In Ralph Hasenhüttl, Saints - much to my surprise and delight - seem to have hired a manager who is the real deal. After Les Reed was sacked, I was convinced that the club would wait until they’d appointed a new director of football before dismissing Mark Hughes and appointing a new boss, purely on the basis that I didn’t think Ralph Krueger would have the bottle to bring someone in without first employing someone else to blame in case things went awry (again).
I was similarly sure they wouldn’t be able to find anyone with the pedigree of Hasenhüttl willing to take the job, so credit where credit’s due, though I wouldn’t be surprised if the budget for the manager’s financial package has been significantly increased now it’s Krueger’s testicles trembling in the chill breeze.
Although I’m not convinced this is a new day for the club as a whole (more of which later), the short-to-medium term looks significantly more hopeful now we’re managed by a guy who finished second in the Bundesliga with a team of kids.
With that in mind, here’s my Christmas list for Herr Hasenhüttl:
Ralph Hasenhüttl Christmas gift #1: Heavy Metal
Hasenhüttl - sometimes referred to as “Alpine Klopp” - had success in Germany with a style similar to the now-Liverpool manager’s famed Borussia Dortmund side.
Jurgen Klopp called this “Heavy Metal Football”. Although Hasenhüttl probably doesn’t have as many players who are as well-suited to high-pressing, direct passing football as he did at RB Leipzig, it’s probably in his interests to stick to his guns and try to implement a more direct style at Southampton, not least because that seems to be what fans want.
Personally, I enjoyed the football we played in the first half of Claude Puel’s season, but Saints’ footballing philosophy has been bleak and philosophically incoherent for some time now.
More to the point, the whole club, from the youth teams upwards, has for years been set up to press high and play forward at the earliest opportunity (as discussed before here).
The first team returning to something approaching that underpinning ethos will make it easier to integrate new signings recruited with a playing model in mind, as well as young players schooled in what was once known as ‘The Southampton Way’. It will also, hopefully, put bums on seats and lead to a more positive atmosphere in the stands.
Ralph Hasenhüttl Christmas gift #2: Reestablish ‘The Pathway’
At his first press conference as Saints manager, Hasenhüttl talked about the Saints academy’s history of “creating good capital”.
What he didn’t say, unsurprisingly, was that much of the money it has generated has been wasted on signing players who have failed to convince. This would in itself be bad enough, but the fact is that these multi-million pound white elephants have clogged up the squad and deprived some seriously talented home-grown players of game time despite doing nothing to suggest they’re any better.
For a club with a limited budget, it is absolutely insane to buy players like Mohamed Elyounoussi, Jordy Clasie or Guido Carrillo before you’ve given Jake Hesketh, Harrison Reed and Sam Gallagher a proper chance.
READ MORE: Does ‘The Southampton Way’ still exist?
Ralph Hasenhüttl Christmas gift #3: Assess and develop
Hasenhüttl is a coach of the calibre we should have hired in the summer of 2016 after Ronald Koeman left, and has a reputation for being good with young players.
With this in mind, our best youngsters must be training with the first team under this outstanding coach - NOT SENT OUT ON LOAN.
If possible, players who are on loan should be recalled as soon as possible for Hasenhüttl to assess. I don’t just mean youngsters - Guido Carrillo has been a disastrous signing thus far, but Hasenhüttl supposedly likes a big, strong striker. He’s probably on a season-long loan at Leganes, but it’s surely worth the new gaffer looking at him before once again venturing into the treacherous waters of the transfer market - possibly the most inefficient market in capitalism.
And who’s to say that Hasenhüttl couldn’t polish rough diamond Soufiane Boufal? Just having a coherent and consistent style would make it easier for them. The main focus, though, should be rescuing the careers of players like attacking midfield creator Hesketh, nippy, jinking wide man Josh Sims and mini-Javier Mascherano Reed, all of whom could fit nicely into the Hasenhüttl paradigm.
Christmas gift #4: Rebuild shattered confidence
Saints look devoid of belief at either end of the pitch, with muffed chances and defensive cock-ups now considered standard.
Even on the odd occasion when the team plays well, they contrive to drop points thanks to what must surely be a chronic collective loss of confidence.
Hasenhüttl’s man-management skills could be important as his aptitude as an organiser.
Southampton going forward with Ralph Hasenhüttl
As always, it’s important to be realistic. Hasenhüttl’s appointment probably doesn’t signal a return to the days when Southampton Football Club prioritised investment in infrastructure and people so much as an acknowledgement that the buy low, sell high business model is simply unworkable without a manager capable of developing players who are talented but inexperienced in the Premier League.
I’m still not convinced that Ralph Krueger, Jisheng Gao et al are remotely committed to having a good team, and Hasenhüttl may well become disillusioned with spending hours improving players on the training pitch only to see them sold before he actually benefits from the fruits of his labour.
Nonetheless, Hasenhüttl is the most exciting manager Saints have had since Mauricio Pochettino. If the Austrian can reproduce the alchemy of his stint in Germany, his stay on the south coast could be exhilarating.