After a solid first season of this Football Manager Experiment, it’s safe to say the Southampton board got a little bit giddy at their new-found wealth. The board rewarded Alan Shearer for his 8th-place finish and Carabao Cup win with a whopping transfer budget that was effectively around £300 million.
That figure was boosted by selling off players who barely figured last season, including Nathan Redmond, Lyanco, Moussa Djenepo, Moi Elyounoussi, Ibrahima Diallo, Romain Perraud, Adam Armstrong, Theo Walcott and Alex McCarthy for around £50m. We also cashed in a mass of sell-on clauses for the likes of Luke Shaw, Virgil van Dijk and Sadio Mané for an extra £30m.
Probably the most exciting day in Southampton history arrived as the summer transfer window opened on 9 June 2022. That’s because the club splurged a massive £170 million on six new signings, three of which surpassed the previous £20m club-record signing of Danny Ings from Liverpool.
The biggest of those delivered on our focus on Serbian players as… I think you know where this is going… we snapped up Dusan Vlahovic for £63m from Fiorentina. Not far behind him were two massive wonderkids in Jamal Musiala and Ryan Gravenberch, who came in for £50m and £40m from Bayern and Ajax respectively. Another exciting attacking option was Julían Álvarez for £4.5m from River. While two players who are big personal favourites arrived in goalkeeper Emil Audero for £4.5m from Sampdoria and probably my favourite FM player of all time Daniel Braganca for £6m from Sporting.
Despite that massive spending, there was still £236m in the transfer kitty! Another £40m went on attacking midfielder Houssem Aouar. Then the outstanding position of need was filled by blowing £44.5m on Theo Hernández. A backup winger option saw Steven Bergwijn come in for £6m from Spurs before right-back Noussair Mazraoui came in on a free transfer from Ajax.
Some of the excess cash also went into youth, including two more personal favourite players. Winger Calvin Stengs came in for £10m from Nice, while Andreas Schjelderup arrived for £5m and will go on loan to earn a work permit and Ísak Bergmann Jóhanneson came in for £4.5m and joined Schjelderup at Kobenhavn on loan. And right-back Calvin Ramsay came in for £10m and went back to Aberdeen on loan.
That massive summer led to Southampton being the highest spending club in Europe, blowing £290 million. And it had the Southampton squad looking pretty much alien to that of 12 months ago:
Goalkeepers: Audero, Forster
Defenders: Walker-Peters, Masraoui; Milenkovic, Salisu, Rugani, Livramento; Hernández, Small
Midfielders: Ward-Prowse, Gravenberch, Braganca, Tolisso, Romeu
Attacking Mids: Musiala, Aouar, Almada, Stengs, Bergwijn, S Armstrong
Strikers: Vlahovic, Álvarez, Adams
Does the spending deliver progress?
Our first full season in charge of Southampton begin with tough asks. The opening day saw a draw at home to Liverpool before a 3-1 loss at Man UFC. But Vlahovic stepped up with a double plus a trademark James Ward-Prowse free-kick to down fellow moneybags Newcastle.
The opening half of the season saw mixed results, as a 1-0 win over Arsenal thanks to a JWP goal was countered by losing at home to Leeds, 3-0 at Everton and 4-1 at Villa. Nevertheless, Saints sat 7th heading into the Winter World Cup – with a bizarre-looking table that saw Everton, West Ham and Villa in 3rd, 4th and 5th! Impressively, Vlahovic was the joint-top scorer in the league, tied with Lukaku on 12.
Not much happened in January, other than signing Conor Gallagher for the same price as Stuart Armstrong was sold to Fulham and loaning in Fábio Silva and Amad Diallo for a bit of depth. But the players showed what they were capable of through January by beating struggling Chelsea and Spurs and thumping Newcastle 3-0 away led by a JWP double.
I holidayed ahead through the rest of the season, telling my assistant to play my tactics and it went pretty well! Stengs went on a mad goalscoring spree in March, with 7 goals in 4 games, then Audero starred with 14 saves in a 1-0 win at Arsenal, which pushed Saints into the top four in early April. They then lost at City but a run of easy games, including hammering Burnley 4-1 away, so Saints claim third place in early May.
A 2-1 win at Chelsea on the final day saw Saints finish level on points with 2nd-place Man City, but a huge 11 behind champions Liverpool. It’s safe to say the Serbian cash has instilled Saints as the nearest challenger to the big four in England and, with the right investment, they’re not too far off a title challenge.
They also reached the European Conference League Final, where they took on Krasnodar. And Saints lifted a second trophy of the Shearer era, hammering the Russians 6-1 with Vlahovic and Almada braces plus goals from Stengs and JWP. Vlahovic won the competition golden boot with a silly 14 goals in 13 games.
Vlahovic led Saints players with a new club record 39 goals plus a 7.40 rating in 55 games. This guy is so, so good on this game! He was followed by Stengs with a brilliant 24 goals and 10 assists in 54 games, while JWP impressed against with 12 goals, 14 assists and a 7.26 rating in 54 games. Musiala topped the assists chart with 15 plus 7 goals and Gravenberch popped up with 11 assists and 5 goals. Despite all the money spent, that man JWP still won fans’ player of the season, what a legend.
So much money to spend…
As a result of qualifying for the Champions League, the mad man that is Dragan Solak threw Alan Shearer a £295m transfer kitty for the summer of 2023. And trust me, we’ve already spent some of that cash on at least two very exciting signings!
Join us next time to discover how we go about strengthening Southampton for the Champions League!