By Ossian Shine
LONDON (Reuters) – Former RB Leipzig coach Ralph Hasenhuettl emerged as odds-on favourite to fill Mark Hughes’ shoes at Southampton after the Premier League strugglers sacked their manager on Monday with the club mired in the relegation zone.
Several media in Austria and Germany later reported that Hasenhuettl had agreed in principle to a deal with the south-coast club and would be presented in the coming days.
Austria’s Kleine Zeitung said a contract had been signed.
However, a source close to the deal said no agreement for a new manager had been sealed yet, but that the club was working out the details and hopeful that the new Southampton manager would be named before the end of the week.
British bookmakers William Hill priced the former Austria striker Hasenhuettl at a short 8-11 price to replace Hughes, having tumbled from a 33-1 shot only an hour earlier.
He left Leipzig in May after securing Europa League football but the Saints may also be about to plunder the Bundesliga Club for their Head of Recruitment, with Paul Mitchell on their list to replace the club’s former vice-chairman Les Reed.
Mitchell would be a popular choice among the fans after developing players including Luke Shaw, James Ward-Prowse, Calum Chambers and Nathaniel Clyne during a 2012-2014 spell as Director of Recruitment and Scouting at Southampton.
Saints made no comment on their progress in the hunt for Hughes’ replacement when contacted by Reuters, other than to say the search for a new manager was already underway.
Hughes’ departure was met with relief by many Southampton supporters who have grown frustrated at the 55-year-old’s inability to get the most from a talented squad.
“About time,” one fan wrote in response to the news on the Southampton newspaper Daily Echo’s website. “Thank God… thank God,” wrote another, while a third implored the club’s board: “Just have some ambition. Don’t employ another relegation fiddler…”
A section of Southampton fans directed chants of ‘You’re getting sacked in the morning’ during the club’s 3-2 defeat by Fulham last week, in a response which was more prescient than timely.
Hughes helped Saints narrowly avoid the drop last season by finishing 17th in the table, but this term they sit 18th in the standings having lost seven out of their 14 matches.
On Saturday they squandered a 2-0 lead to draw 2-2 at home to Manchester United to take their winless run to 10 matches.
In eight months at Southampton, former Wales, Manchester City and Stoke City boss Hughes managed only five victories in 27 games in all competitions.
Their only league win this season came against Crystal Palace in September and their success-starved fans have seen Southampton win only one league match at home in the past 12 months – a squeaky 2-1 victory over Bournemouth in April.
Before Saturday’s draw with United, Southampton had lost 3-2 at fellow relegation-threatened side Fulham and were knocked out of the League Cup by Leicester City on penalties.
First-team assistant coach Kelvin Davis will lead the team for Wednesday’s match against Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley Stadium.
Southampton’s new manager will be Saints’ fourth boss in two years. Since Ronald Koeman left to join Everton in 2016, they have also fired Claude Puel and Mauricio Pellegrino.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin and Shrivathsa Sridhar; editing by Ed Osmond and Christian Radnedge and Ken Ferris)