Southampton football club are a case study for all Premier League teams on how a club should be run. The fluidity between the clubs hierarchy from top to bottom is something that all their peers should be looking to replicate. It is a system that flies in the face of the conventional, old school and accepted practices of a football club, but with the game continuing to evolve at a rapid pace it seems that Southampton are the premier league club that is ahead of the curve.
When I read up on how Les Reed does his job as Southampton’s football director, I had vivid images of Brad Pitt’s performance in the film ‘Moneyball’. It depicted a man who turned the game of baseball on its head by ditching the old tried and tested methods of player scouting by relying purely on analytics. Only look at the players hard statistics. What Southampton seem to have done is take that idea and nurture it into a methodology that fits the needs of the modern football club. In the simplest terms, they have turned their job of making Southampton a successful team almost into a Football Manager save. But, Les Reed and Co. are not playing just any game.
To Southampton their training ground ‘Staplewood’ isn’t a training ground to them, it’s a campus. A campus where they leave nothing to chance as they analyse player performance across all age groups at the club, use their own formula to rate desirable attributes in players they scout so as to find the best players to fit the football philosophy the club wants the first team to display on match days. Every pitch on “the campus” is videoed and recorded and beamed back to one room where their team of scouts and coaches analyse every performance by players throughout the club leaving no stone unturned. Seems like a fairly obvious strategy doesn’t it? If you have the financial capabilities why aren’t more clubs implementing such a system?
What I found most impressive about the whole set up was how the club has looked ahead. How many times have you seen a club lose its best player(s) and then proceed to spend a full summer stumbling about chasing an able replacement only to ultimately fail or panic buy to save face *cough Liverpool cough*? Alternatively, have you noticed how Southampton’s power structure has seem unperturbed in the past few summers when their biggest players have been poached by big clubs? Last season they were labelled relegation candidates after losing; their manager, their striker, their playmaker and their centre half yet they ended up an even better team than the season before. How does that work? It works because Southampton have prepared for that inevitable scenario where you lose your best players to a club of a larger stature. Southampton have an accepted formula of how their team should play which is not dependent on who is manager of the club. This means that they can shortlist players they deem the most capable of replacing players within their current squad. When Morgan Schneiderlin signed Man United this summer, what did Southampton do? They signed Jordy Clasie from Feyenoord to replace him within days. When Nathaniel Clyne left for Liverpool Southampton swiftly brought in Cedric Soares. No fuss, no panic stations they got the business done. What a groundbreaking idea right? Knowing who you would replace players in your squad with should they leave? No, it’s surely the way every club should be operating.
This approach applies right into who is brought in to manage the first team. It wasn’t by chance that a relatively obscure manager like Pochettino was charged with replacing a fan favourite in Nigel Adkins. Les Reed and his team would have scouted him well in advance as the man fitted with the ability to take the club forward and buying in to their club ethos. The same applies to Ronald Koeman. They aren’t looking for the biggest name with the best track record, they are looking for the man who most fits their scientifically formulated criteria for what they need at the club. They even know who is best to replace Ronald Koeman should the Dutchman eventually leave the club, it leads to a fluid transition from manager departures and player transfer with the minimal amount of disruption to the clubs performance.
A major part of this system is that everyone buys into. It means that Les Reed, as the clubs football director, has final say on how the club is run. That means a manger needs to be willing to answer to him and the club has no place for; the egos of managers or old-school type chairmans who want final say on how their club plays. That doesn’t mean that Les Reed picks the starting 11 on match day but rather that he creates the blueprint for each component to most easily function within their role. Again, this flies in the face of the somewhat archaic or traditional methods of running a club, but doesn’t it seem like it’s working quite well to date?
This system will not be without its flaws, as most will argue there is still a human element to sport that cannot be calculated on a computer with a formula. Player performances on the day, emotional reactions to situations etc. But, it seems to streamline the whole process making decisions and actions within he club as hassle free as possible. Reliance on analytics and statistics for attributes you deem the most important for a player to possess is open to error. It seems like someone trying to come up with a code that basically equals footballing success. Southampton will be constantly updating and making modifications to that code to continue the clubs growth. They are in no rush. How many teams have we seen have a good season and then attempt to reach for the stars too early and end up inevitably falling back. Southampton are a club that have built themselves back to prominence amongst English footballs elite. We talk about adopting the German system all the time in how they run their teams, yet we seem to ignore a story like Southampton which has taken place right in front of our eyes.
It is obviously a philosophy that has taken years to implement and perfect, perhaps they haven’t even perfected it yet, but to me it is one that more teams should be implementing. The obvious success that Southampton have achieved from their lowly days in league one to Europa League qualifiers now must be something that interests clubs all over England. I don’t know if Southampton have crackedt he code on how football clubs should be run, however the majority of what they do seems like the obvious approach most teams should take. What I do know is that Southampton are marching through each summer with little panic or fuss and it leads me to believe that their recent success will continue without suffering from any delusions of grandeur. They are a club who know where they are and, more importantly, know where they want to go.