Southampton FC: The Blueprint More Clubs Should Be Following


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.


    • St Mary’s opened a long time before the adminstration happened bud. We managed to get into an FA cup final and europe, get relegated (being the key), chase and qualify for playoffs in championship, and then finaly get relegated again… The stadium was cheap in that time. Circa £30m for 32,000 seats… Compare that to moden prices.

  1. The technical director providing continuity within the setup is one that’s been employed on the continent for decades, it’s also one that clubs like West Brom implemented years ago. If applied correctly it can be very successful but, as with any system, it can spectacularly backfire if the recruitment is not as it should be.

    For Les Reed, read West Brom’s Dan Ashworth. He was poached by the FA in the aftermath of the Roy Hodgson appointment. Albion never replaced his expertise and when the departing Romelu Lukaku, Peter Odemwingie and Shane Long (to name but three) were replaced by an ageing Nicolas Anelka, Victor Anichebe and Matej Vydra, performances inveitably suffered; no system is entirely foolproof.

    One aspect of Southampton’s rise to prominence that the author has conviently overlooked is the significant financial leg-up the owners have provided it with – as of June 2014, Katharina Liebherr had written off £38m in personal loans to Southampton football club and her current existing loans amounted to £34.7m. Southampton’s blueprint is an example to clubs in many ways – the tremendous youth system for example – but not many of the other 91 clubs have a £72m donor sitting around.

    I’d argue that clubs such as West Brom and Swansea are far more a blueprint for those that cannot afford to spend beyond their means.

  2. While much of that makes sense and I would never criticise the way Southampton have things much of the argument is applying logic after the event to a spell of undoubted success which only time will tell is actually structurally significant at least in the way you present it. Similar logic has been applied to various countries national team performance only for it to be replaced by the next one to have a successful spell, we went from Holland, Italy to France, to Spain to Germany and repeat to try to prove such structural and statistical superiority sometimes this obscures the obvious or a system that best suits each individual case in some search for the ultimate code of success. Some of what you said about individual player analysis, while no doubt more sophisticated, reminded me of the approach of Sam Allardyce who has loved such analysis for years yet this is the man most would say is a dinosaur in everything from player development to team tactics. So yes not a bad guide for other teams but don’t lets jump on the imaginary band waggon that they have found the long term secret of success for everyone.
    For one thing they have a massive catchment area to find young talent that is almost unique in the premiership and that has been along with the resources put in by the owners to create the base for their success both using that talent and then making money from them to reuse to replace them. On that scale they have fine a superb job but that is not something most others can easily replicate.

    • But using analysis to identify where the most likely places the ball will fall and positioning players there (Allardyce) is not the same as using analytics to identify a method of play, and then identifying the key characteristics of players you hav, and how they others might be fitted to your system years in advance of needing to buy them.

      The loans of Bertrand (and now Caulker) show that short term form loss isn’t important in recruitment, and if players have the key capabilities they should be acquired, preferably at the lowest cost possible – which is great for Saints as they keep picking up out of favour or underappreciated players and moving them on at a profit.

      Many Saints fans still can’t work out why we paid so much for Long, but he makes a difference when he comes on more often than not.

      Its right to say it isn’t the long term model for everyone, and the more sides that adopt it or something near it, the tougher it gets for Saints to excel doing the same thing, so I say, let them have their own models…

  3. I tried to comment on this earlier but my submission disappeared.

    Much of Europe adopted the technical director approach to promote continuity in terms of recruitment and style many years ago. More recently, in England, teams like West Brom adopted it with some success until the loss of key figures, such as Dan Ashworth who was poached by the FA. Essentially, like all forumlas, it’s not infallable if you don’t have the right people in the right positions.

    Most significantly, I think the author has chosen to omit – or may be unaware – that Southampton Football Club has been the beneficiary of loans to the tune of £74m from its owner Katharina Liebherr, much of which has been written off. Whilst there is a lot impressive about Southampton’s progress in recent years e.g. the quality of youth players produced, it’s difficult to laud it as a blueprint as the majority of the other 91 clubs don’t have a wealthy owner willing to subsidise them and/or loan the club funds at a competitive rate of interest.

    Swansea and West Brom are better examples, financially, of how a club should operate within its means.

  4. I fully respect Southampton as a team and as an institution, but I fail to understand exactly why, since the club is making such obvious progress, most if not all of their star players seem to have jumped ship. Academy products like Calum Chambers, a quality player who has struggled to get into Arsenal’s first team, modern day superstars like Bale or Walcott, solid performers like Clyne or Schneiderlin; imagine if they had stayed, what a team Southampton would be now.
    Atletico Madrid is a prime example of the “Southampton Conundrum”. Fernando Torres, Sergio Aguero, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa…the list goes on and on. Chelsea even had the cheek to inquire after Antoine Griezmann this summer! Atletico are a top team, they won La Liga and reached the Champions League final, yet they are still being plundered the same way Southampton are.

