Tag Archives: Academy

The Saints Agenda…

Good morning/afternoon/evening wherever you may be readers! Yet again I’ve left it far too long to give some opinion on this site, and arrogantly it feels like I am denying you all my wisdom.

To that end I thought I would put together a list of discussion points of all things that have happened in the never dull world of Saints over the last few weeks and try and sum up how I’ve felt about it all.

Wembley

I’m not sure anything more really needs to be said, but what a day it was.

The whole thing felt a little surreal, from catching up with friends from all corners of the globe to entering the stadium itself. I’m not sure it ever felt ‘real’. Saints were superb in every aspect, from the cacophony of noise made by the supporters to the effort, desire and impetus of the players on the pitch. We didn’t win, but we deserved too, and in the most simplistic of terms, a player as good as Zlatan Ibrahimovic really can make the difference. Our players left everything on that pitch, and while the result wasn’t reflective of the standard of the two teams, every Saints fan, whether they were in Wembley or glued to their television sets in whichever country they reside was immensely proud of our club. There will be more finals for us.

Let’s not even talk about the ‘offside’ goal.

‘Barry’ Manolo Gabbiadini

I think I love him.

What an impact. Credit to the Saints team behind the scenes again. On the face of it, Gabbiadini was a striker with not a particularly amazing goal record in Italy, but he has been exactly what we needed. His movement in and around the box is superb, and if there has been something we have been lacking with the absence of Charlie Austin it is a front man with one focus. Score. Of course, he won’t be able to keep up this fantastic run for long, but his instinct in the box suggests he can end the season with a decent return.

Caceres/Boufal

Something that really bugged me this week. The U23’s played a home game against Chelsea and Saints fans generally over reacted about two players for two very different reasons.

A strong lineup included the first appearance of Martin Caceres and a run out for Sofiane Boufal.

Caceres acquitted himself well, and immediately there were calls for him to go into the first team. Boufal on the other hand didn’t have the best of games and looked to have a little temper tantrum, this was followed by suggestions that he isn’t good enough and should be moved on. Ridiculous. On both counts.

It was a reserve game. Let Caceres settle in, when he’s ready, he’ll play, and I’ve seen enough of Boufal to know he has a special talent and we’d be foolish to get rid of him. I’m not a fan of these games being televised to be honest, it provokes unnecessary discussion. Let’s not make Boufal the new scapegoat. You were wrong about both Wanyama and Mane.

Formation Change

And not a moment too soon….

I don’t know if it was the arrival of Gabbiadini or just experimenting on Puel’s part but the team seemed to slip back into 4-2-3-1 ridiculously easily and the suggestion that Saints are ‘boring’ is long behind us.

Nathan Redmond

I was desperate for us to sign Redmond in the Summer so it’s been frustrating to see so many get on his back  as the season has progressed. I’m not sure Puel’s comments comparing him to Thierry Henry did him any favours and it looked like he might be a flash in the pan.

But. If anyone has benefited from the formation change more than anyone else it is him. He has been fantastic in the last three games. He’s a winger and reverting him to that role is paying dividends. He is such a dangerous outlet on the break. Long may it continue.

Claude Puel

“Petit a petit, l’oiseau fait son nid”

A little tribute to the boss. Monsieur Puel.

Yes, he isn’t particularly animated in interviews. Yes, he might have rotated a bit too much. But.

Taking over at Saints is never an easy job. Another Summer of upheaval and with the added pressures of the Europa League group stages, Puel never really had the chance to settle in. He’s had injuries to his main striker, his best defender and let’s just call it ‘The Fonte situation’ thrust upon him and you know what? He’s done alright.

He took us to a cup final. We’re pushing for a top 10 league finish. Again. He’s used the Academy. As first seasons go, he shouldn’t be mis-judged on this one.

In the first real period with breaks where he has been able to experiment with the tactics and keep a settled side, we’ve been superb. Perhaps not as good defensively as we would like but with a makeshift central partnership it could have been a lot worse.

