Minamino may not be the full-back Southampton need, but could be the cunning they crave


If it’s supposed to pour when it rains, then Southampton have been on the end of an unadulterated monsoon in recent times.

But in the ungodly hour of 1am on a boisterously cold and drizzly Tuesday morning, the club finally found some refuge.

At the start of the day, Saints wanted a full-back. In actual fact for the last month they had sought cover in the position. But as such, transfer deadline day rolled around and off they went, embarking on a wild, unsophisticated goose chase around the transfer maze.

Instead of finding doors ajar, every possible passage was being shunted back in their rather rosy-cheeked face, that had been reddening by the hour. In total, if reports are correct, Saints set their sight on five targets before 9pm.

Well, that was until the uncharacteristically co-operative Liverpool decided to answer the knock on the door. In-stepped a 5ft 8in Japanese midfielder. Sixth time lucky.

Throughout the day, Southampton’s ‘knock knock is anyone home’ type of transfer search was beginning to prove symptomatic of a month fraught with rampant misfortune at St Mary’s. Despite two FA Cup wins and a defining night against Liverpool, most of January was spent toiling away, veering from one affliction to another.

Not only did performances and physical levels ostensibly deteriorate, the sections of Staplewood that were allowed to open may as well have been transformed into some sort of walk-in hospital, holding its breath for the next casualty.

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A squad which was already threadbare at its best, was being peeled away layer by layer, with every passing injury or outgoing loan. Yan Valery and Shane Long both moved on deadline day but both deals served in the club’s best interests.

Waking up on Tuesday morning (at a reasonable time unlike this writer) Southampton supporters will not hear Ralph Hasenhuttl did eventually have his prayers for a full-back answered. Rather, they let two of them go.

What they will soon discover after that though, is they did scramble a deal to sign Takumi Minamino on a six-month loan from Liverpool, with no option to buy.

Who is Takumi Minamino?

Born in the Japanese coastal city of Izumisano on Honshu, the prevalent island in Japan, Minamino played most of his youth football at his local club Cerezo Osaka. At the age of 17, he would go on to make his senior debut.

Despite his diminutive frame, Minamino was a diligent learner, unfazed by playing against older, often bigger opponents. The attacking midfielder quickly flourished in his country’s most prestigious league and was crowned J-League ‘Rookie of the Year’ in 2013. It is also understood to be the time when Minamino’s name first appeared on Liverpool’s radar, a club he would go on to sign for over six years later.

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In 2015, he headed to Austria and joined Red Bull Salzburg. While his reputation garnered in Asia began to permeate its way into European football, Minamino remained steadfast in his attitude. Speaking to The Athletic last year, Japanese Football reporter Hideo Tamaru believed his unassuming personality provided the perfect antithesis to cope with his rapidly increasing profile.

“Minamino has been hyped up as one of the rising stars of Japanese football”, Tamaru said.“He’s a normal guy, very down to earth, no ego. The fact that he can play in a number of different positions has probably held him back.”

Will he fit into Ralph Hasenhuttl’s Southampton?

Tamaru’s description of Southampton’s new acquisition would have likely been one of the factors that appealed to Hasenhuttl. The Saints boss continually asks for any incoming player to be open-minded, malleable and receptive to his ideas. Often those ideas are a plethora of tactical and technical instructions, some new signings may have never heard or even know could even exist before.

Having played at RB Salzburg, the 26-year-old appears well-equipped to transition into Southampton’s ultra-intense, interconnected style of play. After all, Salzburg are part of the Red Bull franchise, in which Hasenhuttl was a part of during at his time at their sister club, Leipzig.

As part of the franchise agreement, both sides adopted near-on duplicate playbooks on the ‘active, ball-orientated pressing’ style that was a staple of their success. Therefore, it shouldn’t take too long for Minamino to attune himself to Hasenhuttl’s idiosyncrasies in the little time they’ll have together out on the training pitch. 

Where will Minamino fit within the team? 

