Southampton chairman Ralph Krueger insists the club will no longer be bullied in the transfer market – and insists they would reject an offer for Virgil van Dijk of £60million.
For the past seven seasons Saints have managed to finish higher than the previous campaign, a run made all the more remarkable by the revolving door at St Mary’s that has seen some of their biggest names leave.
Southampton’s run of beating the previous year’s finish has ended this season, but there is no end in sight to the speculation surrounding key players.
Virgil van Dijk, Ryan Bertrand and Oriol Romeu are the latest targets as vultures circle overhead, although Krueger has pledged this summer will be different to previous years.
Van Dijk in particular has attracted plenty of attention. The £13million signing from Celtic two summers ago has been linked with huge moves to both Chelsea and Liverpool, with some reports earlier this month claiming the Dutchman had already verbally agreed to move to Anfield.
Welcomed by a small squad on “extremely weak contracts” upon his appointment during the 2013-14 season, the chairman said they needed to sell astutely and buy even smarter to build.
That money has allowed the club to give the club strength with contracts, meaning they do not plan to sell any of the crown jewels.
“Here we sit in the summer of ’17 and we now have 18 top, or above average, Premier League players under three or more year contracts,” Krueger said.
“We actually have 12 players that have more than four years, so 49 months, left on their contract and even a couple with 61 months.
“So 18 players have more than three years, gives us control over the summer for the first time.
“We will decide if anybody goes and we will decide who comes in, in the best interests of the club.
“We do not need to sell any player for the first time since I’ve been here.
“I can make that statement and – unless football decides it’s in the best interests – we don’t need to do that.
“I think that we’re moving into a new era at Southampton Football Club after three-and-a-half years of building this foundation of depth, where we have more than 25 players that can play a Premier League game.
“We now need to consolidate. We’re going to do everything possible to keep the core in place because the one thing that has been lacking here is developing synergies within the squad because of the changes.
“It has been difficult to maintain the synergies we would see at times during the season.
“I think that’s one of the reasons we would like to keep the core in place to give the synergies an opportunity, and we are extremely hungry to push back into Europe next year. It is our obsession.”
This season’s Europa League campaign, no matter how frustrating, has whetted the collective appetite at St Mary’s, so too the EFL Cup final defeat to Manchester United.
Star turn Van Dijk was absent at Wembley through injury, just as he continues to be now – not that speculation over a summer move has halted.
Asked if Saints could realistically turned down a £60million bid for him this summer, Krueger said: “Can we? Yes.
“The big thing is here again I want to underline the strategy, less the detail.
“You know I really respect our lead in football, Les Reed is doing an excellent job, and Ross Wilson has taken on a big role assisting Les and leading our football-specific decisions.
“They will continue next week once they’ve analysed the season and really de-brief completely, they will make then the football decision we need to make.
“I’ll tell you again, we do not need to sell anybody.”
Krueger says the club’s hunger for European qualification outweighs “hunger to set some record (sale)” and that any moves made will be because it is better for Southampton.
No guarantees for Claude Puel
While player speculation is sure to rumble, so too will the talk about manager Puel’s future.
The man chosen to succeed Ronald Koeman last summer has struggled to win over fans – and it is understood some players – with Krueger giving a non-committal answer amid growing chatter of a managerial change.
“In my role as a chairman, I like to have people expecting more and wanting growth and wanting development because that’s what we are expecting from ourselves and that’s what we are expecting within our staff,” he said when asked about frustrated supporters ahead of Wednesday’s match against Manchester United.
“Again, the football analysis, let it take place when these games are over.
“We have two really important matches – what a beautiful thing to finish the season with two home games in five days, so right now we want to celebrate the moment.
“The bigger picture football-wise will become transparent as we move into next week and the week beyond.
“It hasn’t been easy either to come in here as a manager, finishing eighth, seventh, sixth.
“It was definitely tough circumstances with Europe and we’ll be looking at everything, and then we’ll again be clearer after the season’s over.”