After finishing last season in 8th place in England’s Premier League the Southamampton Saints promptly sold their Captain, leading scorer, best defender, and most talented young players. When you do things like that people laugh at you.
And lots of people did. Most people figured it was a cash grab for a team that had peaked at 8th place. In fact most pundits had Southampton slotted for relegation before this season started based on the players they sold and the players that they purchased with those funds. But as the table stands today, Southampton are in second place. And not only are the Saints in second place, they’ve only conceded five goals this season and have a goal differential of +18. They’re essentially the best team in England not named Chelsea.
The soccer world is very similar to the world of American sports in that the teams that spend the most money usually do well. There are exceptions of course, Manchester United spend 150 million pounds this summer and are currently 7th, exactly where they were when the season ended. Real Madrid routinely spends about a 100 million dollars every summer, mostly just to keep their squad performing at the same level it always does. But in general, 50 to 100 million spent should translate to 5 to 10 places in the standings.
Southampton’s sales netted them just over 90 million pounds. With that 90 million they spent just over half of it on 6 replacement players. Whereas teams like Liverpool and Manchester United splashed out countless millions on big name players who ultimately didn’t add much to their squad Southampton added a series of players that they spent around 10 million each on that have improved what was thought to be an already overachieving squad. The Southampton scouts plucked Dusan Tadic from the Dutch league for 11 million, he is currently the second rated midfielder in the entire league. The Saints bought Graziano Pelle, also from the Dutch league, and turned him from a relative unknown to a striker with 6 league goals and now an Italian national team call up to show for his early season.
This should not be happening. A team shouldn’t be able to sell all of their best players and replace them with players at a fraction of the cost and improve their team tremendously. The LA Dodgers wouldn’t be able to sell half of their team and replace them with AA players and then somehow make it to the World Series next year. That’s not how it’s supposed to work. But if any team knows what a good player looks like before everyone else, it’s Southampton. Gareth Bale, Theo Wolcott, and Wayne Rooney are all former products of the Southampton youth system. Southampton are proving time and again that they players they purchase, even the kids, are likely very good players.
Going forward, the sad fact of life in the modern world is that Southampton will likely fade back toward the middle of the pack as the big spenders make their move upward. Sadder still is the fact that if Tadic and Pelle continue to play at their current levels Southampton will probably sell them next summer. And while the owner and shareholders will see a hefty return on their investments the fans will be left to wonder what type of team they’d have if the best players were retained and the clubs profits were reduced.