It may have taken 25 years but, this summer, the Premier League has finally turned into the beast that many had foretold.
With just under a couple of weeks to go before the start of the new season, the top six alone have spent almost half a billion on new players, forking out unprecedented sums that the rest of the world, bar some of the top sides, can only ever dream of affording and can ill-afford to turn down.
The big boys of English football have become bully boys over the past couple of months and have crossed a line they can never go back from in terms of their spending. While they can currently afford to splash £50m on full-backs who are realistically worth less than half of that, it also means that other clubs can drive up their prices whilst being forced into a sale.
One club more than accustom to such a situation is Southampton. Since their return to the Premier League in 2012, the Saints have made just shy of £100m in player sales to Liverpool alone. Year after year the Reds come knocking for their top talent and, after brief whimpers of ‘We don’t need to sell so we won’t,’ from Les Reed and the rest of the St. Mary’s hierarchy, the sale goes ahead.
Summers gone by have seen top talents such as Adam Lallana, Sadio Mane and Nathaniel Clyne swap the Solent for the Mersey and this year is no different.
Despite missing half of last season through injury, Saints star and first team captain Virgil van Dijk has been attracting interest from across Europe. However, tapping up saga aside, it seems as if the Dutchman is hell bent on treading that familiar path to the North West.
The powers that be on the south coast are, once again, remaining firm for now, however fans are seemingly just waiting for an offer large enough to break their resolve once again.
While the reality is that the 26-year-old will more than likely line up alongside the likes of Lallana, Mane and Clyne next season, the Saints have an opportunity to stand up for smaller clubs around the country, and the continent, this summer in defying Liverpool.
It may be a dangerous game to play, much like a roulette player casting aside his tried and tested strategies for a much higher risk approach, however in the long run standing up against the top clubs could pay off for the Saints.
New manager Mauricio Pellegrino has already shown his stance in leaving Van Dijk to train on his own while the rest of the squad travelled to France last week, in the hope that he would come back to a player mentally ready to re-join the group this week.
If, as they seem confident of doing so, the Saints officials can convince their star to stay put and fight another day, having signed a lucrative six-year-deal to become the club’s top paid player last summer, then it will send a clear message to the Premier League’s top six who are quickly running away with their new found financial power.
Should the board get their way and Liverpool stay true to their word in ending their interest in a deal for the defender, it would serve as a jolt to the elite that they cannot have it all their way and send hope to those looking to break the splinter group this season that they can achieve something.
Although not as rich as those looking to pinch their players, Southampton aren’t short of cash themselves and do not need the money being talked about for Van Dijk, and while £70m would be hard to turn down for any club, the effect such a move would have would be unquantifiable.
Fans on the south coast were upset with the lack of ambition shown under former manager Claude Puel, if the new regime start of by selling their greatest asset, whatever the price, then regardless their style of play there are no better than the departed Frenchman.
This is a deal not only for the good of Southampton’s league standing next season, but the power of all those outside the top six in the world’s most lucrative division.