There is an old saying in business that ‘turnover is vanity, profit is sanity, cash is reality,’ and that’s why a pleasing set of accounts for Saints still need to be taken in context.

While there is no arguing that a headline grabbing pre-tax profit of £43.7m (£34.1m post-tax) for the year up until June 30, 2017, is hugely impressive, it also is a long way from painting the full picture.

In the weird and wonderful world of football, and football accounting, a strange practice takes hold regarding the recording of player buying and selling, which makes profit an unreliable measuring stick.

If the net debt or cash position of the club is more reliable, as it informs really how much there is to invest in the first team – and Saints continue to reinvest all their profits and proceeds, including from transfer sales – then still we have some explaining to be done in this latest set of accounts.

Saints moved from a position of a net debt of £38.9m in 2016 to having net cash, effectively money in the bank, of £2.9m.

That seems on the face of it a remarkable swing, but there is more to it than meets the eye.

When considering their major debts, only really £11m disappeared fully off the books during the year.

That was a repayment of a loan to Katharina Liebherr, something that will no doubt attract some raised eyebrows given that she later sold an 80 per cent stake in the club for £210m. The other £20m she loaned Saints has been wiped out as part of the takeover move from Gao Jisheng.

But the club’s bank loan facility – which is to cover for the periods between the three Premier League payments that make up most of the turnover – was repaid early, meaning it doesn’t show at all on this year’s accounts.

Add to that a £15m instalment payment on a player sale which was received right at the very end of the accounting year, when it was expected to arrive just after, and with that money already accounted for with payments to other clubs for purchases, and it paints a slightly distorted picture of reality.

Saints’ managing director, Toby Steele, explained: “If you take out in terms of where we are in a cash and debt position year on year we are £11m better off in terms of debt, our cash is a bit better off because we had money coming in from the Premier League as well.

“In terms of financially and the ability to invest we continue to recycle.

“Summer ‘17 was the first time we have spent more than we have sold. That follows on from the illustration we provided last year that we continue to invest, and that has carried on.

“Whilst I am saying the balance sheet doesn’t show the right picture, that is the better metric to look at than pure profit because of the way football finances are accounted for.

“It’s a perennial challenge we have when we talk to banks, people who might be thinking about investing in the club, yourselves. It’s very different to a lot of other industries.”

There is no doubting, though, that these are encouraging accounts, albeit ones the club deny were steered in a certain direction to make it a more attractive takeover target.

Turnover rose by almost £60m to £182m.

That was fuelled largely by broadcasting turnover rocketing by £52.5m thanks to the start of the new Sky and BT deal.

The Europa League adventure and EFL Cup final run also contributed, with matchday income up by £3.5m to £22.4m.

Commercial turnover also rose by 27 per cent thanks to the start of new deals with Under Armour and Virgin Media, as well as the Robbie Williams concert at St Mary’s.

Saints could host more concerts at St Mary's > >

It does mean that broadcast revenue accounts for more than 78 per cent of income. In an illustration of why TV is rated so important, matchday income – ticket sales, fans spending etc – is only just over 12 per cent.

Commercial revenue, something Saints have wanted to increase, still looks disappointingly low, however. It accounts for just 8.5 per cent of income and rose modestly from £12.2m to £15.5m, despite those two major sponsorship deals starting.

“We need to be mindful for us as a club to get new sponsors and growth that we are still in that process of growing fans, whether that be locally, nationally or internationally,” reasoned Steele.

“We see it as the first step in that, and it’s all relative in terms of what people were expecting in terms of the brands that we partnered with.

“For us the key thing is to make sure we get the right brand. Under Armour and Virgin Media, the two major brands we brought on board in that year ending June 17, it was important for us that they shared the same values and what they could do to help us grow than it was about the financial growth we could see from there.

“We see it as the first step.”

After the accounting period ended, there was a major change, with Gao Jisheng taking majority control of the club.

The accounts state that Lander Sports (UK) International Co Ltd acquired the entire share capital of St Mary’s Football Group Limited – essentially the club.

However, there is a Hong Kong based Lander company above that, of which Katharina Liebherr has become a minority stakeholder, which explains how she remains involved.

The club are unable to reveals figures due to confidentially agreements, but it is widely reported Gao paid £210m for, in effect, 80 per cent of the club, however it is broken up.

Of course, the focus for Saints as a club is very much on the pitch.

In the accounting period the likes of Graziano Pelle and Jose Fonte went out, while incomings included Sofiane Boufal, Manolo Gabbiadini, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Alex McCarthy.

Players wages rose significantly, growing by 29 per cent to a whopping £86.6m, though the overall wages to turnover ratio did fall slightly to 62 per cent.

Saints handed out some huge new contracts to their existing squad, and there may be some fans feeling that given results this season they haven’t provided much value for money.

“The strategy we had at the back end of 15/16 season and the start of 16/17 was really to try and strengthen the squad, and grow that average contract length remaining,” said Steele.

“We had a number of renewals in quite a short period which meant we saw a big uplift in wages in 16/17.

“We also increased the size of the first team squad ever so slightly, so the two combined factors saw that big jump.

“Where there were renewals part way through 15/16, we are seeing the full effect of those in 16/17 as well.

“We are pleased to see the average contract length remaining rising again to about 38 months, so just over three years on average per player. We feel that is the right place for us to be.”

While Saints are hoping to see a revival in fortunes on the pitch in the remainder of the season, the club have studied the impact of relegation to prepare in case the worse should happen.

However, they are also looking ahead to a bright future.

“For us on pitch performance is our number one focus for investment, for performance and for growth,” insisted Steele.

“We look at where we are in the league and we want to be back up where we were the last three or four seasons, so that’s our number one priority.

“In order for us to be able to do that we do need to continue to grow and maximise revenues and profits all around the club.

“We are looking at a number of different ways to do that, whether it be in and around the stadium, the stadium itself.

“We do see that we need to grow our global presence to stay in touch financially with other Premier League clubs.

“For example, we have partner clubs in America where we are helping to teach grassroots football, we had the Southampton Cup in Baltimore which was a 90 team youth tournament, so getting a bit of a presence in the US.

“We know there is an opportunity in China with our new owner and the plans around that are still in the development phase.

“We are looking at every opportunity we can to allow the club to grow financially and to feed back into the first team and the academy to keep that production line going, the things we are renowned for.

“I sometimes think there is a perception that the club are off doing weird and wonderful things which we are not. We are doing the things we can to maximise the money we have to put it back into that first team and academy.

“Everything we do is about football and not Southampton Football Club being, for instance, a concert provider. We do a concert because it makes us money and it grows the profile and that may make more people aware of us, but at the end of the day it helps to feed back into the first team.”