While Southampton have struggled to carry on in the upwardly mobile manner with which they stormed back from League One to the Premier League, it wasn’t all too long ago that the Saints were considered one of the best run clubs in world football.
Indeed, much of the praise given to the club largely stemmed from the infamous black box in play behind the scenes, the tool that helped the red and white army bring some lesser known talents to Hampshire as a replacement for their homegrown talents. With the likes of Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw and Calum Chambers departing over the course of summer 2014, Les Reed and company needed something.
Well, in the signing of Sadio Mane, they certainly got that.
In 2014, after two seasons in the Premier League, Southampton needed to develop their style of play. Teams who don’t after a similar period in the top tier tend to struggle and, with the departure of Lallana, a perfect opportunity arose to do exactly that.
As good as Lallana may have been, he was a fairly slow player and the Premier League was just beginning its process of phasing out traditional No.10s. Of course, some teams still use them to this day, but the more expansive versions of 4-3-3 and the like were slowly coming into play.
So, relying on the aforementioned black box (a scouting tool fueled by 6 live analysts), the club brought in Mane from Red Bull Salzburg for around £12m. A raw talent but a forward boasting the kind of searing pace to give Southampton a new dimension, his presence allowed the team to develop a new style.
The success of Mane’s signing proved the faith in the black box worked. Many would have doubted the club’s ambition when selling a host of big players at once, though were in safe hands with Les Reed and the hierarchy behind the scenes down on the South Coast.
There was, of course, the financial aspect of it too. Having banked a reported £25m for Lallana, spending roughly half of that on Mane (the signing of Dusan Tadic must also be taken into account, though his ability to bring others into play was more akin to Rickie Lambert without the goals) was a masterstroke.
Liverpool would later pay close to £40m for the African forward, so it was a major win for the club. Yes, Southampton may be struggling to repeat the same success in the market right now, but Mane’s signing proved one of the most exciting Premier League projects in recent years worked.