherr’s. Southampton instead made the most of their larger fan base and stadium (by League One and some Championship club standards) by making sure their wage bill was covered by gate receipts. In that respect the club was self sufficient.

The Rebuilding Begins

Alan Pardew didn’t waste much time signing players. In total he signed 13, the majority of which were free and two were loans. Southampton certainly splashed the cash by League One standards, paying £1 million for the goalscoring prowess of Rickie Lambert and £1.2 million for the services of centre back Jose Fonte – a move which saw him drop down a league. Money well spent considering those two players are the only two out of those initial 13 signings to still feature in the Saints first team.

Alan Pardew & Rickie Lambert

Whilst Pardew wasn’t at the club long enough to secure a promotion, he certainly got the ball rolling in the right direction. The key was experience. In Lambert he had a proven goalscorer at League One level and in Fonte, Dean Hammond, Rahdi Jaidi, Graeme Murty, Dan Harding, David Connolly and Jason Puncheon, he had players who had played at a higher level than the third tier of English football.

Dan Harding

Whilst a few of those players were enjoying the twilight of their careers, their proven ability to play at a higher level meant that when promotion from League One was achieved by Nigel Adkins a season later, Southampton only had to add to their already Championship squad; which helped keep that winning momentum and mentality going.

Changes in Management?  The Southampton Way Prevails

Both the managers since Pardew have had a willingness to play youth – understandably so, with the resources available at Southampton’s disposal. The club adopted the slogan, ‘The Southampton Way’ and began striving for excellence in every department.

Adam Lallana

The youth teams emulate the tactics of the first team, so as players progress through the age groups and (hopefully) break into the first team, they are completely comfortable with the system they are expected to play.

Heavy investment in Southampton’s training facilities has seen around £30 million spent in redevelopment. The academy is structured in such a way that the age groups are kept seperate, however each age group can see the one above it, where they train and eat etc. The aim is to install the mentality of always wanting to better yourself.

Part of the redevelopment money has gone towards installing new artificial pitches. Currently, five different types of artificial grass are in use in the Premier League. So in the build up to Southampton playing away, the first team can practice on the specific type of surface they will be playing on.

Southampton’s Prestigous Youth Academy

Southampton benefit from being the only Premier League team south of London – that’s a massive catchment area. That’s obviously not the only reason, but now that the Saints are back in England’s top division their track record of providing a path through to the first team for youngsters who are good enough is only going to enhance the reputation of their academy.

Harrison Reed

As for recent successes being linked to their youth policy, I believe they’re only just getting started. Each youth player that makes it to the first team feels like a new signing for the fans and there’s something very satisfying about developing your own talent.

Lessons Learned

One thing Southampton fans have learnt from Nicola Cortese’s time as chairman of the club is that you cannot get emotionally attached to players or staff. Nigel Adkins will always be held in high regard by Saints fans for his role in our rapid rise back to the Premier League, but in the coldest business terms he was appointed for a purpose.

Nigel Adkins

As manager of Scunthorpe, he achieved promotion from League One twice – he knew what was needed to get out of that league and Cortese hired him to do it for Southampton. Once he had done it, Adkins (a victim of his own success) was replaced by a man who Cortese believed would then take Saints to the next level. It’s a cold way to run a club and not many people liked it, but it certainly was effective (this time).

Finally, I mentioned before how planning ahead can pay dividends when buying players. Don’t just buy players who can compete at your current level but ones who can do it at the next level too. Unless your team is promoted via the play-offs the chances are that you’ve spent most of the season near the top of the league and winning a large amount of games in the process.

Jose Fonte

After gaining promotion from League One it felt like Southampton had forgotten how to lose – in the Championship they never dropped out of the top two all season. Of course new players were brought in over the summer, but not enough to disrupt the harmony and winning mentality of the current crop.

The only downside for Southampton came from their own success. Spending only one season in the Championship meant we didn’t have enough time to develop and fill the squad with enough players for the next level – and we did struggle during that first season back in the Premier League.

We were back though. We had to fight for our lives but we were back. That’s all that mattered. Best of luck to Rangers and getting back to the top as quickly as possible!

You can read more of Ben Gammon’s coverage of the Saints at Go Marching In & you can follow him on Twitter. 

  • Now the question is – What can Rangers learn from the success of Southampton’s Five Year Plan?
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