    (Note: All of those mentioned were bought by Premier League clubs)

  5. Interestingly, due to the misnamed ‘fair play’ rules (read protect the ‘big’ teams rules) whilst Southampton have one of the richest owners in the league, she is constrained from injecting vast sums to support excessive wages even if she wanted to. The total salary cap Southampton are forced to operate under makes thei performance all the more impressive, particularly compared to those ‘bigger’ teams. So in one way the FPP has encouraged them to develop this system, shame all teams are not subject to an overall salary cap so it is much closer to a level playing field. Then the Rodgers and Van Gaals of the world would really be found out and the chosen one might not be so fortunate.

  6. I like the article and it points to some factors which seem hard to dispute. I like Spyinthesky’s examination too.

    I do struggle though to see Koeman as being the same fit for the role that the Club thought Pochettino was. Then going one step back, the same problem seems to exist in Pochettino as the fit for Adkins. I assume you are not saying that they have the same style, so what is your reasoning? – I hope it’s not so simple as they all are flexible and give youth a chance.

  7. This article fails to appreciate the real reason behind SFC success. Which mainly is down to having a billionaire owner, who gambled by spending between £100m-£150m getting them from League 1 to the PL. Spending an eye-watering amount of money in league 1 on transfers and wages and example being SFC youth team costing more to run than the majority of clubs budgets in L1. Also it praises their youth setup, which flourished whilst they were in league 1 and at the lower end of the spectrum in the PL, but what you have seen in the last couple of season is SFC sell their British talent and replace it with high paid foreign players. 2012-13 Only 2 out of 10 players signed were english, 2013-14 £40m spent on 3 foriegn players, no english players, 2014-15 2 out of 7, with 6 english players sold. This season 1 of 6. Only 4 out of SFC squad of 25 are english, and only 2 of them came through SFC youth setup, compared to 10 out of 20 in their 1st season back in the PL, and 14 out of 18 main players used in league1. To to make it out as some mastery blue print for other clubs to follow is laughable, give any medium size club a billionaire owner and £100m budget, and you’re likely see the same result. Also being part of the Sky franchise now helps as you get £100m for turning up, which will soon rise to £150m. But some romantic notion about being how clubs should be run is wrong, West Brom or Swansea should be the blue print, but even they have spent serious money getting to where they are. Football has long gone past being about what you do on the pitch, and more about how much your owner can spend.

    • We might of spent more than all clubs in league 1 but we were the biggest team there so why shouldnt we? And we did not 100-150m it was more like 30m and alot of that was on the training ground..Get your facts right

  8. @Warren Aug 1, 2015 at 4:01 pm – below

    Warren, Southampton’s net spend to the prem under Adkins was circa 3million.

    All debts were paid off when Marcus bought the club, unlike our neighbours down the road. We also sold many youth players like Bale, Theo, Surman, McGoldrick, Dyer and Blackstock to cover costs.

    The signings of players like Lambert, Fonte etc were covered by the sale of Oxlade Chamberlain, a player who was here long before our wealthy benefactors gave us an unfair advantage as you call it.

    The owners have given us great financing in enabling the academy to grow to its full potential with state of the art facilities and coaching, not buy signing Manchester city style players. That spending is completely allowed under financial fair play and in fact should be encouraged as it is to the benefit of English football.

    As for your “loans” as you describe…. look at what the club is doing in the transfer market. Net profits last year and this year with money being used to pay off these loans, as well as the 6th smallest wage structure in the league under Poch’s 8th placed finish – with most top players/earners off loaded following this.

    Not to mention the last 2 years of record tv deals that have been banked. The club is being run sustainably.

    Warren’s post-
    “Most significantly, I think the author has chosen to omit – or may be unaware – that Southampton Football Club has been the beneficiary of loans to the tune of £74m from its owner Katharina Liebherr, much of which has been written off. Whilst there is a lot impressive about Southampton’s progress in recent years e.g. the quality of youth players produced, it’s difficult to laud it as a blueprint as the majority of the other 91 clubs don’t have a wealthy owner willing to subsidise them and/or loan the club funds at a competitive rate of interest.
    Swansea and West Brom are better examples, financially, of how a club should operate within its means.”

