As Ralph Hasenhüttl approaches 100 games in charge at Saints, Alistair Downs - a long-time fan and TSP Patron - provides his views on the Austrian's 'Jekyll and Hyde' managerial term.
"When the final whistle blew on Monday 4th January 2021, Ralph Hasenhüttl fell to his knees and sobbed.
He'd just overseen an eye-catching victory, against the defending Premier League champions, with a depleted squad.
At that moment (slightly before this season's halfway point), Saints sat 6th in the table, with a healthy twenty-nine points.
They were three points off third placed Leicester and all looked good for a Top-8 push during the second half of the season.
Even the most pessimistic of Saints fans (.....yes, I consider myself to be one of these as well!) could not have predicted that, nine weeks, eight defeats and one point later, we would be gearing up for a relegation ‘must-win’ against Sheffield United.
Frankly, it's the stuff of footballing nightmares!
For that reason, perhaps understandably, there has been a greater focus on the culpability of our manager throughout this recent poor run.
What began as a run of 'bad luck with VAR' soon slid into 'an injury crisis' and then onto the team's current 'identity crisis' (not the first time that's happened over the past few years....).
Was it really January of this year - only two months ago - that we were beginning to hear media rumblings that Ralph was ‘under serious consideration’ for the managerial role at Clubs like Manchester United and/or Chelsea?
I, for one, was already thinking that, if we were to go on and achieve a Top-8 finish, the writing would inevitably be on the wall about our long-term prospects of keeping hold of Ralph.
Yet, here we are in March, with the debate now raging on social media as to whether it's the time to sack him or not!?
So which of these two characters are the REAL Ralph Hasenhüttl?
Is it the manager that, over a calendar year, scored more points than Spurs?
Or is it the manager who has twice been beaten 9-0?
Is it the manager that engineered wins over Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham?
Or is it the manager that has routinely been beaten by the likes of Sean Dyche, David Moyes and Steve Bruce?
Is it the manager that honed a style of pressing play which saw Saints win a Club-record number of away points in a single season?
Or is it the manager who has overseen a record-breaking losing streak in the league?
The paradoxical answer to the above, of course – he is BOTH!
That is partly why the debate around his situation at Saints is so bewildering.
I’ve read plenty of comments along the lines of “If this had happened under Puel or Pellegrino or Hughes....” etc. - but none of those managers ever looked capable of delivering all the positives that Ralph already has.
I am not saying that he is without blame. He has undoubtedly made mistakes in the past two months.
But you can’t tell me that we needed another 9-0 battering to magnify some of them?
Surely Ralph could have changed the system and just shut up shop at Old Trafford?
You can’t tell me playing Djenepo at Right-Back is anything other than a red card waiting to happen.
And you can’t tell me that persisting with Nathan Redmond up front is ever going to solve our goal scoring problems!
But the other - key - point that nobody has been able to tell me is this; who would do a better job for Southampton Football Club right now?
I still believe Ralph is capable of showing (consistently) the great qualities we have seen in patches across his tenure with Saints.
I still believe the players are with him.
I still believe that we are just a couple of decent results from safety - and putting this season behind us!
The questions over Ralph’s future may well come up again in the summer. Until then, at the very least, he has my full support and faith in turning things around.
Longer-term, for a number of reasons, it would just be nice to have a more settled and consistent Saints under Hasenhüttl.
Less of the 'Dr. Hyde' and more of the 'Dr. Jekyll', if you will....."
Article by Alistair Downs
04/03/2021 (Photo via One Football)