Chinese Investment?

If the media in the far East is to be believed Landers Sports have invested in the club. Who knows what to make of that?

Personally I prefer investment to takeovers. The Liebherr administration has been nothing but positive in my view, so there control is comfortable for me. If this investment means there is more money in the pot then great.

Any Other Business

I just wanted to send some love the way of our podcasters! For a long time Saints were starved of any podcasts. I had a go myself and I know how time consuming and difficult it is so I’m grateful to two that have come to the fore of late.

First of all there is the Southampton Dellivery run by Matt in California which I’ve enjoyed and will be a guest with soon and also the Saints FC Podcast who have had some fascinating interviews with ex players of late!

So that’s all from me again for a while! What a time to be a Saint!

Chris

Keep the faith.

The League Cup is alive and well at St. Mary’s!

The lack of respect afforded to the League Cup over the more recent seasons has led to a decline in interest in what was once England’s secondary cup competition.

Sadly, the rise of the Champion’s League and it’s inclusion of four teams from the Premier League each season has seen league positioning overshadow it’s priority status in the eyes of the much maligned, much pressured first team manager. Even the ‘smaller’ clubs have followed their bigger colleagues in treating the competition with little more than a passing annoyance, with league survival and the lucrative financial benefits that come with it, to important to gamble with.

Many have suggested that the League Cup is dead.

Try telling that to some of the young faces at St. Mary’s on Wednesday night. Try telling that to Harrison Reed, who asserted himself in the middle of the park with the tenacity of somebody who knows he is working under a manager who will give him further opportunities. Try telling that to Jack Stephens who has patiently waited for a chance to shine in a seemingly impregnable back four. Try telling that to Lloyd Isgrove who will be fully aware he is suited to Claude Puel’s formation in a forward role. Try telling that to Olufela Olomola who greeted his 26th minute introduction by charging down a Sunderland defender like he only had seconds to have an influence.

Try telling that to the many young faces I saw in the St. Mary’s crowd who were there for the first time. The beneficiaries of the low pricing initiative that meant their parents could introduce them to the club in an affordable manner.

Try telling that to Sofiane Boufal.

For me personally it was nice just to be in the stadium. Given my residential location, being there in the flesh is a rare treat and despite it not being the most exciting game in the world it was a good way to assess the changes at the club under Puel.

Having had the pleasure of a fantastic time in Milan with my fellow Dubai Saints, catching up with friends and feeling very much part of a truly historic occasion it felt like a return to reality. The best part of 8,000 Saints fans blasting out ‘Oh when the Saints’ in the San Siro is one of those ‘I was there’ moments and the Inter fans after the game were truly in awe.

Sunderland at home was an altogether different prospect. The manager has faith in his squad, and the extended one he has at his disposal from the Academy. Right now that faith is paying off. I was apprehensive of course when I saw the lineup, but as a Southampton fan it is difficult to feel anything but pride when a team containing six Academy graduates (Jamess Ward-Prowse and Sam McQueen joining the aforementioned four) for the majority of the game looks comfortable against a Premier League opponent.

The crowd was better than most, including a certain tabloid rag and even the club were expecting and that showed by the fact people were queuing to get in once the game had kicked off, but it still felt that at £12 a ticket it could have been better. The 21k that did attend certainly got their money’s worth in the 66th minute. Sofiane Boufal has carried his price tag and the fact he arrived at the club injured with him since he joined, and there has been much hype and expectation of a player who was linked with the world’s best clubs in the Summer. His winning goal did not disappoint.

If Matt Le Tissier tweets to say that the other 89 minutes were worth siting through to see that goal,  then you know it was something special. The finish was ‘Le Tiss-esque’, the first touch ridiculous. A goal fitting of winning any game.

In contrast to most foreign managers, Claude Puel is far from bemoaning the amount of fixtures his squad is up against, in fact he is the complete opposite. In a recent interview with french newspaper L’Equipe, he states how playing one game a week in France ‘dragged’ and how he dreamed of playing three times in quick succession.

