Ralph Hasenhuttl's new Southampton deal reward for remarkable turnaround

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - If the worst result of Southampton’s season amounted to a historic low, the best came when they had not played for 12 weeks. Ralph Hasenhuttl signed a new four-year contract Tuesday. It if it capped a remarkable turnaround since October’s 9-0 defeat to Leicester City, the heaviest home loss ever in top-flight English football, one thing was true then and now: Hasenhuttl is the club’s greatest asset.

Perhaps he was not dismissed seven months ago because, with something of a power vacuum at St Mary’s, there was no one to sack him. Certainly Southampton’s subsequent renaissance is an endorsement of his ability. They reached 31 points on 21 January, all but securing safety with four months to spare after taking 22 from 11 games.

That Hasenhuttl called it a “simple decision” to stay speaks of his gratitude that Saints stuck with him. In a sense, though, perhaps it should not have been easy. A manager who steered Leipzig to second in the Bundesliga and who is at the forefront of a tactical revolution is equipped to operate at a higher level. Before Southampton’s awful autumn coincided with regime change at Tottenham, the thought occurred that he might have been Mauricio Pochettino’s natural successor, just as, apart from Ronald Koeman, he is already much Saints’ finest appointment since the Argentine. Instead, Hasenhuttl’s high-energy approach, pressing principles and coaching skills allowed Southampton to bridge a gap in ability and beat Chelsea, Tottenham and Leicester.

He has signed up for a similar task in the long term. “I said when I arrived at the club that we were at the beginning of a long journey,” Hasenhuttl stated. “I believe we now have strong foundations here that can allow us to take the next steps in our progress as a team.”

He is sufficiently committed to the project that he has spent the shutdown developing the SFC Playbook, a coaching and playing blueprint for the club’s academy. "A new philosophy on the pitch, but very much rooted in our values and history,” said chief executive Martin Semmens, and if it bears similarities with Pochettino’s plan, Hasenhuttl is offering longevity.

Oriol Romeu as Southampton players return to training following Covid-19 restrictions being relaxed, at the Staplewood Campus in Southampton, England. Getty

James Ward-Prowse as Southampton return to training. Getty

Will Smallbone as Southampton return to training following Covid-19 restrictions being relaxed. Getty

Jack Stephens as Southampton return to training following Covid-19 restrictions being relaxed. Getty

Fitness Coach Steve Wright cleans down equipment after use as Southampton players return to training. Getty

Michael Obafemi as Southampton return to training following Covid-19 restrictions being relaxed. Getty

Ryan Bertrand (C) as Southampton return to training following Covid-19 restrictions being relaxed. Getty

Oriol Romeu (L) as Southampton return to training following Covid-19 restrictions being relaxed. Getty

Given Southampton’s record of producing young players and his capacity to improve them, this could be genuinely transformative. It may need to be because Southampton are still paying the price for years of mistakes. They had resorted to loaning out transfer-market misfits, with their budget still weighed down by Guido Carrillo, a £19 million (Dh87m) striker with no concept of how to score a goal.

A desire to change the club’s culture has meant Wesley Hoedt and Mario Lemina, two who have talent, are among the other loanees, but Southampton could have done with recouping their purchase prices. Now they never will. Hasenhuttl’s room for manoeuvre, like his squad, was limited even before football’s finances were shrunk.

Southampton probably already required at least three players – a first-choice right-back, a high-class centre-back and a striker other than Danny Ings who can get more than three goals a season – even before it became apparent captain Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg was likely to leave. He, like Hasenhuttl, has the gifts to prosper in a more rarefied environment. Unlike his manager, he may not wait to see if Southampton transcend from relegation strugglers back to annual top-half finishers.

As Semmens said: “To be competitive in the Premier League, you simply cannot stand still.” If Southampton erred by simply trying to preserve the status quo under Claude Puel, Mauricio Pellegrino and Mark Hughes – and regressing in the process – Hasenhuttl has restored ambition. The welcome news for Southampton is that he believes his own goals can be realised at St Mary’s. If not, bigger clubs should want him.

Updated: June 2, 2020 03:43 PM

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