If Southamp­ton are to be pro­mot­ed, they will need to upgrade on a num­ber of their cur­rent squad.

The good news for Rus­sell Mar­tin is that, should he steer Southamp­ton to an instant return to the Pre­mier League, this will secure the sign­ing of Tay­lor Har­wood-Bel­lis due to his loan deal includ­ing a £20 mil­lion oblig­a­tion to buy con­tin­gent on pro­mo­tion.

It would also great­ly improve the club’s chances of sign­ing Fly­nn Downes per­ma­nent­ly, with the hold­ing mid­field­er a real stand­out per­former this sea­son on loan from West Ham Unit­ed.

With Har­wood-Bel­lis just 22 and per­form­ing so well along­side Poland inter­na­tion­al Jan Bednarek at the heart of the defence for the major­i­ty of the cam­paign so far, Martin’s recent shoe­horn­ing of club cap­tain Jack Stephens into the defence has arguably had a neg­a­tive impact on results and the struc­ture of the side.

Whilst it is under­stand­able Mar­tin would want to get the play­er he gave the captain’s arm­band to into the side, he may be bet­ter served stick­ing to what has worked for the bulk of the sea­son; the skip­per absent through injury for most of Saints’ record-break­ing 25 game unbeat­en streak in all com­pe­ti­tions.

If the St Mary’s club secure pro­mo­tion – and it is a big ‘if’ giv­en they are fourth with ten games to go – an upgrade on Stephens will be required, but Southamp­ton could save a lot of mon­ey with a poten­tial reprieve for a play­er whose career at the club looked to be over.

Could Armel Bella-Kotchap make Southampton return?

Newcastle United v Southampton FC - Premier League
Pho­to by Richard Callis/MB Media/Getty Images

Armel Bel­la-Kotchap is cur­rent­ly on loan at Dutch giants PSV Eind­hoven, but has only made four Ere­di­visie appear­ances in a cam­paign blight­ed by injury.

Southamp­ton spent £10 mil­lion to sign the 6 foot 3 Ger­man from VFL Bochum in the sum­mer of 2022 and, hav­ing ini­tial­ly impressed at the start of that cam­paign and even earn­ing an inter­na­tion­al call-up, strug­gled with injuries as he played 24 league games as the Saints fin­ished bot­tom.

It is the reoc­cur­rence of the dis­lo­cat­ed shoul­der injury that Bel­la-Kotchap sus­tained at Southamp­ton that has kept the 22-year-old out for much of his time in the Nether­lands, which is a real con­cern for a play­er so young.

Despite this per­sist­ing injury, Bel­la-Kotchap is still a very high­ly rat­ed young defend­er with enor­mous poten­tial, although no club were will­ing to trig­ger the report­ed £25 mil­lion release clause that was acti­vat­ed as a result of Southamp­ton drop­ping into the Cham­pi­onship last sum­mer.

Giv­en his grow­ing rep­u­ta­tion and the fact that this sea­son ends with a home Euros for Bel­la-Kotchap, he sought a move that matched his ambi­tion and in the end the loan to PSV was deemed best for all par­ties.

That move was wide­ly con­sid­ered the end of the France-born centre-back’s time at Southamp­ton. How­ev­er, giv­en his injury woes, it may be that no club is will­ing to take a risk on a play­er who is like­ly to still be val­ued at a rel­a­tive­ly high price by the Southamp­ton hier­ar­chy.

That may mean that, if Mar­tin does achieve pro­mo­tion this sum­mer, there may be a reprieve for Bel­la-Kotchap. It may be tough for the defend­er to win over the fan­base, but if his mind­set is right and he is ful­ly focused on Southamp­ton then a fit Bel­la-Kotchap will huge­ly improve the Saints defence.

Bella-Kotchap a huge upgrade on Jack Stephens

PSV U23 v FC Emmen - Dutch Keuken Kampioen Divisie
Pho­to by Pho­to Prestige/Soccrates/Getty Images

Whilst Stephens has been a good ser­vant for Southamp­ton, rack­ing up 170 appear­ances across his 13 years at the club, Mar­tin should not be count­ing on the Ply­mouth Argyle acad­e­my grad­u­ate as a starter in the top flight.

Whether Bel­la-Kotchap or Southamp­ton them­selves are open to the Ger­man being rein­te­grat­ed into the side is uncer­tain. Things did not end well for Bel­la-Kotchap last sea­son, with his injuries mean­ing he was unable to con­tribute much towards the club’s bid for Pre­mier League sur­vival and some sec­tions of the fan­base ques­tion­ing his com­mit­ment to the cause. Southamp­ton may also want to cash-in on a play­er they will feel is a valu­able asset.

How­ev­er, should all par­ties be inter­est­ed in a return for Bel­la-Kotchap it would save the club a lot of mon­ey on a new sign­ing and they would know what they are get­ting rather than an unknown quan­ti­ty signed from else­where.

Ralph Hasen­hut­tl, the recent­ly appoint­ed Wolfs­burg man­ag­er who was in charge when Bel­la-Kotchap arrived at Southamp­ton, spoke on the youngster’s strengths short­ly after his Saints sack­ing in Novem­ber 2022.

Hasen­hut­tl said: “He’s a one-on-one mon­ster, very strong in one-on-one sit­u­a­tions and he’s very fast. You can defend well with him. He plays good pass­es into the final third, even over longer dis­tances.”

Cur­rent man­ag­er, Mar­tin, has not had the lux­u­ry of see­ing Bel­la-Kotchap in action in his Southamp­ton side, with injury pre­vent­ing his involve­ment in pre-sea­son and the new man­ag­er accept­ing the defend­er was like­ly to leave the club.

How­ev­er, talk­ing about the twice capped Ger­man inter­na­tion­al last sum­mer, Martin’s com­ments sug­gest­ed he would be keen to work with Bel­la-Kotchap should it be an option which may well mean the door on the defender’s future is left open this sum­mer.

Mar­tin said: “Armel just excites you by look­ing at him because of sheer size and phys­i­cal­i­ty right? I mean that in a foot­ball sense.

“When you look at him, he is an impos­ing guy. When I shook his hand on the first day I thought he was huge. He pos­sess­es unbe­liev­able ath­leti­cism and phys­i­cal­i­ty.”

With his pace and pow­er, as well as abil­i­ty on the ball, Bel­la-Kotchap could prove the per­fect part­ner for either Har­wood-Bel­lis or Bednarek should Southamp­ton be a Pre­mier League club next sea­son.

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