Puel trusts his squad, and the fans are starting to trust him. While many are trying to read the League Cup it’s last rites, they aren’t about to give up on it yet at St. Mary’s.

We march on.

What do Saints fans really want?

Last Saturday Saints played out an uninspiring draw at home to Watford in what for many was an Anti-Climax to the exciting build up to the start of the season.

Despite a much improved second half it is fair to say that most were left a little deflated by the result and performance against Watford. In many cases feelings ran a little high. In fact, I was staggered to see the level of reaction by many, which frankly resembled a particularly spoiled hysterical child who hadn’t got their own way.

One game into the season and the new manager, the new players, the tactics, the board and anything else related to the club was written off as not good enough. This was less knee jerk, more collective full body spasm. It was ugly.

I watched the game as usual with the Dubai Saints, who I have to say, on the whole are as level headed as you will find [a few years around the block will do that for you eh fellas ;-)]. But even we found ourselves getting into a fairly heated ‘discussion’ about the level of player investment and ‘ambition’ at the club. I’ve grown to hate that word in all honesty. What exactly is ambition? Some would argue finishing in an automatic qualification place for Europe is as ambitious as Saints can realistically get, others would say that the sky is the limit. There is no rules as to what determines ‘ambition’ and only the people in the boardroom will know what they see as a realistic achievement.

High hopes for JWP to push on under Puel.
High hopes for JWP to push on under Puel.

The centre of our well oiled debate in the ‘Francis Benali Stand’ of the Barasti Beach Bar was whether the club should stick with bringing kids through or spend big to improve the squad now.

It got me wondering what it  really is Saints fans want?

I’m yet to meet one who doesn’t take pride in the Academy at the club. When one of our ‘own’ turns out for England it gives us all a lift, and over the years we’ve all loved watching young players make their first team debut and go on to be stars in their own right. It’s something that sets us apart from other clubs. We know it and they know it. Parents are now trying to get their kids into Staplewood and not Carrington (Manchester United) and our facilities and coaching methods have become the blueprint for many of Europe’s top clubs. Ex-Southampton Academy graduates scoring 60% of the 7 goals in a much overhyped game between Arsenal and Liverpool at the weekend is the advertising that keeps the wheel turning!

We love this about our club. We love the fabled ‘pathway’. But at what cost?

Everybody likes to see their club sign players. These days it’s an obsession amongst fans, to the point where they aren’t even really bothered who it is, as long as there is a new face holding up their shirt. It’s all a little camp and kitsch, with the latest monstrosity coming from Manchester United when they announced Paul Pogba. With every passing season football becomes more like the X Factor, classless and lacking in any real substance whatsoever. This is heightened of course by massive fees, transfer deadline day and the hype that surrounds it. Has anyone in history not looked a dick in a yellow tie?

I rest my case.
I rest my case.

But still, we all like a new player through the door, and this Summer (and most Summers), Saints fans would have liked a few more. With exits in key positions again, most have been frustrated that like for like replacements have not been brought in.

But where do you draw the line? What is the right balance between keeping the ‘pathway’ and strengthening the squad.

Like it or not, and my impression is that most people do, Saints have positioned themselves in the market as a club that will accept first team players moving on for the right price, and might not necessarily replace them. Why? Because you cannot maintain the ‘pathway’ if you keep blocking it with big money foreign imports.

It’s a long term strategy and one not without it’s risks, but if Les Reed was to take an occasional glance at Saints supporting presences on the web (Hi Les!) he could be forgiven for placing his head in his hands when he sees the same people bemoaning Harrison Reed’s lack of playing time last season, crying over the club not replacing Wanyama this.

For the club to keep attracting the best players into the Academy at a young age there has to be continuous evidence that the club will give those kids a chance at the top level.  Logically, if you replace every player that leaves with a like for like copy those kids will be destined to never fulfil their potential at Saints, and eventually other kids will decide it’s not the place to be, especially as others catch up in terms of facilities and methodology.

