James Ward-Prowse thrilled to be Southampton’s poster boy again under Ralph Hasenhuttl
JAMES WARD-PROWSE is feeling like a patron Saint once again.
But it was not until very recently that the poster boy for Southampton’s academy felt he still had a future with the club that made him.
The youth-system graduate, 24, had fallen out of favour under Mark Hughes and was weighing up a move away.
And while he is now one of the first names on the teamsheet under Ralph Hasenhuettl, Ward-Prowse was unsure if the Austrian fancied him either during his first few weeks in charge.
In fact, JWP feared he would be one of the players Hasenhuttl wanted to ship out after a humiliating exclusion from the new boss’ third match in charge.
Ward-Prowse travelled up to Huddersfield for that game in December — only to be left out of the 18 altogether.
Ahead of today’s relegation crunch clash at Burnley, the midfielder explained: “I was sat watching that game, doubting my own future and whether the manager would take to me.
“It certainly didn’t feel like he would back then.
“It wasn’t nice to experience but every manager that has come into the club, it always takes me a while to get into their plans.
“It might have been a test — but I’m 24 and have played over 200 games now.
“I’ve experienced a lot of ups and downs with managers, being in and out of squads and dropped for reasons I’m not sure of.
“But I just want to prove that I can play at this level and in this team and hopefully I’ve done that so far.”
Ward-Prowse has proved that to Hasenhuttl with three goals in as many league games — in 2-1 wins against Leicester and Everton and a 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace.
Hasenhuttl challenged him to be more aggressive on the pitch during a one-on-one meeting in the first weeks of the former RB Leipzig chief’s arrival.
He responded accordingly, most notably when holding off powerhouse Idrissa Gueye before lashing in their opener in a 2-1 win over Everton last month.
And Ward-Prowse put in some tasty tackles against Palace — including one on a fuming Wilfried Zaha that led to the Ivorian being sent off for ironically clapping the ref.
The midfielder loves Hasenhuttl’s approach and sees parallels with his old boss Mauricio Pochettino.
Speaking of the individual consultations, JWP said: “I’ve not known too many managers do that — not just for me but every member of squad.
“That communication between manager and player has not been there very often in recent years.”
Team-mate Ryan Bertrand seemed to let slip what Saints’ stars made of ex-boss Hughes’ tactics with an Instagram post after December’s 3-2 win over Arsenal — Hasenhuttl’s first victory.
He posted: “Clear tactical instruction allowing us to get close to teams and press high, aggressive and as a unit. And we got our rewards.”
Unsurprisingly, Ward-Prowse is enjoying his football more under Hughes’ successor too, given he had been frozen out by the Welshman.
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But it is not just about being back in the starting XI.
The one-cap England midfielder explained: “It’s certainly been different to the last manager.
“When Hasenhuttl came in, it was difficult during the Christmas period with a lot of games.
“Physically, we’re doing a lot more with this manager.
“He’s done very well to get across his messages. Not necessarily by doing the training he wanted, but with what he calls ‘mind training’ in the auditorium.
“That is where we sit down and watch clips of our games and see how we can learn. We can see visually how he wants us to play.”
Ward-Prowse hopes to extend his purple patch when Saints go to Burnley, who are just below them in 17th on goal difference.
Had he pushed for a summer move, he would not still be with his boyhood club, bagging the goals to help keep them up.
But a major life event happened in the close season that helped Ward-Prowse to learn the value of patience — the birth of his son Oscar.
The Portsmouth-born ace added: “He has changed my life. It puts everything in perspective and takes the pressure off.
“The first six months of his life were probably my least productive on the pitch — and the best off it.
“During tough times, he kept me on the straight and narrow. Waking up in the morning, seeing him smile, gives me energy.”
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Now re-energised, Ward-Prowse seems to have rediscovered his football family after expanding his own.
But how does the lack of sleep that comes with a newborn stack up with the relentless running Hasenhuttl demands?
JWP smiled: “My girlfriend has been very good in the sleep department.
“She understands the toughness we have to go through, especially with a new manager.”
- James Ward-Prowse was speaking at a Utilita event. Utilita is Southampton Football Club’s official energy and utilities partner and the country’s leading provider of smart pay-as-you-go energy. For more information, visit utilita.co.uk.