(Reuters) - Southampton owe manager Mark Hughes plenty of time to rebuild the team after the Welshman kept the struggling club in the Premier League last season, former striker Kevin Keegan said.
Hughes, 54, arrived at his former team in March on a deal until the end of the campaign and successfully managed to avoid the drop. Southampton finished 17th and Hughes was rewarded with a three-year extension last week.
“I think they would have gone down without Mark Hughes,” Keegan, who scored 37 goals in 68 league games for Southampton between 1980-82, told the Southern Daily Echo.
“It’s nothing against the other guys but they were not going anywhere and someone needed to come in with a fresh approach and drastically change things.
“That’s what Mark did and he deserves three years to try and not only keep them up but build them back up to a mid-table to top half of the table side.”
Southampton have lost a large number of players to their domestic rivals in the past few seasons and Keegan believes they are not yet ready to compete for a place in the top six.
“Look at how many Southampton players are now playing at Liverpool, Manchester United, Spurs... everywhere,” he added.
“Now Mark can rebuild and I think he’ll look forward to the challenge. This is a big challenge for him but one he’s capable of doing well with.
“If he builds something there, he could stay a long time because he’s that sort of manager who will.”
Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Ian Ransom