When Shane Long joined Southampton from Hull City in August 2014, the move was met with a few raised eyebrows on the South coast. The rest of the country soon joined in with the shock when the fee of £12million was mooted in the national press.
For all of his strengths, Long had never been considered an out-and-out goal scorer and it seemed a strange move for Ronald Koeman to make for such a hefty fee. Fast forward to the end of his second season at St. Mary’s and Long is now considered as one of the favourites for the clubs player of the year award as well as being amongst the first names on the team sheet.
The £12million outlay now looks to be a shrewd piece of business by the Dutch manager, with Long notching 13 goals in 33 games in all competitions after enjoying an extended spell in the side in recent months.
The Republic of Ireland international was renowned for his work-rate during spells at Reading, West Bromwich Albion and Hull City, but he seems to have improved his technical ability under the stewardship of the Koeman brothers at the club’s state-of-the-art training ground.
Long is a defender’s nightmare as has been shown in recent victories over Liverpool, Newcastle United and Manchester City at St. Mary’s where he has played a pivotal part in his side’s push for Europa League qualification for the second season running. During 2015/16 however, he has added goals to his arsenal and this has made the money spent to bring him to the club seem like a mere drop in the ocean.
The section of the Southampton faithful who questioned the striker’s worth when he joined the club for such a fee are now converted Long supporters and his non-stop running, physical presence and commitment have endeared him no end.
For a relatively short striker at just 5ft 9in, the Irishman is a surprising force to be reckoned with in the air. This has caused many a Premier League defender to rethink their strategy when faced with the 29-year-old during this season.
With Long set to lead the line for the Republic of Ireland at this summer’s European Championships in France, there could be plenty more success in store as this season draws to a close.
Such has been his impressive form in recent months, Long has managed to keep Graziano Pelle and Charlie Austin consigned to the substitutes bench whilst making himself un-droppable to the Saints boss.
His willingness to run the channels and provide an option to his midfield make him a perfect foil for the attacking talent at Southampton, with Sadio Mane and Dusan Tadic reaping havoc in the space left behind by Long’s forward runs.
The man who once caused such a split opinion following his arrival has now cemented his position in the Southampton team and grown to be a fan favourite following a superb season in red and white stripes.