Hojbjerg improvement proof the Black Box is not finished just yet

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Hojbjerg in action against Brighton
Photo: Goal

Hojbjerg improvement proof the Black Box is not finished just yet

by Conor Dunford, South Coast Correspondent

Southampton have endured a difficult start to the season. In fact, they have endured a difficult few years, with changes in the management and playing staff causing unrest in the ranks, and amongst the fanbase.

The Saints are a club who pride themselves on their model, recruiting young, hungry players to develop, reap the rewards and sell on for a profit. Recently, the likes of Sadio Mane, Virgil Van Dijk and Morgan Schneiderlin have left the club for pastures new. Another huge aspect of ‘The Southampton Way’ is the academy. Throughout the years, the club has produced star after star, aiding the careers of Alan Shearer all those years ago. Whilst in more recent times, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gareth Bale have gone from youth product at Southampton to playing on the biggest stages in world football.

But the pool of players of that ilk have started to dry up for Southampton, the famous ‘Black Box’ has failed to be as prolific in recent years.

Some fans correlate this with the sad death of owner Markus Liebherr and the consequential departure of Nicolas Cortese from the club, a man credited with instilling the winning mentality at the club. There have been many high profile signings which failed during and after the Cortese era, such as Pablo Osvaldo, Gaston Ramirez, Sofiane Boufal and Guido Carillo. All these players were signed for large sums but never hit the heights expected of them.

The misses have always been there in terms of recruitment, that is part and parcel of the process, every signing is a gamble. What is more worrying for Southampton fans is the lack of hits, the lack of succesful purchases that can be put in the same bracket as a Sadio Mane, as a Virgil Van Dijk.

Southampton currently possess four players that cost the club north of £15m, Mario Lemina, Jannik Vestegaard, Wesley Hoedt and Mohamed Elyounoussi.

You would be hard done by to find fans who believe these signings have been a total success. Whilst Vestegaard and Elyounoussi need to be given more time to prove their worth, Lemina and Hoedt have been at the club for a considerable amount of time now, and have failed to fully convince the fanbase of their worth.

But one player, who falls just under that £15m mark in terms of transfer fee, and is growing to become an extremely influential player for Saints and even has the backing of the fans, is former Bayern Munich midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. The Danish central midfielder joined the club in 2016, but failed to nail down his place in the side, despite showing his capabilities in flashes.

His personal life had an effect on that, with the birth of his first child and being away from his new family being seen as reasons that Hojbjerg may have lost some of his focus. However his potential was never in question. Now Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is a huge fan of the 23 year old and was his mentor whilst at Bayern Munich, once touting him to be Bayern’s version of Sergio Busquets.

But he moved to Southampton to seek first team football, at a club that at the time was on an upwards trajectory. Despite the team not continuing in that vein this season, Hojbjerg has proved to the fans and management staff he is still as determined as ever to improve. His influence on the pitch has increased significantly in a short space of time, even adding goals to his game, with a goal of the season contender against Everton in the Carabao Cup.

He continued his search for goals against Bournemouth, testing Asmir Begovic on a couple of occasions with speculative efforts from distance. Despite Pep once touting young Hojbjerg as a star in the Busquets mould, his attacking intent was clear to see. As of his 61 attempted passes, 37 were forward and 21 of those were in the attacking third.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a side which is struggling for form, struggling for goals, this rapid improvement from a player in such a key area of the pitch must be encouraging for Mark Hughes. Hojbjerg was signed with a lot of expectation from fans due to the club he was signed from, but for many reasons his growth has been a slow burner. He is fast becoming the first name on the team sheet at Southampton and with his clear passion, drive, determination and leadership on the pitch, he is fast becoming a fan favourite.

The golden age of recruitment may be coming to an end at Southampton, but they clearly still have the ability to find gems in the game, Hojbjerg is proving to be one of them, there is still more to come from the Black Box.

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