Ralph Hails Stephens As A Leader
Thursday, 16th Jan 2020 10:59
Ralph Hasenhuttl has hailed Jack Stephens leadership qualities as a major influence on Saints recent upturn in results.
Speaking ahead of the game against Wolves the Austrian manager said of Stephens.
“He has surprised me with his duels in the defence,” said Hasenhuttl.
“I asked him to be more aggressive and he did well against very good strikers and is good with the ball, I know. He also has good management now, he doesn’t take too much risk. This is a good balance at the moment in all his behaviours. "
“He is a leader in the back four, absolutely. He took the chance with both hands.”
Certainly Saints defence has been tighter and almost unrecognisable in the last month and results have reflected this and Stephens has played his full part, so what has changed in Jack Stephens?
In some respects it can be likened to this period last year when James ward prowse who had been on the fringes of the team in the latter part of Mark Hughes reign and was touted for a move away from St Mary's.
Back then suddenly Ward prowse seemed to find not only focus but confidence, although he had been a first team player for many seasons, he was at a crossroads, you always felt he was lacking belief in himself, he always saw himself as the newcomer, the youngster and deferred to the more experienced players.
Perhaps the same can be said of Stephens, he never had the luxury of playing with central defenders who were either truly class like Van Dyke or Leaders like Jose Fonte, he was often partnered with Yoshida and although the Japanese defender has some good qualities, leadership was not one of them, he is a player that needs to be led and the partnership did not flourish because the balance was not right, Jack Stephens needed a mentor, but that man was never going to be Yoshida who himself always needed someone marshalling him, that is not a criticism, there are many great players who always needed a controlling partner in central defence.
With the dropping of Yoshida and pairing Stephens with Bednarek suddenly Jack was the senior man and it seems to have given him the confidence to play his natural game and it is paying benefits to both him as a player and Saints as a defence.
I have been a big critic of Stephens in the past, this has always been purely on his form on the pitch and to be blunt I think I was justified in that criticism, but do not make constructive criticism to be hatred of the player, I wanted him to do well, I just didn't think he either was A. Playing well or B. Going to be up to the task.
But like any Saints player I want him to do well and I am always pleased to be proved wrong by a player on the pitch and I hope that he continues to prove my initial prognosis of his abilities to be way off the mark.
The responsibility seems to spur him on rather than weigh heavily on him and certainly he looks ten times the player he has looked for much of his time in the first team and indeed even earlier this season.
He still has areas he needs to work on, his reading of the game and ability to defend in the air, but it is wonders what a little confidence will do in these areas and hopefully he can now make himself a better all round player.
There is still a way for him to go, for me to truly be able to say he has proved me wrong and as I have just said there are still some aspects of his game he needs to improve, but he has shown that he ready and willing to face up to the task and that is admirable.
This also highlights how Hasenhuttl has also learned some lessons this season, he has started to learn a little more about man management, how some players need to be treated differently than others and by giving Jack Stephens praise and highlighting this area he has boosted his confidence even more.
Saints still do need another central defender in this transfer window, Jan Bednarek and Jack Stephens are doing well but we have no back up that is up to standard for them currently at the club, Yoshida and Vestergaard are not the answer, so we not only need back up for our current pair, we need someone to put pressure on them for their places to keep their standards high and we also need a third central defender so that Ralph can change formation when he deems it necessary.
Photo: Action Images
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