Six signings – and counting – to bolster Ralph Hasenhuttl’s squad, an overhauled coaching team and a potentially crucial addition to lead Southampton’s recruitment setup.
In a busy summer at Southampton their headline off-field addition could prove to be just as important as the ones fans will see on the pitch or sitting alongside Hasenhuttl in the dugout.
Southampton confirmed the appointment of Joe Shields, 35, as their new head of senior recruitment earlier this month.
He officially begins work on Monday though his influence on their recruitment has already been seen.
Goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu and midfielder Romeo Lavia are two of Southampton’s summer signings, joining for a potential, combined £29m from Manchester City, and are among the many players Shields helped bring to the Eithad as their head of academy recruitment.
They fit perfectly the mould of upcoming, high-potential player Southampton want in their first team and it would be even better if they could land them earlier, when cheaper.
That is a one of the key reasons why the man who did just that at City is who they have now turned to.
‘When I think about a lot of scouts in England, Joe is brave,’ one source familiar with Shields’s work said.
‘He has got a good eye and trusts what he is seeing. He doesn’t sit on the fence or faff around forever. He is decisive. Whereas a lot of other scouts are just admin, gathering information, scared to make a decision, put their neck on the line, Joe does things with ease, speed and more intricately than anyone I know. He takes risks every day. Incredible scout.’
There is a school of thought held by some in the game that there are tougher tasks than identifying players for the Premier League’s elite.
The quality of player they need is obvious – only the very best – and they have the money, facilities and top coaches to tempt them. That theory will, no doubt, be firmly countered at City.
Shields has the chance at Southampton to underline that the reputation he has built as one of the most respected talent spotters around is because of his qualities more than anything else.
Sportsmail understands he could have stayed at City, with director of football Txiki Begiristain thought to have been keen to retain Shields and work more closely with him.
But it is testament to Shields, amid that aforementioned perception, that he has instead opted to leave and test himself with what might be widely viewed as a much more difficult recruiting task.
Shields is said to have a refreshing realism about what has gone before and what is in store, with success at Southampton not being considered a given. But his standout attributes will give him every chance of making things work at St Mary’s.
‘His work ethic is incredible,’ another source said. ‘His eye for talent and work ethic are on another planet. You can call him at midnight and he is picking up the phone. He’s always on it. Passionate about the job. He doesn’t have a history in professional football so his desire for the game is child-like.’
Bernie Dillon, considered by some in the scouting game as a Godfather-like figure, is familiar with that.
He was Crystal Palace’s head of recruitment under Neil Warnock and, among other things, was tasked with ‘bringing in local people to bring in local kids.’
That was when a young, Shields came to his attention.
Shields, just 20 at the time, was volunteering for Croydon-based Sunday League side Melwood FC, helping organize games and tournaments for youngsters in the area.
On one particular Saturday, Dillon was struck by Shield’s work ethic and knowledge as he ran around organising all the different teams and explaining everything about all the players involved to anyone who had queries.
Dillon, 72, also remembers Shields’s loyalty as he initially refused to abandon his community role mid-season to join Palace making his suitor wait until the end of that campaign before moving to Selhurst Park.
In his first Eagles stint, Shields was trusted and played a key role in helping Palace simplify, re-organise and modernise on computer all their records and reports on players as they sought to meet the FA’s academy grading requirements around the time when EPPP was starting to be introduced.
Dillon, the now-retired former head of recruitment at Gillingham who counts the likes of England internationals Matt Jarvis and Ryan Bertrand among his finds, said:
‘During their visit, and don’t forget Joe hadn’t been there that long, I spoke to the guy from the FA and said ‘this fella [Shields] will surpass everything I achieved in football by a mile and go onto great things. Look how young he is and how much he has learnt already.’
‘I say to him every time ‘Joe, you’re going to go all the way. You will be picking out England players.’ Yes, it’s going to take time but that’s how good he is.’
