12/02/2017: Fonte out Gabbiadini in
Jose Fonte's Southampton departure was sad on a number of levels. The Portuguese was the last real link from our rise up the leagues and a key component of recent Premier League success. Les Reed launched his usual PR offensive in the weeks prior to the transfer, attempting to shift the blame on Fonte and withdrawing him from the squad. Saints have often been accused of prioritising profit over on pitch success over recent years, and it's difficult to argue that was the motivating factor behind this move. At 33, Fonte would not likely have commanded a fee as steep as £8 million in the summer with his contract winding down. Bringing in all that money isn't much good though if you end of worse as a result though, which Saints certainly have. Reed and the other bigwigs at the club are usually eager to point out that they already know which players they'll have through the door before the current ones leave, so to not have a replacement lined up before Fonte went was unforgivable.
The club were probably banking on Virgil van Dijk and Maya Yoshida remaining fit for the rest of the campaign, but that was always going to be a massive gamble, as it has proven to be. It brings back memories of our 2004/05 relegation campaign, when Michael Svensson was already facing a lengthy layoff and then Fitz Hall was sold to Crystal Palace. Even then Saints managed to scramble a replacement at the last minute -- albeit the dreadful Andreas Jakobsson. Fonte was obviously a lot more important than Hall was in 2004. His leadership skills may be missed just as much as his defensive abilities. Saints' inability to see out games this season and the lack of real characters within the dressing room might well be linked. We've lost a number of big personalities over recent years, with Fonte being one of the few left who did so much to help players settle on and off the pitch. Jack Stephens did brilliantly at Anfield and fairly well against Sunderland, but looked out of his depth in matches with Arsenal and West Ham. Martin Caceres looks to be on his way in, and is probably the best option at this stage of the game, but for all his undoubted pedigree he still probably isn't an upgrade on Fonte given his fitness record. Cup finals don't come along often and Reed and the rest of the transfer committee should have given the team the best possible chance of lifting the trophy on February 26th, but cashing in was deemed more important.
On a more positive note Manolo Gabbiadini has made a flying start, with three goals in his first two games. Aside from his obvious finishing ability Gabbiadini has displayed inventiveness and deftness with his feet previous lacking in that area of the pitch. His transfer from Napoli came five months later than it should have done. It's puzzling how the club thought the trio of Charlie Austin, Jay Rodriguez and Shane Long would provide us with the goals needed to sustain the kind of standards set over the previous few years. Austin gets lauded for having a reasonable goal scoring record, but take away the penalties and it's not so impressive. As an all-round player he is extremely limited, with his technical deficiencies very much evident in games against the big sides. Rodriguez has looked better than he did last season, with intermittent bursts of brilliance, but has struggled for consistency and fitness. There's nothing to suggest he'll be able to get back to the level he was at pre Man City injury. Long has shown recently that he still has value as an impact player, but he is prone to going long stretches without doing anything useful. Ideally at least two of them will be binned off next season, with another forward coming in to support Gabbiadini.