GAO Jisheng could invest in another European team to deliver Saints a partner club.

The St Mary’s owner is eyeing a potential investment in a side in Austria or Switzerland to enable Saints to develop young players in a set-up that mirrors their own rather than simply loaning them out without much control.

It could also be a stepping stone towards retirement for those leaving Saints and could help the club to bring in non-EU players, something they currently struggle with due to UK law.

Saints chairman Ralph Krueger explained: “It can range all the way from working together from clubs in another league only on player exchanges all the way to actually investing in clubs in other leagues like Switzerland or Austria or somewhere you would see as a step into the club.

“We are looking at some options there and also from my past some of the connections to be able to have a better transition.

“We are finding it more and more difficult because the Premier League is getting better every year the jump from the under-23s into the first team is getting more challenging. Also because our roster had to get deeper to compete at the highest level.

“We would see that as the opportunity to control the development of a player versus loaning them out. It’s the option of investing in the coaching and development of a club in another league where a player could transition through, or even at the end of his career transition out.

“We really like too to offer players a pathway at the end of their career.

“It’s something we really dove deep into last fall but had to pause it but I am going to be revisiting it and hopefully within about three months I can tell you in which way and how much.

“We are also speaking to Mr Gao very intently about that.

“We believe investment in that form would be a better type of investment for the health and sustainability of a club long term. You invest in the football development of athletes.”

Krueger hinted that boosting the long-term sustainability of the club was the kind of investment Mr Gao was looking for rather than lavishing money on big signings.

“If you look at our package if you could put it in another league and another model it would multiply,” he explained.

“It would also give us pathways for players from non-EU countries because it’s very difficult for us to bring non-EU players directly into the UK.

“It would be easier for our scouting because there is no way you hit on every player but if you can increase your mathematics, let’s say in the 21-24 age we could self-develop a lot more which I think is the Southampton Way.

“We lost the Southampton Way and we have got to get back to that.

“A lot of clubs in the Premier League are feeling like they need a minor league team, which from my past is how we developed players. That means you influence their training 365 days a year and we feel a bit out of control on the loans and some will hit and some will miss.”