The season has ended, and the departures that seem an annual occurrence have begun. Not many would have expected the man who threatened misbehaving players with exile until the end of their contract would be the first to leave this summer, but then Southampton fans are quite used to surprises by now.
Despite saying on numerous occasions in press conferences of his intention to at least see out the final year of his contract at Southampton, Ronald Koeman has walked out to join Everton. Speculation over a move to the Toffees seemed to be a PR play by the club after sacking Roberto Martinez, but it is now evident that their new owner Farhad Moshiri means business.
Promises of an incredible transfer budget on top of a reported salary of £7m per season- double what the Dutchman was taking home on the South Coast- meant that the job was too good to turn down, even if it appears to be a sideways move at present.
While many Southampton fans are keen to take aim at the board, in particular Les Reed, it does seem like a genuine surprise. Snippets have emerged that the Saints' eagerness for Koeman to stay was mutual on his behalf; contract talks had been going well, and he had liked what he was told about the plans for the coming years. A planned trip to the Netherlands after a similar training camp in preseason last summer would indicate that he was staying too.
— Southampton FC (@SouthamptonFC) June 14, 2016
Yet after changing his agent, Koeman jumped ship to take an offer that Southampton simply did not want to match purely because of the figures on offer. If they had made a similar offer, Everton would have offered more; a bidding war where the only winner would be the Dutchman.
It's worth considering that although Koeman's popularity with the fans is unquestionable, whether it was the same within the club is another question altogether. There have been reports of the manager falling out with players like Dusan Tadic and James Ward-Prowse, but that may be just the tip of a disgruntled iceberg.
Comments about the academy from Koeman were of a negative nature, and the interest did not seem to be there. The likes of Harrison Reed, a player with high potential and one of a few arguably ready for first team football, have been ignored, and several murmurings would suggest the midfielder is not the only one given a cold shoulder.
It is a real shame that Koeman's time at St Mary's should end the way it has, purely because his popularity with the fans was well-deserved. Considering the fact he has had numerous stars prized away, his calm nature in front of the press has helped ease fans' concerns and replacements have meant that not many who have left have been sorely missed.
— Southampton FC (@SouthamptonFC) March 20, 2016
There have been several moments that mean that the Dutchman's time at Southampton will be remembered fondly, if not at this present time. Beating his arch nemesis Louis van Gaal 1-0 in January 2014 at Old Trafford, a ground where Saints had not won in 27 years, is a victory that stands out; the repeat result a year later is up there, too.
The dramatic 3-2 win over Liverpool after being 2-0 down with half an hour to go, the incredible 4-0 win on Boxing Day that year against Arsenal too; all fond memories as Koeman steadied a rocking ship and sent it sailing towards Europe, not just once but twice. Getting a club the size of the Saints into Europe is an achievement, but doing so whilst losing key players two summers on the trot is to be applauded.
It is perhaps the Dutchman's destination that grates the most amongst Southampton fans. If he had sailed his ship to the sunny coast of Barcelona, a place he knows very well, or the rather less exotic North London and Arsenal, an exciting job that could well become available in a years time, many Saints would have understood.
But while Everton are undoubtedly a bigger club, the Toffees are on a similar level football-wise at present, despite their new-found wealth. It is arguably a bigger gamble on Koeman's part to move, especially considering his ambition to manage an elite club in the Champions League. A big transfer budget awaits him at Goodison Park but so does a squad in desperate need of revamping, even before a replacement for the departing Romelu Lukaku is sourced.
— Sam Wallace (@SamWallaceTel) June 2, 2016
However, the future seems bright in the blue half of Liverpool even if the job would requires more work than the one he has left behind. Whilst Koeman was keen on getting out, even leaving his long-term agent Guido Albers to push through the move, that does not necessarily mean that the Southampton ship is sinking.
It is testament to the Barcelona icon and the hierarchy at the Markus Liebherr Pavilion that even with numerous departures, any prospective manager will set through the doors at the state-of-the-art training ground into a job that has real potential.
A look at the group would show a squad that is not in need of major surgery (even with the expected departures of Graziano Pellè, Sadio Mané and Victor Wanyama), and with Europa League football not coming into play until September gives any potential candidate at least two and a half months to prepare for the continental excursion. The transfer budget may not be on the level of that offered at Goodison, but the Premier League's incredible TV deal means that it is likely to be substantial all the same.
The shortlist of replacements for Koeman has already been devised and in the same way that players from across the globe can be looked at, potential managers are likely to come from far and wide. Ironically, the closest and most realistic candidate, Bournemouth's Eddie Howe, is reportedly unwilling to move away from the club who he has managed for the best part of six years, and in any case is probably not what Saints need at this moment in time.
— Jack Gaughan (@Jack_Gaughan) June 6, 2016
Sevilla's Unai Emery in many ways would be the ideal candidate, achieving an incredible Europa League treble despite losing key players during his time in Andalusia, but with links to the riches of Paris Saint-Germain he is likely to be unattainable.
Villas-Boas is an experienced manager despite only being 39, difficult spells in the capital with Chelsea and Tottenham balanced out with success in Russia and a quadruple in his only season at hometown club Porto, and seems to fit the profile preferred by the Southampton hierarchy. Yet the Portuguese has admitted he has gone on a break, and a quick look at his Instagram page would suggest he is rather enjoying it.
In many ways, however, it is preferable that Koeman has gone now rather than have a similar situation to Manuel Pellegrini's final few months at Manchester City. The last line of the club's official statement is the most interesting, and arguably points to several disagreements over the philosophy that Southampton try to adhere to.
— Southampton FC (@SouthamptonFC) June 14, 2016
Whilst it is obviously not completely set in stone (Koeman would not have been sacked after winning a title despite not playing a possession-based style, for example), the hierarchy seem to want a manager who wants to fit to those policies.
Whoever the manager is, they are likely to play a variant of 4-3-3 with emphasis on attacking football and possession. A major flaw of Koeman's time has been the lack of youth opportunities, with the Dutchman forgetting Jake Hesketh's name in a press conference a real symbol of that, and that pathway needs to be unblocked.
It is just a shame that a man who had been so popular amongst the fans through two memorable campaigns has departed in a very bitter way. Yet with growing discontent and a 'lame duck' situation on the horizon, perhaps it is for the best for the club and for Koeman that the Dutchman's popular tenure has ended now.
If Southampton can survive one club from Merseyside taking four players from them, it is not hard to imagine that they will be able to keep going just fine this time round.