Ralph Hasenhuttl’s time at Southampton is coming to a close as the club consider the timing of the Austrian coach’s departure.
Hasenhuttl, 55, has survived several setbacks since his appointment by the former Chinese-backed regime in December 2018 and has performed above expectations at times to keep Southampton in the Premier League.
Nevertheless, a change of coach has been on the cards for some time at the club now under the management of Sport Republic, backed by the Serb telecommunications billionaire Dragan Solak.
Southampton face champions Manchester City at the Etihad this weekend, an away fixture in which they secured a well-deserved draw last season. This time the pressure is much more acute with three successive defeats for Southampton and, with another likely, Hasenhuttl’s departure is drawing closer.
Hasenhuttl has proved himself on many occasions to be an adept tactician and capable of pulling off occasional eye-catching victories over much stronger, wealthier opposition. There is a feeling that the club now needs change and requires a coach who can help develop a model of younger, developing talents.
There is still no outright first choice to replace him, although alternatives have been discussed internally.
Southampton have struggled at the start of the season, with just seven points from their first eight games, and while the objective, as ever, is survival there have been some concerning results – including Saturday’s home defeat to Everton.
Their poor end to last season has also been taken into account, after 10 defeats in the final 13 matches. Hasenhuttl survived a summer review of the club's football operations, with the majority of his backroom staff leaving instead.
Southampton are now run on the football side by the Sport Republic chief executive Rasmus Ankersen, formerly of Brentford, and Henrik Kraft, the chair of the same investment company.
Ankersen was responsible for the negotiation of deals over the summer transfer window and Sport Republic recruited Joe Shields from Manchester City’s academy as head of their senior team recruitment programme. At the end of last season, the Sport Republic ownership sacked all three of Hasenhuttl’s key assistant coaches – Craig Fleming, Kelvin Davis and Dave Watson – and installed their own coaching team to work with the manager.
There is an acceptance that Hasenhuttl has not always had the support around him that might have been expected for a Premier League manager because of the change at the club. He was appointed and supported by former sporting director Ross Wilson who later left for Rangers. He was then given the full backing of the chief executive Martin Semmens while the club was in the process of being sold by former Chinese owner Gao Jisheng.
As a result of the changes Southampton have been through, many of those who backed Hasenhuttl originally are no longer in the key decision-making positions.
Hasenhuttl has occasionally struggled to connect with players away from the training pitch, and that has been an issue – especially for those who have not been part of his plans. The club would also accept that he has had to contend with limited scope for recruitment.
Managing relationships within the club with players and key staff will be vital for the new manager, who will have to work within the Southampton development system. The signing of young players, with scope to improve, such as Romeo Lavia, Gavin Bazunu, Armel Bella-Kotchap and Joe Aribo has thus far been vindicated by individual performances, if not the results of the team. Southampton are unable to compete with wealthier rivals in the league.