With Shane Long departing, Saints are a striker light up-front. Minamino has shown a capacity to play as a forward in Liverpool’s system, where he was deployed mostly as a false number 9. But it is believed Nathan Redmond will assume that responsibility should first choice pairing Danny Ings or Che Adams be unable to play.

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Consequently, the Japanese international will likely play in one of the two number 10 positions. And judging by recent evidence, he could provide a fresh injection to an attacking unit that has grown somewhat stale.

Southampton’s attacking sword has been blunted over the cold winter months. Injuries, dips in form and fluctuating physical levels have stifled any fluidity. Niggling injuries and a bout with COVID-19 to Saints’ spearhead Danny Ings has not helped matters either. The forward’s unavailability has only punctured the harmonic synchronisation the team require to create goalscoring chances.

December 16 was the last time Southampton scored a goal from open play in a Premier League fixture, coming in the 1-1 draw with Arsenal. They and Burnley remain the only two sides yet to score from a fast break this campaign. In fact, according to WhoScored.com, Saints have not even attempted a counter attack in the previous six matches.

All of which has put a heavy onus on James Ward-Prowse’s proficient set piece delivery to keep the supply chain running. That supply chain though, is being dependent on production at an unsustainable rate.

Is the number 10 position really that significant to Southampton right now?

Quite simply, yes.

Within the Ralph Hasenhuttl playbook, the red zone is the most concentrated area in which his side funnel the ball into. It’s seen as the most productive area in which to fashion clear-cut quality chances.

The number 10’s, who operate in the areas between opposition’s centre backs and centre-midifelders (think of it as them standing in a box between the four players), are tasked with constructing chances and finishing some of them off. But this season, figures suggest the players in those positions are creating flaws to Hasenhuttl’s system.

Southampton’s four most used players in the two number 10 roles have scored just seven goals between them and supplied even fewer, with a collective effort of four assists.

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For a side that has made enormous strides in refining their ball retention at the back and fine tuning other facets of their game this season, the inefficiency in the attacking third has heightened any areas of shortcoming. As previously alluded to, Saints are adept in coaxing teams onto them, but when they do offset a team’s pressing by launching an attack into the vacated space, through incisive, vertical passes, that is often when the move breaks down.

While the likes of Moussa Djenepo, Theo Walcott and Stuart Armstrong display plenty of application and energy, they can sometimes be guilty of lacking the guile or nous to thread passes into the two forwards. Playing in the red zone, a congested area that produces defining moments, the trio do not always apply the polish to what their hard-work deserves.

Though his time at Liverpool has continued to stutter and promise false dawns, Takumi Minamino has shown fleeting flashes of igniting the spark from his time at Salzburg. In his last two full seasons at the Austrian club, Minamino scored 25 goals and 20 assists. He scored 14 of those in the second season alone.

If the loan signing can display that type of clinical ingenuity for Southampton, then you can expect a vast improvement to the team’s goalscoring rate and the type of chances the number 10’s generate.

What happens now?

Don’t let his youthful appearance deceive you. Minamino has proven to have a penchant for winning domestic trophies. Along with the Premier League title at Liverpool, he has won five league titles on the bounce at Salzburg and not to mention four Austrian Cups.

The deal represents a good move for all the concerned parties. Minamino can receive regular first team football in the Premier League and Southampton are acquiring another string to their bow.

It is difficult to forecast how the signing will work out. But one thing can be reasonably assured, after a month of predictability in attack, a sense of unpredictability may just be what Ralph Hasenhuttl needs.

The news of the deal will make big headlines back in his homeland of Japan and the 127 million people who live there. And if Takumi Minamino can even have the slightest of profound impacts of another Japanese international that once walked through the Staplewood doors with a great big beaming smile on his face, then surely the final deal on the final day of the transfer window will be worth it.


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About Author

Football, Boxing and Cricket correspondent from Hampshire, covering southern sport. Editor and Head of Boxing at Prost International. Accreditated EFL & EPL journalist.

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