April 13, 2024

If Southampton are to be promoted, they will need to improve a lot of their existing players.

The good news for Russell Martin is that if he leads Southampton to an immediate return to the Premier League, he will be able to sign Taylor Harwood-Bellis, who is on loan with a £20 million buyout clause dependant on promotion.

It would also substantially increase the club’s prospects of signing Flynn Downes on a permanent basis, as the holding midfielder has been a standout this season on loan from West Ham United.

With Harwood-Bellis only 22 and having performed admirably alongside Poland international Jan Bednarek at the heart of the defence for the majority of the season, Martin’s recent decision to insert club captain Jack Stephens into the defence may have had a negative impact on results and the side’s structure.

While it is understandable that Martin would want to put the captain’s armband on the player he gave the captain’s armband to, he may be better served sticking with what has worked for the majority of the season; the skipper was injured for the majority of the Saints’ record-breaking 25-game unbeaten streak in all competitions.

If the St Mary’s club is promoted – a big ‘if’ given they are fourth with ten games to go – an improvement on Stephens will be necessary, but Southampton may save a lot of money with a possible reprieve for a player whose career at the club appeared to be ended.

Could Armel Bella-Kotchap make Southampton return?

Armel Bella-Kotchap is currently on loan with Dutch club PSV Eindhoven, but has only made four Eredivisie appearances in a season marred by injuries.

Southampton paid £10 million to sign the 6 foot 3 German from VFL Bochum in the summer of 2022, and after impressing early on and gaining an international call-up, he suffered with injuries as he played 24 league games as the Saints ended last.

The 22-year-old has been sidelined for much of his time in the Netherlands due to a recurrence of the dislocated shoulder injury he sustained at Southampton, which is a serious concern for such a young player.

Despite his ongoing injury, Bella-Kotchap is still a highly regarded young defender with huge potential, yet no club was willing to activate the reputed £25 million release clause activated as a result of Southampton’s slide into the Championship last season.

Given his developing profile and the fact that this season concludes with a home Euros for Bella-Kotchap, he sought a move that suited his goal, and the loan to PSV was ultimately chosen the best option for all parties.

That move was widely regarded as the end of the France-born centre-back’s career at Southampton. However, considering his injury history, no team may be ready to take a chance on a player who is still expected to command a hefty price from the Southampton management.

That could indicate that if Martin is promoted this summer, Bella-Kotchap will get a break. It may be difficult for the defender to win over the fans, but if his thinking is correct and he is completely focused on Southampton, a fit Bella-Kotchap will significantly help the Saints’ defense.

Bella-Kotchap a huge upgrade on Jack Stephens

Breaking: Armel Bella-Kotchap transfer to Bayern Munich also collapses,  after agreement reached - Bavarian Football Works

 

While Stephens has been a solid servant for Southampton, making 170 appearances in 13 years, Martin should not expect the Plymouth Argyle academy graduate to start in the top division.

It’s unclear whether Bella-Kotchap or Southampton are receptive to reintegrating the German into the team. Things did not go well for Bella-Kotchap last season, as his injuries prevented him from contributing significantly to the club’s attempt for Premier League survival, and some fans questioned his dedication to the cause. Southampton may possibly seek to cash in on a player that they believe is a great asset.

However, if all sides are interested in a return for Bella-Kotchap, the club will save a lot of money on a new signing and will know exactly what they are receiving rather than an unknown quantity signed from elsewhere.

Ralph Hasenhuttl, the recently named Wolfsburg manager who was in control when Bella-Kotchap joined Southampton, commented of the youngster’s strengths shortly after his dismissal in November 2022.

Hasenhuttl stated, “He’s a one-on-one monster, very strong in one-on-one scenarios and really fast. You can defend effectively with him. He makes solid passes into the final third, even from great distances.

Martin, Southampton’s current manager, has not had the benefit of witnessing Bella-Kotchap in action, as injuries prevented his participation in pre-season and the new manager accepted the defender would depart the club.

However, when asked about the twice-capped German international from last summer, Martin indicated that he would be eager to work with Bella-Kotchap if the opportunity arose, which could imply that the defender’s future is still open this summer.

Martin stated, “Armel thrills you just by looking at him because of his sheer size and physicality. I mean that in a football context.

“When you look at him, he’s an imposing figure. When I shook his hand on the first day, I thought he was enormous. He has incredible athleticism and physicality.

Bella-Kotchap’s quickness and power, as well as his ball-handling ability, might make him an ideal partner for either Harwood-Bellis or Bednarek if Southampton makes the Premier League next season.

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