While Southampton’s astonishing rise this season can be attributed to a plethora of different qualities—defensive fortitude, astute management and astounding togetherness, to name but a few—there are few players in the current squad that embody the positive strides made by the club than Dusan Tadic.
The effervescent Serbian midfielder scored the winning goal in a cornerstone 1-0 victory for Saints at Manchester United in the Premier League from the substitutes bench. And it was the kind of performance that suggested Southampton are very much the real deal in their pursuit of a Champions League places.
Tadic was signed from FC Twente in the summer for £11 million. His refined playmaking skills and intricate dribbling ability made him the obvious stylistic replacement for Adam Lallana, who was offloaded to Liverpool for a premium almost twice the aforementioned figure. Three goals and seven assists later, it’s undeniably money well spent by Southampton.
It’s the kind of astute transfer acumen that has expedited Saints’ progression up the Premier League table. Toby Alderweireld, Ryan Bertrand, Graziano Pelle, Sadio Mane, Fraser Forster and of course, Tadic have not only filled the void left by the sale of an array of perceivably key players in the summer, but improved this Southampton team too.
In hindsight, it’s easy to say, but it looks as though Saints knew exactly what they were doing prior to the season getting underway. The club’s really key players—Nathaniel Clyne, Morgan Schneiderlin and skipper Jose Fonte—were clung onto with a real adamancy, while the likes of Lallana, Rickie Lambert, Luke Shaw and Dejan Lovren were sold off for vastly inflated fees.
The players drafted in with a portion of the funds received have proven to be major upgrades on the club’s aforementioned former players and the manner in which they’ve gelled as a group is testament to the Saints’ revered infrastructure.
All of the signings mentioned have played a significantly positive role so far this season; Tadic is the crown jewel of the riches accrued, though. Admittedly his influence has waned a little in recent weeks, which is wholly understandable when you consider this is the first time he’s sampled the arduous landscape of top flight English football, but his class is undeniable and his ability to make telling contributions when on the pitch—whether it be goals or assists—has been irrepressible.
He seems a wonderful fit for the Premier League too. Tadic’s grasp of the English language is excellent as we’ve seen in various interviews and as his macho celebration against the Red Devils showcased in earnest, he has the physicality to compliment his aesthetic abilities with the ball at his feet.
The 26-year-old cuts a relaxed, languid character too, a mindset you would imagine contributes plenty to his deliciously insouciant playing style. So relaxed in fact, that he left his shirt and shin pads in the dressing room prior to coming on in the second half at Old Trafford.
This laid back aura is not a trait befitting of many Premier League players, but as Tadic revealed in an interview with The Guardian earlier in the campaign, the pressure of English football is nothing compared to that of playing for Serbia:
In this country you are just focused on football and you have nice pressure. In Serbia, it is amazing pressure.
When we lose a game, it is like somebody dies, it is really horrible. They put us in hotels after the match, and this is crazy.
While it’s difficult to put a positive spin on his shirts and shin pads faux pas, it says a lot about the attitude that currently emanates from every pore of the South coast club.
Despite the ferocious nature of their defensive diligence and the steely resolve they’ve showcased in midfield, off the field there seems to be a tranquil atmosphere that’s been conjured by the eminently amicable Ronald Koeman. After all, the fans mawkishly sing “the Saints are staying up” on their travels and there’s a real sense that all associated with the club are enjoying every moment of this unexpectedly prosperous campaign.
The players should enjoy it too and with a prevalent sense that at this juncture that the club has absolutely nothing to lose, don’t expect this Southampton bubble to burst any time soon. Especially with the incisive attacking talents of Tadic accompanying the Premier League’s best defense.
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball