Ainsley Maitland-Niles was left out of Southampton’s squad to face Aston Villa on Friday, with Ralph Hasenhuttl explaining that the Arsenal loanee isn’t ready.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles joined Southampton from Arsenal on loan at the end of the summer transfer window, immediately making his debut for the side as a substitute two days later against Wolves.
Yet two weeks later, Maitland-Niles was completely absent as Southampton travelled to Aston Villa.
The absence wasn’t related to an injury, with Saints boss Ralph Hasenhuttl explaining after the game that the 25-year-old needs to adapt to his new club.
“We have a lot of work to do and he has to adapt to our game,” Hasenhuttl said. “This takes time.”
Hasenhuttl had hinted at his eventual decision to leave Maitland-Niles out in his pre-match press conference, suggesting the midfielder still had a lot to learn about their game.
“I think he’s a very good player on the ball but he has to learn that our game starts when the ball is not with us,” Hasenhuttl said.
“I think this is something he’s never had to do in the clubs he was previously playing in. In modern football, this is a very crucial part and you can see this is something he still has to learn, we are investing our time to make him better.”
These statements are somewhat worrying to hear. Maitland-Niles has an option to buy in his loan deal with Southampton, but it’s unlikely he joins permanently if he doesn’t manage to impress this season.
Then Hasenhuttl says that Maitland-Niles has never had to learn that the game starts when the ball is not with them, despite the fact that the Arsenal loanee spent the first half of 2022 playing for Jose Mourinho’s AS Roma.
If he didn’t learn how to play without the ball under Mourinho, it doesn’t seem hugely likely that will change under Hasenhuttl.
There’s still plenty of time for Maitland-Niles to make a positive impression at his loan club. These just aren’t the sounds you want to hear coming out in the media in the first month of a loan.