Transfer Talk: Ward-Prowse set for top-flight interest if Saints suffer drop
James Ward-Prowse is one of the most admired midfielders in the Premier League but his Southampton team look destined to spend next season in the Championship.
The Saints lost 1-0 at Leeds over the weekend, leaving them bottom of the table and four points from safety.
With the South Coast club looking increasingly likely to be relegated, they may find it difficult to keep hold of their captain.
Ahead of their FA Cup fifth round tie with Grimsby, we turn the spotlight on the England international and examine where he might be playing his football next season.
Struggling Saints have only won five games in the Premier League this season.
Newly-appointed Ruben Selles is their third manager of the campaign, having sacked Ralph Hasenhuttl and then his replacement Nathan Jones.
Now in their 11th consecutive season in the top flight, the Saints were once heralded as an example of a well-run club, famed for their excellent recruitment of players and coaches alike.
Recent years have seen a decline. In each of the last five seasons they have finished in the bottom half of the table, flirting with relegation to various degrees.
Ward-Prowse’s reputation has grown in spite of these long-standing problems. If Southampton are to have any chance of survival, they must hope that their skipper can continue to deliver match-winning performances.
Southampton’s most recent victory came away at Chelsea, when their talisman scored direct from a free-kick to secure a 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge.
It was his eighth goal across all competitions, which follows a total of 11 from last season, in which the player finished as the club’s top scorer.
Ward-Prowse’s strike against Chelsea was his 17th Premier League goal from a free-kick. Only David Beckham has scored more in the history of the competition, with 18 goals from dead-ball situations.
He was first trusted to shoot on goal from a free-kick in February 2013. Since then, some 15.2% of his efforts have found the net.
Over this period, Lionel Messi is the only player in Europe’s top five leagues to have scored more free-kick goals, yet even his conversion rate of 9.6% pales against that of the 28-year old.
Given his remarkable statistics, it is not hyperbole to describe Ward-Prowse as the best free-kick taker in Europe.
When you consider that the Three Lions international is also an extremely competent midfielder with all-round ability, then it is a wonder he is still at Southampton.
In an era when the best players tend to gravitate towards the biggest teams, this one-club man has shown admirable loyalty.
Ward-Prowse committed his long-term future to the club when he signed a five-year contract in 2021, despite Aston Villa bidding £25million for him that summer.
That contract and Southampton's hefty valuation of the player has kept suitors at a distance over the past couple of seasons but the situation looks set to change if they are relegated.
It was reported last summer that Saints valued Ward-Prowse at £75m. Even accounting for his set-piece prowess, that is a hefty sum for a player in his late 20s.
If the club are relegated then that fee would surely drop to a more affordable level, with the club needing to sell in order to compensate for the lack of Premier League income.
Villa are said to be interested still while West Ham have also been linked, with Declan Rice set to leave them in the summer. Richer clubs should not be ruled out from joining the chase, either.
Playing for a more high-profile team could help the midfielder’s international career having narrowly missed out on the England squads for Euro 2020 and the 2022 World Cup.
Southampton can count on Ward-Prowse to do all he can to prevent their relegation. Should he fail, there will be plenty of teams trying to keep this special talent in the Premier League.