  9. @ Reality

    Southampton beat Everton 3-0 last season with 7 u21 academy graduates in the squad… So lol, what did happen to our failing youth development. Bit ignorant are you? I think so – looks to me that you know less than nothing about Southampton fc and the number of players we continue to give debuts to each year (hint it continues to grow!)

    Also, net spend under Adkins was circa 3million from league 1 to premier league….

    What is wrong with an owner investing in the academy and training/youth facilities to support natural growth and allow it to reach its potential? You despise teams that invest in big name players and financial doping in that manner~? But you also slam one of the leading lights in english football for youth development?

    You aren’t a jealous fan from a rival club are you? I wonder? As do most who read this I suspect 😉

  10. The biggest financial investment the liebherr family put into the club, after buying the club from administration has been rebuilding the training facility at Marchwood.
    They set about on a five year plan to reach the EPL, the so called big spending in league 1 was part of this plan i.e Ricky Lambert £1m from Bristol £4m to Liverpool, I forget what Saints paid for Clyne, but the books have been more than balenced.
    There are new players now in the squad from the academy which would have been long term replacements for the players sold last year. However when a large chunk of the squad goes at once, experience has to be bought in. There are lots of English players that would fit the system however their prices don’t.

    Pochetino style was an improved version of Adkins style, Koeman’s style is similar to Pochetino’s but improved in defence.

    It is hard for clubs to keep player’s that “I have always wanted to play Champions league/win silverware” in a very uneven playing field. Southampton know this and have a plan b waiting. The so called big clubs buy the best talent from around them and park them on the bench as they are better there on bigger wages than on the field playing against them.

  11. Ask an adult to explain this to you. Credit Check of the maze that is southampton fc company structure.

    Currently SFC have liabilities of £100m, this doesn’t take into account players contract liabilities, it also doesn’t include the writing down of debt to your owner. Your owner has continuously written of/loan large sums of money. SFC without major additional investment would never have been able to pay a wage bill of £20m in league 1, or an academy that cost £3m a year at the time to operate, or spent 7 figure sums in league 1, even if you had sold out each game, which you didn’t averaging just 20k. When you dissect the rise of SFC it is all down to major money or financial doping as it should be called. The likely hood would be you’d be like Sheff Utd or Leeds at best, two clubs which are far larger than you.

    Basically Saints are the wigan of the south.

    • Dated for first half of 2014…. With a current asset wealth of £50m – yet we have sold over £100m in the 12 months since this date, own a 32,000 seat stadium, and a £60m training ground….

      Seriously go figure our your own reports. Can we have the pompey one please ^_^

    • The financial numbers provided on the company check link appear to be a distortion of the club’s actual financials–at least as interpreted by you.

      Most significantly, the current liabilities does include player salaries that are owed over the next year. (Or rather, were owed in the past year since there are the 2014 numbers.) I believe that about 30 million pounds of the current liabilities were already paid off.

      The club’s tangible assets were valued at 86.7 million pounds so the net worth of the club is not negative 9.2 million pounds but positive 31.8 million pounds.

      Of course, even using the company check numbers at face value, they show the net worth of the club improved by 36 million pounds in one year.

  12. For a fair perspective could you post all current EPL clubs ( 2015/16) financial statements as a comparison.

      • Why are they more deserving? West Brom fans have nothing to cheer for. They’re dream is to make up the numbers in the prem every year. A meaningless existence in many ways. Southampton have found a way to sustainably push on and really challenge the establish top 6… Swansea are a layer slightly below this and are very very similar to saints without the academy to emerge from the lower leagues with the same momentum and core of players…

        Ironic really that you champion a club whom two of their key people over the years were saints academy graduates.

  13. Dude, I loved the article and your evident admiration for a very well-run club. Decent content and a good style. However, I really feel a need to point out your use of grammar and often blatantly incorrect use of punctuation. You may possess a “flair for expression”, but I feel like the “expression” part could be done a bit better. I know it might not quite be my place to say so, but I felt I had to point it out!

  14. As a Saints fan myself (I’m 14 and have had a season ticket since i was 4) i love to hear other people talk about the way we run our club. Staplewood is one of the keys to our success, with a cinema based room where all of the players can sit and analyse the last match to the room where players are analysed from clubs all around the world.
    Another key to our success started in 2009 when we went into administration and as you probably know Marcus Liebherr saved us from going into liquidation. We then started the season with -10 for going into administration, this was a tough time for all people associated with the club professionally or on a fan base. Liebherr watched us win the Johnstones Paint Trophy and helped us get back on the road to recovery until his death.
    Through all our tough times Pompey laughed at us, but then it turned for them and now we’re in The premier leaugue and in the Europa league and where are they?
    League 2


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