My hunch is that the modern Southampton supporter would rather see big investment in players each Summer, some would still favour the pathway, while many will be honest enough to admit they aren’t bothered either way as long as the club keeps progressing.

The obvious answer, though there is no right one, is that the balance has to be correct. The club needs to find a workable solution where the kids get their chance, but the squad is strong enough to compete. I would say they had this pretty close under Mauricio Pochettino.

The blip in all this, was the reign of Ronald Koeman, and it didn’t surprise me when there was talk of the club not being overly disappointed that he was off. As good a job as he did, he took the organisation ‘off message’ and long term that wasn’t what the board wanted.

Claude Puel would appear to be the ‘anti-appointment’ to Koeman. A man with a track record of giving some pretty good players their first opportunities in France. Yes, the first game was a little underwhelming, but when have Saints’ opening day fixtures not been? Let’s give him a chance.

Tomorrow night, we take on Manchester United at Old Trafford. A huge money ‘name’ like Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Paul Pogba could win the game for them, but then Matt Targett or James Ward-Prowse could win it for us. Which would be sweeter?

Keep the faith.

Kangaroo Court: The Ward-Prowse Debate

As Saints fans we have always had a vested interest in the progress of our Academy products. Long a gold mine of talent, when a Southampton kid makes their first team debut it comes surrounded in hope and expectation.

James Ward-Prowse has been one that has perhaps split opinions. The Pompey born midfielder has been consistently in and around the first team squad, but is yet to command a regular starting berth.

Often praised for his technical ability, his goals and assists record leaves a lot to be desired and often he seems to struggle to make an impact on games.

I put it to twitter (and misspelled kangaroo again FFS) to ask if Ward-Prowse is destined to be the star we all hoped he would be, or has he not lived up to expectations?

The case for the Prosecution:-

@peter_stephens Now where do we start on the English wonderkid that is James Ward-Prowse? Another kid hot off the Southampton academy conveyor belt ready to take the country by storm and force a move to the big 4? Probably not.

The issue with JWP is that you can watch a match and forget he is even out there, his best position in the team is still tbc but he *looks* like a footballer, or a bloke doing an impression of one…. His delivery is generally very good from set pieces, which is ALWAYS noted by commentators, but is that enough to merit his place in the team? In open play he is lost, he has played in a few different positions and hasn’t excelled in any. 

If he wasn’t an English kid from our academy, would fans still clamour over him as they do?

 I have no agenda against him, I just don’t think he merits a place in the team, or even the squad right now. He lacks pace, aggression, has no ‘trick’ and doesn’t score goals (yeah yeah a FK and a pen, bravo). All of his 4 assists have been from corners, again set pieces. While a true DMF option in Harrison Reed has disappeared, JWP continues to flatter to deceive in whatever position he is tried in.

But, “he takes a cracking corner”. Yawn.’

The case for the Defence:-

@TheDanJames James Ward-Prowse. Over 100 club appearances, captain for his country at u21 level, already receiving recognition from the current manager of England Roy Hodgson. Yet some people seem to not think he’s got ability or potential?

He was given his break by Adkins in the cup competitions, grabbing his first goal in a victory over Coventry. Months later, on our return to the premier league he started at the Etihad against reigning champions  Man City at the tender age of 17. You don’t get that opportunity for no reason.

He’s used heavily as a role model in the club academy. He’s a level headed, intelligent and driven young man who loves the club. He possesses a superb delivery from set pieces, recently grabbing his first goal of the season from a well taken free kick, reminiscent of his former set piece tipster Rickie Lambert. Still at the age of 21 he’s got a lot to learn and he will make mistakes, but doesn’t everyone?

Playing at Premier League level will only help him develop and find his position in our team. He’s been tried in many different roles but hasn’t nailed down one spot as his own. As long as he takes chances and continues to perform well he’ll find his place in the Saints starting XI and the national team.  

