Long-time readers of this blog will know that I root for the underdog (a relative term, at times…). For the better part of the last two decades, I have rooted for a club that has comported itself with dignity and restraint, all the more so in the face of the craven, covetous, competition it has faced from Chelsea and Man City, and (to a lesser extent) Man U and Liverpool. I love anyone who punches above his or her weight, and that does mean that I have a soft spot of sorts for Southampton. It’s not just underdogs, however. They gotta bring moxie, gumption, cojones. Southampton, Swansea, and Everton, to name a few, prove the old adage, “it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.”
Before we continue, I have to condemn dog-fighting. Barbaric practice. The whole point of sport, after all, is to afford civilized cultures a non-lethal method for resolving disputes. One side pits its most athletic and determined against the other side, and a winner is determined not on fatalities but on skill. Dog-fighting, like war itself, reverts us to more-base instincts without offering any retreat or surrender, indulging our worst instincts and tendencies instead of elevating us. Apologies for betting too poetic.
Back to the business at hand. As I understand it, we’ve all but signed 19-year old Calum Chambers from Southampton for £12m. If true, we’ve slapped in the face not one but two other right-backs, one of them Debuchy, who was brought in for a similar fee despite having proven himself for club and country, and the other Jenkinson, a dyed-in-the-wool Gooner who is also a Gunner. Color me confused. Yes, I know that there are rumors of a loan-deal for Jenkinson, with West Ham an apparent front-runner. And yes, I am fully aware of the man’s deficiencies. It’s also clear that West Ham could use a young, aspiring right-back to step in for their currently ageing and somewhat-inadequate duo. Still, for as much as I may worry about how these rumors may affect Corporal Jenkinson, I can’t help but worry over larger issues.
Southampton, like Arsenal, is renowned for developing young talent. However, they suffer all too often the bitter disappointment of seeing their best and brightest depart for greener pastures. Where might they be with Walcott, Bale, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Shaw, Lallana, and Lambert, among others, still in the squad? We might have to add to this list Chambers, Rodriguez, Lovren, and Schneiderlin, among others. For as much as we might covet one or two of these players, we rend garments and punch dry-wall over the departure of our own starlets, and so we have to acknowledge the same suffering when it’s inflicted on others.
After all, it’s not as if the Saints practice a defensive, cynical, or vindictive style, as other clubs so often do. Go into a match against Stoke or Sunderland or Tottenham, and you know that there will be fouls and cautions from here to Timbuktu. The Saints, among a select few others, at least have tried to play a more-attractive, forward-thinking kind of football based on possession, skill, and technique, and fair play to them for doing so with players who, by and large, are still learning the finer points of the game and are in the earliest stages of their careers.
After all, when you’re a manager and you see that your opposition clearly out-classes you, it’s damned-tempting to tell the lads to defend deep and look to hit on a quick counter. Southampton don’t do that. They look to take the game by the scruff, regardless of whom they face. There’s something in that for us to learn from. It’d be a pity if we only learn it by poaching their players from them…