In some ways and without an FA position Shields has already been doing his bit for the country, along with other nations too.
Jadon Sancho was one of City’s headline hires under Shields, a player he proactively targeted from Watford aged 14 when some others doubted and dithered, leading to recriminations and regret at one top Premier League club in particular for their scouts’ misjudged assessment of the now Manchester United winger.
England under-19 Euros winners Liam Delap and Jamie Bynoe-Gittens [now at Borussia Dortmund] are two other City and Shields recruits while Cole Palmer, Luke Mbete, Ben Knight and Finley Burns were also brought to the Etihad, have made their first-team debuts and also earned Three Lions recognition at youth level.
Shields’ ability to spot potential is not limited to players either.
He is described as a ‘door opener’ and scores of scouts and off-field personnel across the country, particularly from ethnic minority backgrounds, are indebted to Shields for helping them land their first professional football roles in the same way Dillon did for him.
Some were not even working in football but Shields has a knack of identifying those with a knowledge of the game who just needed that crucial first chance to put it to good use.
Nathan Collier, a former non-league player, viewed finding a route into scouting as an ‘unknown’ and considered that world a ‘closed society’ from the outside until a mutual friend connected him with Shields and Sam Fagbemi [then City’s southern scout lead manager and now national youth scouting manager] paving the way for him to land a part-time recruitment role in City’s academy in 2018.
Following that Collier was later offered a head of recruitment position after retiring at Woking and was named Stoke’s first-team head scout for the south of England this year.
Collier, 36, said: ‘Joe just connects with real people and if he thinks that you’ve got what it takes he creates pathways for people that deserve a chance.
‘He has something in him where he can see talent when he meets people or just through references whereas some people might not want to or be willing to give you the chance.
‘You have someone [like him] in a position where they can hire anyone, people with the best resumes, and he [instead] gives people who might not have had that chance due to their resumes the opportunity to then create their own pathway in life. You have to take your hat off to people like that.
‘Without Joe, who gave Stoke a glowing reference on me, and a lot of other people at Manchester City like Sam and Carl Walker, because they all played a role, I probably wouldn’t be in the Stoke role today.
‘I’ll be forever grateful and I don’t think I’m the only one. Many other people will have stories to tell about Joe and their pathways, whether it’s a playing career, scouting career, or elsewhere in the football industry as coaches.
‘This is what he does. He is not a person self-indulged by himself and trying to get to the top. While he is on his journey he tries to surround himself with people that are relatable to him and that he can give a chance to create their own journey.’
Jamahl Jarrett, 34, will vouch for that too. He and his business partner David Marriott came to Shields’s attention for their work at renowned south London grassroots club Lambeth Tigers.
Among other things, Shields was impressed by their desire to help players push on and develop even if it resulted in them leaving prematurely, leading to an opening voluntary scouting position during Shields’s time at Fulham.
Then came roles for both Jarrett and Marriott at Brentford before the pair later reunited at Palace under Shields after briefly going separate ways.
Jarrett is now in charge of Manchester United’s scouting in the south of England and said: ‘Some of the leading, young, emerging scouts and a lot of people with full-time positions now, their first role somewhere down the line would have been with Joe.
‘There is a lot that I took from Joe so I always give him credit for where I’ve got to.
‘For example, putting a team of people together, I became quite good at that. I’d even say, in certain ways, speaking to people in different communities because as a scout you’ve got to know how to interact with people in different environments.
‘Also when you’re looking at talent – it’s more of a general one as a lot of people probably think that way – thinking ahead and not just in the now, about their potential rather than what they’re like now. That forward thinking.’
Another source added: ‘This is one of the biggest, most important things in football and Joe is able to do it. Look at a situation and say ‘yes, this is going to happen with this guy if I do XYZ. He sees potential and that development.’
Southampton will now be the beneficiaries of all of Shields’s expertise and it will be intriguing to see the teams he can build at Southampton – both on and off the pitch.