Alan Shearer was enjoying a much-deserved lazy morning lie-in having just led Southampton to Champions League qualification and a first-ever European trophy. That was until the peace was disturbed by the startling blare of his mobile phone.
He sleepily checked the incoming number, which his phone didn’t recognise. So he presumed it was likely to be his chairman Dragan Solak, who had an uncanny knack for recycling phones – which Shearer’s recent television binge had led him to think was somewhat dubious behaviour for a billionaire media mogul. But he swiped up on the phone and was met with a mass of background noise that told him Dragan was still out partying with the Champions League qualification money.
“ALAAAAAN” was about all he could decipher on the other end of the phone. “I’ve been speaking to the agent and he told me we can sign ERLIIIIIIING.” Unsure what on earth this nutcase was on about, Shearer presumed it was yet another Saints fan who’d managed to get hold of his number. So he put the phone on silent, rolled back into the warm bed and went back to sleep.
Two hours later, his morning snooze was disturbed by the almighty racket of someone trying to smash the front door down. He threw his dressing gown on, stumbled to the front door and encountered Dragan decked out in a brand new Saints shirt and surrounded by a handful of Serbian cronies.
“Alaaaaan, why don’t you answer my phone calls?” Dragan shouted. “And why you aren’t you dressed? Come on Alan. I thought you’d be excited about this?!” as he swigged on a half-full bottle of expensive-looking whiskey.
“Morning, Mr Solak,” Shearer responded, wiping the sleep from his eyes. “It’s really early. And it’s my day off. And what are you on about?”
Dragan gave him a wry smile and turned around with two thumbs pointing Shearer’s attention to the back of his shirt. It was emblazoned with freshly printed lettering HAALAND 9.
Shearer’s jaw dropped. “Are you having a fucking laugh?” was all he could blurt out. Then he let out a little giggle/whimper, unsure whether to laugh or cry. “Surely you’re kidding me, Mr Solak. Are you winding me up?”
Solak wasn’t winding Shearer up, because Southampton made a statement signing by beating every team in the world to… Erling Haaland? Oh yes! For an initial £90m, the best player in the world arrived at Southampton, albeit with a worrying £144m minimum fee release in his contract. He joins fresh from scoring 28 in 32 last season, 95 in 106 league games for Dortmund and 37 in 34 for Norway.
In total, Solak provided an initial transfer kitty of close to £300m, which was significantly boosted by the club-record sale of Gravenberch to Newcastle for £91m and Aouar going to Bayern for £46m. And that kind of money is almost impossible to spend.
However, we began with two more huge signings from Germany. First was English sensation Jude Bellingham, for whom we met the £95m buyout clause. He looks sensational despite still only being 19 and was the main reason we allowed Gravenberch to move on. The only obvious “problem position” was the left-sided centre-back, so we splashed out an initial £45m for Josko Gvardiol.
We also signed a couple of exciting young backup players from Barcelona in Gavi for £20m and Ilias Akhomach for £14.25m. At the other end of the scale, an experienced backup as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang arrived on a free before another solid defensive option in Giorgio Scalvini for £6m from Atalanta and Marco Asensio came in on loan on deadline day. In total, we spent £295m but also brought in £220m.
The squad was now looking pretty sensational:
Goalkeepers: Audero, Forster
Defenders: Walker-Peters, Livramento; Maksimovic, Gvardiol, Salisu, Scalvini, Rugani; Hernandez, Small
Midfielders: Ward-Prowse, Bellingham, Tolisso, Gavi, Gallagher, Bergmann Jóhanesson
Wingers: Musiala, Stengs, Asensio, Almada, Akhomach
Strikers: Haaland, Vlahovic, Aubameyang
Can Haaland deliver success in Southampton?
The big Norwegian started well, bagging a hat-trick on his debut in a 4-2 win over Brighton, scoring in a 4-1 thumping of Chelsea, in which Auba scored his first goal and Calvin Stengs scored twice, then a brace in a 3-2 win at Wolves in which Dusan Vlahovic also scored in the duo’s first match together. We then simmed ahead through the rest of the season with our tactic in place.
And things went rather well! They only lost twice in the Premier League before the end of November, then lost at Liverpool, drew with Man UFC and Man City in consecutive games. But a 7-2 win at Sheffield United sparked a run of one defeat in 15 games. However, they were let down by defeats at Leicester and three of the bottom four Villa, Watford and Norwich. As a result, Southampton again finished third in the Premier League, 11 points back from Liverpool, with 24 wins, 6 draws and 8 defeats.
More importantly, Haaland scored a ridiculous 43 goals in 38 league games and new league records with a 7.97 rating and 14 player of the match awards. As a result, he won the Footballer of the Year, Players’ Player of the Year and Best Player in Europe awards. While James Ward-Prowse set a new league record 16 assists, tied with Raphinha.
Away from the league, Saints also reached the semi-finals of all three cups but lost to Man UFC in the Carabao Cup (including a 6-0 second leg defeat!), Spurs in the FA Cup and Liverpool in the Champions League!
In total, Haaland bagged a brilliant 59 goals in 56 matches with 15 assists and a 7.91 rating. However, at the end of the season he complained about not being made the free-kick taker and demanded to leave! Unfortunately for him, JWP is far too good at free-kicks, and he came in with an impressive 14 goals and 25 assists in 58 matches at a 7.47 rating.
Vlahovic scored 24 and got 10 assists, Jamal Musiala got 11 goals and 13 assists, Bellingham got 8 goals and 9 assists and Stengs got 6 goals and 11 assists. While Gvardiol, Nikola Milenkovic and Scalvini all performed well at centre-back, but Emil Audero’s 81 goals conceded in 58 games is a massive concern.
The squad generally performed pretty well, although the lack of rotation is obviously a bit of an issue when you holiday ahead. That said, major areas for investment include a winger, a goalkeeper and potentially a right-back, as well as a backup striker.
So next season, we’ll try not to holiday the entire season to ensure players get rested and we can rotate the time a little bit more.
Can Southampton progress beyond 3rd place in the Premier League? Join us next Wednesday to find out!