In this week's Total Saints Opinion, Ben Stanfield takes a look at Oriol Romeu, a player who is worth far more to Southampton Football Club than some may think....
"Very rarely does a Saints fan ever walk into the Megastore at St. Mary's and ask for "Romeu 6" to be printed on the back of a shirt.
"Yes, its Matthew's 7th birthday next week and Oriol is his favourite player".
The simple fact is that, without the sexiness of Danny Ing's goalscoring, Stuart Armstrong's suave haircut and/or the quick-feet of Kyle Walker-Peters, Oriol Romeu is the type of player who will often be filed in the 'ugly but effective' category.
Truth be told, having now played over 14,500 minutes during his Saints career, the Spaniard actually epitomises everything the average fan should look for in a favourite footballer.
Alongside James Ward-Prowse, Romeu is the heartbeat of this current Saints side - and has been for several seasons.
Signed by Ronald Koeman in 2015 - for just c£5m (compare that to £15.4m Mario Lemina, for example....!) - what Romeu lacks in style, he more than makes up for in energy, passion and determination.
One thing every Saints fan knows - the Spaniard loves a tackle!
Ok, he also loves a yellow card as well.
Its 55 in 198 appearances for Saints!
Thankfully (at time of writing....) - none of those have ever added up to a red.
Anyway, we digress....
Remember when you used to play Sunday league football?
There was often a large, physical-looking central midfielder on the opposition team.
Salivating at the thought of how many of your side he could wipe out during the match.
The sort of lad who clearly lived off raw meat.....but hadn't been fed since the previous weekend's fixture!
"F*ck am I going anywhere near him!" we all used to think.
Well, Oriol Romeu is the (far more classy) Premier League version of that individual.
Only Everton's Allan (32) has made more successful tackles than Romeu (31) this campaign.
And, if we're honest, the 2017/18 Fans' and Players' Player of the season has the undoubted ability to make most 50/50s turn into an 80/20!
Just ask Newcastle's Allan Saint-Maximin.
The unpredictable Frenchman was chief-destroyer at St. Mary's last season, scoring the only goal in a 1-0 Newcastle win.
This time around? Unfortunately for Allan, he promptly got 'Romeu-d'!
Early in the game, with Newcastle swiftly trying to counter-attack, the Frenchman might have been excused for sensing there was a freight-train approaching.
Indeed, before even having a moment to think about a nifty bit of footwork, Saint-Maximin was lying flat on his backside, reaching to tend a sore lower leg.
Yes, in true style, Romeu had taken him out - literally - and nullified any chance of Saints' opponents moving up the pitch.
After that, Saint-Maximin didn't want to know!
While it was yet another yellow card for Romeu, psychologically it was 'job done'.
Saints went on to win the game 2-0 and, with Saint-Maximin no doubt counting the number of bruises he had, Romeu and his teammates were celebrating being top of the Premier League.
But while Oriol is a machine on the pitch, his day-to-day life couldn't be more unassuming.
Often seen spending time with his dogs, or enhancing his personal knowledge by reading books, he recently announced he'd made the decision to close down his Facebook and Instagram accounts.
Citing the fact that he hadn't used them for a while, was a lot more relaxed and comfortable without social media and felt he'd be better without Facebook and/or Instagram moving forward (Narrator - he's keeping Twitter (for now)), its apparent just how much he enjoys a lifestyle that allows him minimal public attention.
At 29-years-old, and having worked under the likes of Ronald Koeman, Pep Guardiola, Rafa Benitez, Jose Mourinho and now Ralph Hasenhüttl, intelligence and experience are obvious strengths Romeu now has.
But there's clearly more to his modern-day game than just being a defensive shield and/or tackler.
Hasenhüttl has helped him develop his positional awareness and ability to pick a pass.
He's also managed to bring a more attacking threat to Romeu's game over the past few weeks - scoring a wonderful volley against West Bromwich Albion (taking his tally with Saints to 6), then seeing Karl Darlow turn a 25-yard strike onto the crossbar, last time out.
Romeu is no longer a player who gets the ball, slows the game down and instantly turns to face his own goal - looking for a safe backwards or sideways pass.
Instead, as part of Hasenhüttl's desire for Saints to play a more attacking style of football, the Spaniard constantly looks to try and play forward, penetrating the opposition lines whenever he can.
And, if the last six months are anything to go by, Romeu is clearly thriving on that new, positive mindset.
Having entered the last year of his current deal, there was some nervousness around the Saints fanbase as to whether Romeu would continue his career with the Club beyond 2020/21, so confirmation of the new two-and-a-half year contract on Thursday (via Southampton FC) was welcomed by all.
Not only does it give Romeu the personal security he needs, but it now allows him to fully focus on his role within the team, assisting Hasenhüttl's objective of pushing Saints up the Premier League.
One thing's for sure, if he keeps playing like he has for most of his Saints career, there will definitely be a few more like *Matthew* who choose Oriol as their favourite (unsexy) player!"
Article by Ben Stanfield
(Photos by Southampton Football Club, Reuters, Oriol Romeu's Twitter account and Getty Images)