Championship promotion-chasers Southampton have already done two bits of business in January, recruiting teenager Joe O’Brien Whitmarsh from Cork City in Ireland and then striking a loan deal for Bournemouth midfielder Joe Rothwell this week.
A third seemed imminent when the Saints agreed a temporary deal for Burnley winger Manuel Benson, one that would see them pay a £1m loan fee and cover the entirety of the player’s salary for the remainder of the season. However, there’s now been a concerning update on that particular deal in a potential blow for manager Russell Martin.
Benson’s Southampton move in danger of collapse
According to Football Insider, Benson’s move to Southampton has stalled. It’s not yet clear why there’s a spanner in the works, but the deal is now very much in jeopardy despite the two clubs shaking hands earlier in the week.
Indeed, the other clubs who had been interested in Benson are “back in the race”, sensing the opportunity to hijack the transfer when he appeared on the verge of the move to St Mary’s.
Benson had already lit up Championship at Burnley
It would be a real setback if Southampton lose out on Benson, particularly at such an advanced stage. A 2022 recruit from Antwerp in Belgium, he’s barely featured for the Clarets this season, making the squad for just seven Premier League matches and only coming on four times. He may have signed a new four-year contract as recently as August, but he’ll surely be considering his future at Turf Moor in light of Vincent Kompany’s repeated snubs. In that sense, it would be a surprise if the current issue stemmed from the player not being keen on a move away.
Kompany has favoured Johann Berg Gudmundsson and new signing Wilson Odobert this season, even though Benson tore up the Championship last year. He scored 12 goals in 33 matches, which sounds good even before you place it in the context of his limited minutes. On a per-90 basis, he was the best playmaker in the league (0.25 expected assists), while he also ranked second for goals (0.66) as well as goal contributions (0.66).
Benson repeatedly showed he was capable of scoring in situations where the goalkeeper would ordinarily be the favourite, over-performing relative to his xG by a league-best 7.0. No wonder that Andy Jones, a Burnley reporter at The Athletic, said he was on a “different level” to his peers in the second tier. Jones even went as far as to call the goalscoring winger Burnley’s version of ex-Bayern Munich star Arjen Robben, so you can see how much excitement he was generating ahead of the side’s return to the Premier League.
Benson, a “beautiful footballer” in the words of sports journalist Josh Bunting, could have been exactly the signing that makes the difference between climbing into the automatic promotion places and remaining in the play-off spots. Southampton fans will hope that the issue can be ironed out, but you’d have to say the latest developments don’t sound especially promising.