What's next for James Ward-Prowse if Southampton suffer relegation?
As Southampton’s Premier League survival hopes hang by a delicate thread, spare a thought for the man who has been with the club through thick and thin. James Ward-Prowse came through the youth system at Southampton, and has been there to witness the club’s return to the Premier League in 2012, all the way through to what looks like their inevitable relegation 11 years later.
He is the one constant in more than a decade of flux for the south-coast club. The initial scramble to establish themselves in the Premier League, followed by a run of successful seasons where European football was the order of the day, to more recent campaigns where it has looked increasingly like Southampton are battling against the tide as far as the Premier League relegation odds are concerned.
In that time, Ward-Prowse has established himself as one of the most effective and reliable midfielders in the Premier League, racking up hundreds of first-team appearances for Southampton, and attracting plenty of interest from other clubs in the process. He has developed a reputation as a dead-ball specialist — only David Beckham has scored more goals from direct free kicks in the Premier League than Ward-Prowse.
All this begs the question: what will be the next step for Ward-Prowse if Southampton drop down to the Championship?
On one hand, he’ll be reluctant to leave the club that means so much to him, but for the sake of his career ambitions, a move to another Premier League outfit seems like the only sensible option.
That said, if Ward-Prowse did stick around at St. Mary’s, he’d have a chance to play a starring role in helping his side to achieve promotion at the first time of asking. In many ways, that would mean more to Southampton’s supporters than any of his previous achievements with the club, but in the ever-changing landscape of professional football, a player needs to take his opportunities when they come.
There have been rumours linking Ward-Prowse with the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United, and you can imagine that if he is allowed to leave St. Mary’s, there will be several more clubs vying for the 28-year-old’s signature.
In many ways, Ward-Prowse has been let down by the disastrous management of Southampton off the pitch. A terrible recruitment structure has led to big money being spent on below-par players, and the result is a woeful season where players like Ward-Prowse have been left to try and drag the team out of the mud.
You can be sure that Ward-Prowse will say all the right things between now and the summer. He has always been a model professional, but Southampton fans must come to terms with the fact that their number eight will surely be on the move before too long.
“The club know my thoughts and my position in terms of what I want to achieve in my career, and nothing has changed within that despite where we are in the league,” Ward-Prowse said recently. “I want to give my all for this football club. and I always have done. Every time I put the shirt on I always give 100 percent and that's no different whether we lose our next game or we win it.
“For me, it's just being focused on where I am now and giving my all for this club, which I always have done since I was eight years old.”