Future captain material for sure.’

Verdict:-

As the vote shows, though there are some doubters, JWP is still considered a ‘Young Star’ at the club. Perhaps upping his output in terms of goals and assists will see it swing even further in his favour.

Get enhanced odds on this weekends football action!
Get enhanced odds on this weekends football action!

Saints Disappointing Run? What’s Changed?

Saints ran out comfortable 2-0 winners over Watford on Wednesday night, in what will hopefully be the start of some better form for Ronald Koeman’s heavily criticised team of late. It was a much better performance than recent matches, and for once it seemed they were able to convert first half dominance into full time success.

But what has been the cause of this season’s perceived ‘under-performing’?

1. Transfer Policy?

In Koeman’s first Summer at the club, the doom-sayers were out in force as several of Saints’ top names departed for perceivably greener grass, yet the Dutchman’s cut price replacements filled the void admirably and Saints pushed on for their best ever Premier League season.

But what were the chances it would work so well two seasons’ in a row? It’s fair to say we might have got lucky with how quickly the signings of Summer 2014 settled in and gelled with the existing players, and this time it hasn’t quite gone to plan.

Jordy Clasie, who came with the impossible job of slotting in to the massive Schneiderlin shaped hole has been superb of late, but certainly didn’t hit the ground running in a Saints shirt. Cedric, brought in to replace Nathaniel Clyne has found himself in and out of the team, and Juanmi, well nothing more needs to be said.

 

Clasie had the 'impossible' job of replacing Schneiderlin.
Clasie had the ‘impossible’ job of replacing Schneiderlin.

 

2. Tactical Errors?

Perhaps signalling a reaction to poor form, Ronald has made some odd tactical moves of late. Failing several times with a back five.

Saints have had a flurry of games where they have looked comfortable in the first half, only to be undone in the second, the away fixture at West Ham, the perfect example of this. Slaven Bilic changed his team at half time to suit and Saints had no counter move to turn to, the hunter became the hunted and three points soon became none.

It could be a case of ‘second season syndrome’ and opposition manager’s being wise to Koeman’s style, but it is worrying that of the last 11 fixtures, we’ve only managed two wins. The Arsenal game was testament to the manager’s ability tactically. In what was an uncharacteristic performance at the time, Saints use of Shane Long destroyed Arsenal at the back.

3. Player Power?

Last season, two of the star performers were undoubtedly our African duo of Victor Wanyama and Sadio Mane. Subsequent to that though both have been linked to big money moves to huge clubs like Manchester United, Arsenal and err… Spurs.

This has coincided with a considerable dip in form for the pair, and Saints are notably worse for it. I’ve been Wanyama’s biggest cheerleader since he arrived from Celtic, but even I have struggled to defend his lacklustre performances of late.  Is he suffering without Morgan? Or his he simply sulking because of his denied to move White Hart Lane? Either way, he doesn’t warrant selection when he returns from suspension against WBA.

Mane has also gone well off the boil, a true game changer when he wants to be but has his head been turned by the thought of dulling it up with LVG at Old Trafford?

Saints duo need to find form again.
Saints duo need to find form again.

 

4. Squad Depth?

Come the end of the last campaign, Saints fans were hopeful that with European football (Bloody Hell. Remember that?) coming, the transfer window would be used to bolster the depth of the squad.

It looked like this had happened with some of the signings that were made, and we always have our brilliant youth system right?

Unfortunately some of the signings have looked weaker than what was already there and with Ronald publicly criticising the quality of the youth players coming through (perhaps backed by unsuccessful loan spells for Jack Stephens and Sam Gallagher in the Championship) there is an argument to say that the squad is no deeper than it was last year.

5. Other Clubs’ Transfer Policy?

With Saints finishing the last campaign in 7th place, and with the abundance of money coming in from the new TV deal, surely it would be us that push on in terms of improvement?

Perhaps not. While Saints stuck with their policy of bringing in lesser known/cheaper players, those just behind us went big.

