SAINTS did not hit with enough of their transfers during their disastrous last Premier League season but two looked certain to be good buys.

Armel Bella-Kotchap hit the ground running when he joined from VFL Bochum in July 2022 and made the Germany squad for the World Cup months later.

Charly Alcaraz, meanwhile, was one of the club's few shining lights in front of goal towards the end of the season after he signed from Racing Club in January.

Bella-Kotchap and Alcaraz are still just 22 and 21 years old respectively and should be primed for another crack at the Premier League with Saints.

The German defender has had successful surgery on a shoulder injury that blighted his time in England while he won the Eredivisie at PSV.

Armel Bella-Kotchap pushed for a move last summer following relegation and a deal with Bayern Munich fell through on deadline dayArmel Bella-Kotchap pushed for a move last summer following relegation and a deal with Bayern Munich fell through on deadline day (Image: PA)

Alcaraz went to one of the biggest clubs in Europe for the second half of the season and was part of the squad that won the Italian Cup.

However, the pair only played 540 league minutes between them and their stock did not increase in value over the last 12 months as hoped.

Last summer, Saints would not have been unreasonable to command a £30million valuation on Bella-Kotchap and even more for Alcaraz.

It feels as though they would have to get very lucky to agree on a fee in that region for either now, despite reported interest from clubs in England and Europe.

Tottenham Hotspur are credited with strong interest in Alcaraz, while Newcastle United have also been mooted as a potential suitor this summer.

At the same time, Bella-Kotchap has been getting the indicative 'could leave this summer' agent-led treatment on Fabrizio Romano's account.

This is usually a tell-tale sign of an agent keen to drum up offers and interest in their client, and it usually only ends in one way.

So what should Saints do with Alcaraz and Bella-Kotchap this summer?

Neither Alcaraz nor Bella-Kotchap were pictured with the squad on the first day of pre-season on Monday but plenty of internationals have yet to return.

Any decision on their future must hinge on one thing - their character. Russell Martin should, and will, sit down to discuss with the pair.

If they do not want to be here and be part of the project, it makes things very simple. Sell to the highest bidder and reinvest this summer.

When Saints loaned Alcaraz to Juventus in January, they hoped the £40million option to buy clause would organically set his value for new suitors.

Despite stunting in development, both have the pedigree to attract interest from wealthy clubs and could pocket the club a tidy sum.

However, if Martin is convinced that they want to be part of the project there should be a space reserved in the squad for their arrival. 

Charly Alcaraz was tipped to be a big player for Saints last season but became unsettled by a lack of gametimeCharly Alcaraz was tipped to be a big player for Saints last season but became unsettled by a lack of gametime (Image: PA)

Saints are looking to reinforce their squad in midfield and have this summer held interest in the likes of Matt O'Riley and Callum O'Hare.

I do not think Saints could do without investing in this position even if they did keep Alcaraz, despite the re-signing of 36 year old Adam Lallana.

Alcaraz struggled with the tactical demands working under Martin last season but the boss gave him a long-term contract until 2028 for a reason.

If he can get to grips with a different philosophy, he has the potential to surpass his four Premier League goals and further increase his value.

The transfer business so far indicates that Bella-Kotchap will leave, landing three centre-backs in Taylor Harwood-Bellis, Ronnie Edwards and Nathan Wood.

Most supporters consider it likely that Saints will continue to play in a three-at-the-back as they did to finish the Championship season.

Bella-Kotchap would be a sixth natural centre-back if he were to stay, while 30 year old Charlie Taylor, signed on a free transfer from Burnley this summer, can also operate on the back of a three, giving Saints a plethora of options.

Jan Bednarek, though, is into the last 12 months of his contract with no word on a new deal yet and interest from clubs in Europe.

Edwards and Wood have never played in the Premier League and neither has Harwood-Bellis, despite being well-tipped to make the step up.

Bella-Kotchap's talent is not in question and his skills with the ball at his feet make him a perfect fit for Martin's style of play - his diagonal passes are a useful weapon.

His physicality and attitude are to be assessed, and the surgery on the shoulder problem suffered at St Mary's may have put to bed one of those.

My best educated guess - and it is only a guess - would be that Bella-Kotchap certainly leaves and Alcaraz likely does too.

But with a lot of expensive work needed on the team elsewhere, can some bridges be rebuilt?