The top of the Premier League currently has a familiar look to it, until you see sixth position – Southampton!! Hang on a second, weren’t they in League One – the Third Division - not so long ago? The last time they occupied a league place so high, World Cup Winner Alan Ball played for them in the final throws of his illustrious career, Britain had won the Eurovision Song Contest with Bucks Fizz, and Prince Charles had just gotten married for the first time. Sir Alex Ferguson was establishing his managerial credentials at Aberdeen, Stevie Gerrard had just been potty-trained and I was developing an early teenage crush on my hour-glass figure, patent heel wearing English teacher. A lifetime ago, really.
To be fair, most seasons at around this point one team no-one expects to be sitting in the Champions League / Europa League qualification positions suddenly appears from nowhere. In the past, West Bromwich Albion, Blackpool and Wigan Athletic have temporarily sat near the top of the tree before parity has been restored. Maybe that’s what Southampton are passing through at the moment, the mother of all purple patches. But to the supporter of a very fashionable club, one of the game’s under-dogs, I adore this. It would be fantastic if the Saints could continue this form, and surprise all those who doubt them, it’ll give so many other clubs hope. They will then believe they too can challenge – and be equal – to the biggest sides in the land.
We all love to see someone or something relatively insignificant achieve the previously unthinkable. Our own F.A Cup is littered with such tales of giant killing, all very romantic and pull at the heart strings. We love to see same type of happenings in real life too – my particular favourite being model and TV presenter Melanie Sykes and her husband Jack Cockings. The fellow messaged the rather attractive celebrity on an internet social media site, and amazingly received not just a reply, but a conversation that evolved into a meeting up – the rest, as they say is history. Going by this rationale, and if I was single, I’d probably have been served with a restraining order by Nicole Scherzinger’s solicitor anytime now.
The one thing that does concern me about Southampton’s current success, is the big clubs will come sniffing, snooping and prying into why they are having this sudden good form. Any of their players which appear useful, will be touted and cossetted – Ricky Lambert in particular. Being the big fish in a small pond, he’s the star attraction at St Mary’s, and if selected to travel to next summer’s World Cup, he will become even more desirable.
Then there is the manager, Argentine Mauricio Pochettino. Owners of other clubs will see him as the architect and magician of Southampton’s situation, and the longer it continues, the more he will be observed with envious eyes. There is very little loyalty within the game today, and with a player’s career barely spanning two decades, who can blame them for moving to Anfield or White Hart Lane. Even though I’m a life-long Coventry fan, if I was on their books and suddenly a certain Portuguese based on the Kings Road was interested in my services, I’d have to sit down and think long and hard about remaining Sky Blue, or face missing a potential once in a lifetime opportunity. Same can be said for a manager. Who wouldn’t want to try their luck at the helm at Eastlands or the Emirates. Much larger budget, prospect of European football, huge fan base – it’s a no brainer, isn’t it? True, the grass isn’t always greener and all that – there are numerous tales of failures who have found the leap into a bigger pool way too much for their skill and capabilities. But there are those that have grown and blossomed, fulfilling their potential and become a true legend. Which will they become?
And that in essence is the crux of the matter. It will be very rare indeed to see any club repeat what Blackburn Rovers did in 1995, as the larger clubs strive to maintain their continuity as the game’s powerhouses. Why do you think Real Madrid are eternally linked to every highly talented player and manager the world over? So until Lambert and Pochettino are prised away from the Hampshire coast, let’s enjoy having a ‘minnow’ near the top of the pile. After all, it might not last very long, and if it does, standby for someone else waving their cheque book after their signature.