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How Southampton’s gamble on Mauricio Pellegrino backfired so badly as their first big mistake in the Premier League

The Independent logo The Independent 13/3/2018 Jack Pitt-Brooke

The only surprise about the sacking of Mauricio Pellegrino at Southampton is that it took so long to happen.

For four months now they have been drifting lifelessly down the table, heading towards relegation and barely putting up a fight. They have won just one of their last 17 league games – almost half a season – and that was against the only team in the division clearly worse than them: Alan Pardew’s West Bromwich Albion.

For Southampton fans, many of whom travelled up to Newcastle last Saturday but left at half-time with the team 3-0 down, any sense of relief is diluted by frustration that this was not done much sooner. Especially when it has been clear for months that the decision to replace Claude Puel with Pellegrino last summer was a bad one.

Puel, remember, was sacked not for results – Saints were eighth and lost the League Cup final – but for being insufficiently engaging and exciting with players and fans. And yet he was replaced by a man whose cautious, rigid approach brought neither wins nor excitement.

Before Pellegrino started the season one former associate of his told The Independent that the new Southampton boss was an intelligent man who was ultimately too nice to be a top-level manager, and that the players would walk all over him. That is more or less how it played out: he was always well-liked in the dressing room but that is not enough for a team which should be desperately fighting to preserve its Premier League status.

There is talent in this Southampton team but all season they have lacked the direction, focus and drive that a serious manager should be instilling. They never recover from starting games badly, they are out-manoeuvred by smarter opponents and even the defensive shape that was meant to be Pellegrino’s speciality has eroded away.

The whole failed experiment is the first major mis-step during Southampton’s return to the Premier League. They have prided themselves on clever managerial appointments, never picking the obvious candidate, never once even recruiting anyone with any Premier League experience, believing that it is overrated as a quality.

But in Pellegrino Southampton got it wrong and now, with eight games left, they have torn up their principles and are scrambling to find someone with Premier League experience to save them.

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