With Stoke City signing Xherdan Shaqiri, West Ham bringing in Dimitri Payet and Palace splashing out on Yohan Cabaye, the St. Mary’s faithful were left wondering whether we shouldn’t be a little bit more ambitious in the transfer market.

Did Saints allow other clubs to overtake us in the Summer?

Did other clubs at Saints' level show more ambition in the Summer?
Did other clubs at Saints’ level show more ambition in the Summer?

 

6. Lack of Goals?

Last season, it appeared that Saints had shaken off the ‘All fart and no shit’ stigma of previous campaigns, but it would appear to be back with abundance.

With Graziano Pelle, clearly the club’s number one striker often blowing hot and cold and then out injured, Sadio Mane misfiring and not a lot of contribution elsewhere, the responsibility has fallen on Shane Long of late to bring home the bacon.

Now don’t get me wrong, Long on his day (see Arsenal on Boxing Day) is a decent Premier League player, but he is also incredibly frustrating at times, and fluffs more chances than he takes. He is a decent option for Saints, but in my opinion he shouldn’t be leading the line on a regular basis.

In addition to this, other players need to take on the responsibility of scoring more goals. The return from the likes of Steven Davis, James Ward-Prowse and Jordy Clasie is poor.

Saints create plenty of chances, they don’t score anywhere near enough of them.

7. Goalkeeping/Defence?

Following on from the lack of goals, in 2014/15 when Saints weren’t converting their chances they were able to rely upon a miserly defence to mean they didn’t have to, but this season that has gone South as well.

While the loss of Clyne and Toby Alderweireld were no doubt felt, the addition of Virgil van Dijk has certainly proved a good move, but the jury is still out on Cedric and Cuco Martina. Steven Caulker will not be missed.

One other major disruption has been the absence of Fraser Forster. Was it a coincidence that his return on Wednesday saw a clean sheet and a visible growth in confidence in the defence in front of him?

The signing of Martin Stekelenburg was undoubtedly never seen as a long term decision, and he was always here to provide cover for Forster’s injury, but in hindsight was it the right move? A keeper already low on confidence from previous clubs, while he has by no means been a disaster I’ve often found myself wondering after conceded goals if Forster might not have saved them.

fraser-forster-post-watford-home-news148-2900518_478x359
A timely return?

 

8. Overweighted expectations?

‘WE USED TO BE IN LEAGUE ONE YOU KNOW?’ Yeah, yeah, blah, look how far we’ve come, yadda, yadda, yadda…

Fine, this sort of rhetoric is outdated now and fans have the right to expect a certain level of ambition/performance. We are now an established Premier League club again and shouldn’t be accepting of dropping like a stone down the table. But, we also have to accept that other clubs are allowed to progress too, and no one has the right to beat anyone else.

I actually think that it was last season that was an unfair reflection of where we are as a club, we overachieved and this season is balancing that out. We are still progressing, and evolving, let’s see how it plays out before scandalously accusing anyone of anything untoward.

9. Misuse of Dr. Barry Gale?

Two appearances, subsequently followed by a 6-1 victory over Aston Villa and a 4-0 drubbing of Arsenal. Just saying.

In Conclusion

This has been an extremely odd Premier League season so far. Leicester are flying, Chelsea are below us despite our perceived ‘disastrous’ season and both Manchester United and Liverpool are stuttering. Perhaps the gap between the elite and rest is closing, and that can only be a good thing can’t it?

Saints’ poor form could be down to any of the above factors, or likely a combination of all of them. They go into today’s home fixture with West Brom, nine points clear of the relegation zone and nine points behind the top four. Mid Table might well be where we are destined to be this season, but with the club working on a bringing in another striker things could get better than that.

Let’s face it, it’s always likely to be an interesting ride where Saints are concerned.

Young, Talented and Back….

As the Premier League season approaches I have been asked by a few places to submit a preview for Saints. As I write them, there is a recurring theme that I can’t help but get excited about. How young our squad is.

