After Saturday’s grievous performance away at Newcastle, toxicity is beginning to creep in as fans’ feelings towards our club’s management boils over. Pellegrino’s post-match apologies have only added fuel to the fire as now more than ever, fans are calling for his dismissal. He claimed that the players “never represented the values of the club”, prioritising the need to react “as quick as we can”. Sounds like a broken record, right?
The side travel to the capital in just under three weeks’ time to play an equally damaged West Ham United, whose 0-3 home defeat to Burnley sparked uncontrollable protests against the board as well as several pitch invasions. With eight games remaining including trips to Arsenal and Leicester as well as hosting the current champions Chelsea, a loss would be detrimental to our hopes of staying up. Crystal Palace have a more winnable set of games and Stoke have a game in hand over us, albeit against top of the table Manchester City. BBC’s Match of the Day described our performance as “abysmal, shocking, borderline disgraceful” with former Tottenham and Newcastle midfielder Jermaine Jenas asking how on earth Mauricio Pellegrino was still in the job. An extract from The Guardian described us this season as “not a train wreck, not a spectacular failure, not a flamboyant calamity, just a bad, uninteresting football team”, and it really is difficult to disagree.
So where do we go from here?
For me, Pellegrino has to go. He either needs to walk away with his integrity still somewhat intact or the board need to wake up and sack him. While this wouldn’t be the be all and end all of our problems, it would be a definite sign of intent going into some of the most important games in our club’s history. We have just under three weeks until our next Premier League game with an FA Cup game against Wigan on Saturday. This is ample opportunity to relive Mauricio of his duties, appoint either a caretaker or full-time manager and take advantage of this break to bleed somebody new into the role. Whether that be somebody we’ve considered before like Marco Silva or Frank De Boer, or even a familiar face like Kelvin Davis seeing us through until the end of this campaign, things physically could not get worse with anybody else in charge… unless you’re West Brom of course.
A fresh face with fresh tactics would surely have a catalytic effect on our players, which when there’s no time to waste, is exactly what we need. Certain fans have been quick to judge the players, however it’s important not to undermine the psychological effect that an avaricious board and an incompetent manager can have on a team’s morale and ultimately, performance on the pitch. To me, there’s a clear difference between players who physically can’t perform at their optimal level due to external circumstances and players that have given up, and I think we’re talking more so the former than the latter with regards to our team. Of course, players have to take some responsibility, however I feel it’s unfair to put as much hones on them as on Pellegrino, the board, and the true problems that are poisoning the team we all love. This of course is not helped whatsoever by the inconsistencies surrounding Pellegrino’s managerial decisions throughout the season.
Take the Newcastle game as an example: Gabbiadini scored both goals in the reverse fixture, helping us secure a point in front of the home fans. What’s the logical thing to do? Bench him for Guido Carrillo of course. Pellegrino has spent much of the last few weeks praising Josh Sims for his recent performances. Ehh, let’s bench him for Dušan Tadić instead. Not only that – let’s bench Boufal as well, why not?
Albert Einstein once said “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” and all we have seen from Pellegrino this season has been a starting lineup only really altered by injuries or suspensions and then expecting players like Gabbiadini and Boufal to change the whole dynamic of the game in the limited time they spend on the pitch.
It’s absurd and absolutely crazy that Pellegrino is still employing these tactics 30 games into our season.
We’ve had a sub-par season followed by a disastrous season, but “the Southampton way” feels like it was decades ago. It’s beyond a joke how many players we’ve let go to other Premier League clubs, for better or for worse – especially to Liverpool. After a successful summer of keeping Van Dijk while simultaneously bolstering our back line and midfield, it seemed like we had genuinely turned a corner. It almost appeared as though we were making an effort to drop the “selling club” tag that had plagued us over recent seasons. But no. Behind the scenes, while we were content at the fact that we had gone a transfer window without a top six team putting a dagger through our hearts and snatching a first team player from us, Les Reed and co. were conjuring up plans of their own. We were waiting for Liverpool to throw enough money at us, and £75m was enough to shatter what integrity we had rebuilt over the course of the previous summer window.
Do we get rid of the board? Is that even possible at this moment?
Probably not. With regards to our survival, there isn’t much that this would affect in the short-term. As mentioned, we’ve got eight games to save our season and something has to change if we have any hope of retaining our Premier League status. This group of players could arguably compete with the Southampton squads that have finished 6th and 7th in the league before now; the quality is there to see. The amount of international representatives and accolades these players have competes with the biggest and best in the league. If anything, this goes to prove that good players simply cannot fight poor morale and get the results their club needs when it is so mismanaged behind the scenes, and that mismanagement leaks into individual development.
In summary, sack Pellegrino with immediate effect. We’re absolutely better than this, but we’re not too big to go down. Rivalries and banter aside, look what happened to Portsmouth. Destroyed from the ground up and they’ve only returned to League One this season, still feeling the effects eight years on. It may be too late to stop us going down, but we need to nip this in the bud before we too descend into chaos.
Perhaps this is cynicism; maybe this is realism. All I know is something needs to happen before it’s too late.