31/01/2016: January 2016 Round-Up
The big news this month was the arrival of Charlie Austin. The club did really well to keep the deal under wraps until it was as good as done. £4 million is nothing for a striker who isn't really supply dependent. Austin only has only one season of Premier League experience, but in that campaign he scored 18 goals for a dreadful QPR side. His arrival has been well received by fans, partly because they are so familiar with him due to his previous exploits against Saints. We were rumoured to be after him all the way back in 2010. I remember Nicola Cortese bemoaned the fact that our scouts missed him before he made it big with Swindon. It's tough to make a judgement in such a short period of time, but Austin's cameo at Man United was impressive. He looked to have a real presence about him and was noticeably strong in the air, not just for the goal. Even if it doesn't work out, Saints will almost certainly be able to sell him for more than they bought him for.
There has been talk in the press that Graziano Pelle could leave the club in the summer. A couple of reports have suggested that the player is stalling on a contract offer, with Juventus supposedly expressing an interest. Pelle is in a similar position his predecessor Rickie Lambert was in two years ago. Both players have a similar goalscoring record in the Premier League, although Lambert was afforded a lot more patience during his barren runs. While obviously not deserving of the same legendary status as Lambert, Pelle has made a worthy contribution to the cause over the last 18 months. He was probably our best player during the first three months of this season. His lack of goals in recent months probably says more about the supply he's received than his own shortcomings. You certainly wouldn't begrudge him one final shot with a big Italian club, and given that he turns 31 in July you could argue that it's the right time for Saints to sell. From a purely sentimental point of view I would be sad to see Pelle go. He always comes across as a really likeable guy and his form during the first few months of 2014/15 led to some unforgettable moments for the club and that shouldn't be forgotten. From a footballing perspective I think he still has something to offer, but he is far from irreplaceable.
Victor Wanyama has performed well in the two games he's played since suspension. It's difficult to know where to stand with the Kenyan this season. A lot of the criticism he's received has been fair. Trying to force a move so late in the transfer window was never going work, and going about it in such an unprofessional manner did him no favours. Wanyama still maintains reasonable support at games. He's had his name sung plenty of times since his August tantrum, although with a lot less frequency in recent weeks. He'll probably never get that incredible Arnhem support again, but that's partly his own fault. Wanyama's performances haven't always been up to scratch this season, but I would still be happy if we managed to convince him to sign a new contract. I think the extent of his form has been exaggerated because he wants out. There aren't too many players better at breaking up play, and I think we'd struggle to find someone better to replace him. Odds are he'll leave in the summer. I'd be amazed if he signed a new contract during the current season, as suggested in some reports.
The biggest shock of the month was Steven Caulker's move to Liverpool. Even when nearly every major news outlet ran with the story I didn't believe it could possibly be true. While you should never judge a player based on one game, Caulker's performance against Liverpool in the League Cup in December was so bad that you would have thought he would be blacklisted from their shortlist forever. So far he's only been used as a very late substitute, often as an emergency striker, so his defensive frailties haven't really been exposed. Here's hoping we get to see him in a dream partnership with Dejan Lovren at least once, preferably on 19th March when Pool visit St Mary's.
The recent form of James Ward-Prowse and Matt Targett has been most pleasing. Ward-Prowse divides opinion somewhat, but I firmly believe he has the talent to reach the very top. He hasn't progressed as quickly as his former academy teammate Luke Shaw, but nevertheless has been making steady strides over recent months. Ward-Prowse's delivery from open play and set pieces is second to none. His intelligence and energy is always impressive. His free-kick goal against West Brom was long overdue. You sense once he masters the art of goalscoring he will really begin to capture the attention of the rest of the country.
I have bemoaned Koeman for not giving the youngsters a fair shake this season, so it was nice to see Targett repay the faith the Dutchman has shown in him in recent weeks. Targett had a poor start to the season, and when Ryan Bertrand returned to fitness it looked as if his first team opportunities would be over for this season at least. He was given a chance against Palace in the cup, where he was ok, but his three league showings since have been more encouraging. Playing in the slightly more advanced wing-back role, Targett has shown good attacking qualities. His crossing against Watford was particularly impressive. At Old Trafford he sometimes seemed a bit reluctant to take on his man, but overall he still held his own. Defensively he looks a lot more assured now that he's got more support in the new system. Targett was never the second coming of Luke Shaw as some bizarrely claimed a few years ago, but he has the potential to be a solid Premier League performer for years to come.
Sadio Mane really needs a goal right now, but his general play has been fairly good. The incident at Norwich was a bit of a strange one. Matt Le Tissier - who had presumably been filled in by Ralph Krueger - said Mane had been hard done by after turning up to the team meeting at the original scheduled time. Le Tissier said the meeting had been rearranged, but Mane hadn't got the message. Who knows what the real story is, but I'm not sure the decision to drop Mane was for the betterment of the team. Saints were already stretched as it was. Koeman probably shouldn't have gone public with it either. If he felt he absolutely had to drop him he could have done so, but told the press he had a knock. Scalding him in public made him look petty and fuelled speculation about Mane going. I do like Koeman's honesty most of the time, but some things are better kept in house.
Gaston Ramirez's Southampton career effectively came to an end this week, with the Uruguayan moving to Middlesbrough until his contract expires in the summer. Ramirez impressed in cameos at MK Dons and Liverpool earlier in the season, but barely featured after that. It's fair to say the buzz that greeted his August 2012 arrival hasn't been matched by his output on the pitch, but that's not all down to Ramirez to be fair. His first season was mostly good. In 2013/14 he was playing catch-up from day one, starting pre-season late after representing Uruguay in the Confederations Cup. After a difficult first-half of the season he had a good run as an impact sub, and looked set for a more prominent role in 2014/15 following the departure of Adam Lallana. Ramirez combined well with Dusan Tadic in pre-season, but was then inexplicably shipped off to Hull at the end of the window, with Saints already short on attacking creativity. It was clear very early on last summer that Ramriez was never going to get a fair run this season. It's kind of sad the club just decided to give up on him so quickly after investing so much time and money brining him over in the first place. Ramirez was genuinely one of the highest rated prospects around back in 2012. I'll never forget how he brilliantly orchestrated Saints' attack in his first home game against Aston Villa. To call him an outright flop as some have is ridiculous. He didn't do nearly as well as we hoped he would, but he still produced some special moments in a Saints shirt.