Humour me if you will, it is unlikely that we will lineup in this respect against City on the 18th August, but still, this is a potential starting XI for Saints:-

Gazzaniga (20)

Clyne (21) Stephens (18)  Cork (23)  Shaw (17)

Chambers (17)  Ward-Prowse (17)  Schneiderlin (22)  Lallana (24)

Rodriguez (23)  Sharp (26)

Is it misplaced loyalty that I think that this is a pretty good Premier League team?

Luke Shaw. International future?

The future is bright and with Premier League experience the likes of Clyne, Lallana and Rodriguez are going to get better and better. I get the impression that both Ward-Prowse and Shaw will feature heavily this season, while Callum Chambers has had an efficient pre-season without being in the spotlight. In fact it has been the highlight of pre-season so far how well the youth players have performed. How comfortable these players are on the ball will be key to their future development, and their quest for international honours, which many of them will achieve.

In Nigel Adkins I think we have the man to nurture them too, his abundance of positivity enough to give any kid confidence.

If we can stay in the Premier League, and keep this team together, who knows what they will achieve? But remember, ‘You don’t win anything with kids…’

Chris

Saints Academy: Talent Architects…

Hi all, I am pleased to introduce another new contributor to georgeweahscousin.com in the form of former Saints trainee Scott Gordon. Scott hails from the Emerald Isle, more specifically Lurgan, Co. Armagh. He is the husband to Joanna and soon to be father to a junior Saint.

He has been a Saints fan for nearly 16 years, which all started when the club plucked him from obscurity as a 13 year old playing in his local league. After a week’s trial he found himself signing a 5 year deal that would change his life forever. He might no longer be a Saints player, but he is still Northern Ireland’s number one fan!

Over to you Scott! – Chris

Saints Academy: Talent Architects…

Bridge. Baird. Bale. Walcott. Chamberlain. Five names from the modern day football world and all with one massive thing in common… they are all products of the fantastic Saints Academy. Skip back a few years and Mike Channon, Matthew Le Tissier, the Wallace brothers, Alan Shearer and Francis Benali are once again products of our enviable youth system.

The ‘Academy’ as we know it today came into formation in the 98/99 season. This marked the start of the new scholarships rather than the YTS system of old. In effect these scholarships were designed to safeguard the future of the young players, if and when, they did not manage to make it in football. As a product of this academy (class of 2001) I guess I am glad the scholarship was offered. I’m now a PE teacher back home in Northern Ireland and without the investment from the club and the FA, this may not have been a reality for me. But this was not exactly the remit of the club.

As with any smaller club the purpose of an academy is to produce fine young players to come through and represent the first team. The five players mentioned in the opening line of this piece all achieved this goal and I might add, performed admirably for the senior side. They do, however, have another thing in common… All sold by the Saints. For a total of £38million.

I guess that’s where I have a problem with our club and the way we handle our younger players. For too long we have been a selling club. You can add Brian Howard, Matthew Mills and Scott McDonald into the list of players that have moved on. I wonder now that we have returned to the Premier League will we still have the same attitude? If we still had the big 5 players with us, would we have gotten back to the promised land a lot sooner? Who knows. My only hope is that we become a keeping club and not sell on our best products. Lallana is still there and that is a good sign and there are many other players coming through (I’m told James Ward-Prowse and Corby Moore are two to look out for).

Premier League, Champions League, European Championships. Products of Southampton.

In my time, Crewe, West Ham and Coventry were the clubs with the supposed best academy set ups. I firmly believed then and now that we have the best. Back in 2000 we were defeated in the semi-final of the FA Youth Cup 2-1 over two legs by a Coventry side that were then chinned 7-1 by an Arsenal side that contained Steve Sidwell. I can remember reading a quote from our then managers Stewart Henderson and John Sainty. They said that yes, we were on a great run in the competition, but this success did not guarantee any player a professional contract or a future at the club (a statement which was made abundantly clear one season later as I was shown the door).

