Is Mark Hughes the long-term solution at Southampton?
Last night, Southampton all-but secured their Premier League status for another year. The Saints secured a huge three points, thanks to a second-half strike from Manolo Gabbiadini.
Mark Hughes was appointed Southampton manager less than two months ago. In that time, his team has certainly improved. During the Welshman's short tenure, they've run both Chelsea and Arsenal close, beaten AFC Bournemouth in the derby, picked up a crucial point away at Everton and toppled relegation rivals Swansea City on their own turf, in a game that can only be described as season-defining. That's some mightily impressive form.
That begs the question, just how far can Hughes take Southampton next season? Should he even be considered a long-term solution at all?
It's tough. Aside from the fine work he did at Blackburn Rovers, which was almost ten years ago now, Hughes hasn't really enjoyed much success as a manager in English football. Sure, he stint at Stoke City was a lengthy one, but The Potters spent a few seasons in mid-table mediocrity before eventually succumbing to relegation this season. Hughes wasn't in charge when Stoke's fate was officially finalised, but his damage was done.
Credit where it's due, it was Hughes' substitute and tactical tweaks that won the Swansea game for Southampton. Gabbiadini's goal will be worth £120million to his employers over the next twelve months, but we're talking about a side that shouldn't be battling relegation. With a brilliant squad at his disposal, any manager worth their due would be vying for a top-half finish during the 2018/19 campaign.
Is Hughes that man?
The fact that Southampton only handed Hughes a contract until the season's end says a lot. They clearly didn't have full confidence in the former Manchester United midfielder. Now they've a decision to make. Do they stick or twist? It's a decision that Chairman Ralph Krueger simply has to get right.
Sticking would be the safer option. I think it's fair to say that Southampton are a club with bigger spending power than Stoke. They've also got a considerably better playing squad than The Potters. With a full summer to work with the players, while also being allowed to bring in new faces, Hughes should be more than capable of improving drastically next season.
Twisting could either end in disaster or prove to be a move that shapes Southampton's future in an extremely positive way. It all depends on the manager you bring in. If there's a big name out there that's willing to move to St. Mary's Stadium then it's something that seriously has to be considered. However, I fear that if they hire another Mauricio Pellegrino, next season they may not be so lucky.
Personally, I think Hughes deserves his opportunity. He's worked wonders to keep his side in the Premier League. At the very least, he probably deserves one full season to show the Southampton board what he can do. Plus, I'm not too sure who else they could get in as a replacement. Why not hand him another short-term contract? Let's be honest, I doubt they'll be many top-tier English sides fighting for his signature...