James Ward-Prowse: Southampton captain says ‘slipping standards’ led to Premier League relegation 2023
Southampton captain James Ward-Prowse says “slipping standards” at the club have brought about Saints’ relegation from the Premier League.
Saturday’s 2-0 home defeat by Fulham ended Saints’ 11-year stay in the top flight with two games still to play.
The loss was their 24th this term – the most in a season in the club’s history.
“From the first day of pre-season until right now you can tell the standards at the club have slipped,” Ward-Prowse, 28, told BBC Sport.
“We need to go away individually and as a club and assess if we’ve done everything we possibly could. I don’t think we have and that is a shame.”
Saints sacked long-serving manager Ralph Hasenhuttl in November and his successor Nathan Jones lasted just three months into a three-year deal before Ruben Selles was installed until the end of the season.
“I think as a team and a club overall we’ll think about the season that has gone by,” Ward-Prowse added.
“Have decisions been right? Have we done everything we could on the pitch? I think we should perform at a better level than we have done.”
The England midfielder is confident the club will learn lessons to bounce back but said he was “not thinking too far ahead” about his own future at St Mary’s, with summer interest in his services almost inevitable.
“I have been here right through from eight years old, I’ve seen the journey that the club has been on, all the ups and downs, the good times and the bad – and this is a bad time,” he added.
“But I’m sure with the good people at the club it will be back in the Premier League in no time. It will be a testing time for everybody but the club has done it before and I’m sure it will do it again.”
‘Saints might need a big clear-out’
However, Ward-Prowse admitted relegation had “been coming” during a challenging campaign and BBC Sport pundits Martin Keown and Anita Asante worry how difficult it will be for Saints to rebound.
“It has been a proud record for Southampton bringing players through the academy but it just isn’t enough – they might need a big clear out,” former Arsenal and England defender Keown told BBC Final Score.
“You look at teams that have come back from the Championship and they have a core. What is the core of this Southampton side? Is Ward-Prowse going to stay?
“It’s going to be difficult. There are so many games in the Championship and it will be Southampton’s toughest ever season.
“They will need to bounce back quickly while the parachute payments are there.”
Ex-England defender Asante felt the Saints were not just paying the price for poor decisions this season but over a broader recent history.
“This has been a long time coming and not just this season alone – it has been two seasons of poor transfer windows,” she added.
Southampton were taken over by Sport Republic in January 2022 and the company issued a statement on behalf of investors Dragan Solak, Rasmus Ankersen and Henrik Kraft after relegation was confirmed.
“We want to reassure our supporters, our partners and our staff that we remain fully committed to achieving long-term success for the club at the top level,” it said.
“We must now reflect on the lessons to be learned from this season and start preparing for the challenges ahead of us in the Championship.
“Our goal is to return to the Premier League as soon as possible and ensure that we stay there.
“We understand that significant improvement is required, and at the end of the season we will announce our immediate next steps and provide details of how the club will operate moving forward.”
‘If somebody is responsible, it is me’ – Selles
Saints won two of interim boss Selles’ first three games after he took charge in February but have followed that up with eight defeats in an 11-game winless run that has consigned them to the second tier.
They were in relegation trouble long before he took over, however, having been in the bottom three since November, when Hasenhuttl was sacked and replaced by Selles’ predecessor Jones.
But the Spaniard, who briefly lifted Saints off the foot of the table in March with victory over Leicester, rejected any notion that the damage was done before his reign began.
“I will not make that excuse – when I took over I was convinced I could get this team out of relegation and I didn’t make it, and I am the first one who is responsible for this run,” he told Match of the Day.
“From the beginning I thought we can do it – so if somebody is responsible for the last three months, it’s me.”
Southampton have lost at least seven times under each of their three different managers in the league – eight in 14 matches under Hasenhuttl, seven in Jones’ eight-game spell and nine defeats in 14 with Selles.
“There is not only one reason – one of the things that we didn’t find during the season was enough togetherness, enough trust in each other,” Selles added.
“It’s not only about one player or one coach, it’s about relationships between us.”
Like Ward-Prowse, Selles’ future at the club is unclear but he insisted: “This club has quality enough to bounce back immediately, with or without me.”