Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The Southampton Hipster Club

The Premier League is a desolate place for the football hipster.  Everything about it is just too damn.. mainstream.  Where’s the joy in pledging allegiance to Arsenal say when even your Mum knows who Mesut Ozil is?  What you need is a team just left of centre enough to make following them cool while not being in any danger of actually winning anything (and no, Arsenal don’t count).  For this, Southampton are the only choice.

They’re perfect really.  Their current identity is based around them developing their own players and a bright young manager who insists on a style of football based around pressing the opposition.  They’re like Dortmund but without the reduction in cachet that actually winning stuff brings.  They’re just on the edge of being too mainstream, like a band just before their song is used on a Vodaphone advert. 

Manuel Pochettino’s commitment to making Southampton the league’s coolest club even stretches to insisting on still using a post-match interpreter when he can obviously speak excellent English (as opposed to Pepe Mel, who instantly ruined his air of Spanish mystery by proving he’d learnt our language).  Manuel knows that nothing removes your carefully cultivated aloofness faster than looking like you’re trying too hard.

Southampton stand out in a Premier League increasingly measured in money first and football second with their focus on bringing young players through.  Football hipsters love both developing youth and getting to complain when said youth is sold early for a profit.  Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale, Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, James Ward-Prowse and Calum Chambers are just some of the players to have come through their rightly lauded academy in the last ten years.  This is good news.  Follow them and you can smugly recount how different your club is; we make players, we don’t buy them you can say.  Now that Barcelona have turned evil we’re the only bastions of club morals left.

Their playing style could have been designed with appealing to a better quality of fan in mind.  Possession football is so 2009, never mind Pep Guardiola and his Bayern side’s attempts to bring it back.  Pressing the ball when out of possession is what’s in now, winning it high up the field and counteracting quickly, distilling football down into a game of sprints.  To the level they do it they’re unique in the Premier League.  There’s only Chelsea who get close to their pressure on the ball and they tend to do it about twenty metres closer to their own goal line.  And who cares because they’re Chelsea.

There’s a real catch them while they’re here feel about them.  Bigger clubs are actively circling their talent.  Lallana is in line to be in the first team for England at the World Cup.  Luke Shaw apparently has to choose between Man Utd and Chelsea.  Hipsters should rush to follow them now, before they sell out and move to one of the big boys.

Following Southampton also allows you to ponder the bigger questions of football fandom, namely what is a modern football club actually for?  If it’s to win things then Pochettino’s decision to rest players from an entirely winnable 5th Round FA Cup tie is indefensible.  If it’s to bring the kids through while finishing in the top half of the table then they’re golden.  You’ll be too busy coming across as cool and mysterious to care. 

Basically Southampton are really the only choice for a football hipster looking at English clubs.  And really isn’t all this following European teams becoming a bit passé?  Liking Dortmund was fine when no one had heard of Shinji Kagawa and Robert Lewandowski’s FIFA stats were stupidly low.  After the Champions League Final and people remembering the Bundesliga highlights isn’t it all a bit played?  Braver to pick the one English team cool enough then.  Unless Marcelo Bielsa ever gets a job over here.  Then hipsters worldwide will be frantically ordering shirts online before he even gets off the plane.

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