We’ve been asking the fans who they think have been the best signings of the summer. This is your list and this, is your number 7.
He might have been voted as number 7 in this list, but for me, Boufal could turn out to be the signing of the summer. At £16million he offers incredible value in this market. He is just 22 but has the potential to go all the way, following in Eden Hazard’s footsteps of leaving Lille for the Premier League. Southampton have once again made a shrewd move in the market to seal this deal and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a bigger club (once again) come knocking next summer.
It’s a credit to Southampton that beyond the raids set on their team during the transfer window by Liverpool and co., they’ve still managed reformulate their side and hit all the targets expected of them. The challenge could be a little trickier this time, however, with the new Everton boss, Ronald Koeman, swapping the south coast for Merseyside. Claude Puel has come in as his successor, but despite the change at the St. Mary’s hot seat, the traditions of the transfer market have continued.
Liverpool wasted no time in swarming the Saints once more, this time signing star man Sadio Mané for a £35 million fee. In response, Southampton landed Nathan Redmond from Norwich City for £11.5 million, but Puel, meanwhile realising the English winger is not quite up to the standards set by the new Reds man, sees the winger as more of a forward.
Via tactical preferences, a void out wide was opened once more, but the Europa League hopefuls have moved meticulously to get that gap filled in. With a couple of days to go until the transfer window’s closure, Southampton managed to land the signing of Lille winger Sofiane Boufal for £16 million, pinning the Moroccan international to a five-year-deal.
The 22-year-old, who joined Lille from Ligue 2 club SCO Angers in January 2015, scored 14 goals and contributed to a further 10 through assists during his time in Ligue 1. The only midfielder to outscore Boufal was ex-Newcastle United outcast Hatem Ben Arfa, coincidentally under the command of Puel at OGC Nice.
Typically, due to his tricky nature and footballing background, Boufal has drawn comparisons to the likes of Chelsea and ex-Lille star Eden Hazard, as well as the 2016 PFA Player of the Year, Leicester City’s Riyad Mahrez. Hazard himself was picked up as a 16-year-old by Puel, so the Frenchman has set a precedent with regards to spotting a quality wide man.
The winger’s arrival gives the Saints to chance to revert back to a more familiar looking 4-2-3-1, with results proving hard to come by so far this season under a diamond midfield. Boufal can play in all of the three attacking midfield positions, providing flexibility; meanwhile his statistical numbers for last season also mix well with those registered by Southampton’s Dušan Tadić, Redmond and the departed Mané.
Of the aforementioned options, only Tadić (71) created more chances than Boufal in the league last season, whereas it was the £16 million man who came up with the most key passes (65). The Moroccan’s shot accuracy also proved superior, as only Mané could match the 11 league goals scored in the last campaign.
Such stats will be a welcome addition to a Southampton side that have fallen on 53 attempts at goal so far this season – bettered only by Liverpool’s 55 – scoring twice. The hope is now that Boufal, initially representing a nice coup for the Saints, can help to translate such figures into three points consistently for Puel’s side and, who knows, follow in the footsteps of some of the Premier League’s most lauded French-based imports.