When I left in 2001, two others came with me and only five (Alan Blayney, Ryan Ashford, Chris Baird, Scott McDonald and Brian Howard) went on to represent the first team. In total we had 25 players across our 1st and 2nd year scholars. None are with the club now and very few are still making a living from the game. It used to be said you had to be best in Europe to make it as a pro footballer. Our year changed that to be the best in the world. Players from all over Uk, Italy, Russia, Africa and Australia represented our youth team during my time with Southampton.

We are without doubt one of the best Academy setup’s in the country. My only hope is that we hold on to our talent and let the other teams be envious of us for a while.

Scott

p.s. If you have enjoyed reading the blog over the past year, why not vote for us in the “Club Specific” category at the Football Blogging Awards? Either via Facebook here. Or, tweet the following:- @TheFBAs @crstig #Club

England Oxpexts…

Like all Saints fans, I am immensely proud of our Academy. For years now it has competed with the best in the country, and many believe with the current improvements being made it may well take the title of “the best”.

So when Roy Hodgson announced his England squad for this summer’s European Championships it filled me with pride to see a certain double-barrelled youngster amongst the big names.

Make no mistake, this is no “surprise” to me, and no risk on Roy’s part, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has it all, pace, skill, technique, awareness with an added dash of infectious youthful enthusiasm. In fact I would go as far as to say he is everything we don’t usually look for in traditional English coaching sessions.

When Chamberlain made his debut for Saints aged 16 years and 199 days against Southend United at the end of the 2009/10 season it was with great anticipation, we had been blessed with the baby faced bows of Walcott and Bale after all. Chamberlain did not disappoint. Scoring on his first competitive start against Bournemouth the following season and ending it with a return of 10 goals and 8 assists arguably he had a bigger impact than his predecessors, making the League One Team of the Year, the icing on the cake.

While I rate Walcott, a player who seems to get a lot of uncalled for stick despite consistently scoring and providing goals for Arsenal, Chamberlain was always going to eclipse him for me, but who knows, should Roy decide to go that way maybe they will play on either side of a forward three this summer. You could do a lot worse.

England Expects. Chamberlain Delivers.

The number of ex-Saints academy players in the Premier League is ever growing, and with two in this England squad I think this could definitely be a sign of the future. Three in the 2014 World Cup squad? Maybe more. While we keep producing players who play the game the right way, the club can only progress. The big challenge is keeping them away from North London.

I offer massive congratulations to Alex on his call up, and to Southampton Football Club for spotting and nurturing another talent. It is on merit, and when he steps on to that training pitch with the likes of Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney he can be confident that he is good enough to be there. Let’s hope this call up isn’t like Theo in 2006. You had the conviction to put the Ox in your squad Roy, now have the nerve to unleash him….

Chris

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A Saint Amongst Them: Coventry City

Saints head to the Ricoh Arena tomorrow to face struggling Coventry City.

The midlands side find themselves in the relegation zone, and Saints will be looking to avenge the last time they travelled to the Ricoh which resulted in a 4-1 defeat in October 2008. Ex-Saint Leon Best was the chief tormenter that day and netted the third Sky Blues goal, getting on the end of current Saint Danny Fox’s cross.

Hoping to be fit to face his old club this time round will be Best’s former Saints teammate Martin Cranie, although having suffered a rib injury against Barnsley at the start of October he hasn’t featured for the Sky Blues in the last five games.

Cranie. A young Saint.

Martin Cranie

Cranie never set the world alight in his brief spell in the first team at St. Mary’s, but he could be considered an unfortunate victim of circumstance.

The Somerset youngster joined the Saints Academy in 2003, and was part of the successful youth team that reached the 2005 FA Youth Cup Final but it couldn’t have been a worse time to get your chance with the first team…

Cranie had already had a disastrous start to his first team life at St. Mary’s, putting through his own net in a 4-0 defeat at Chelsea in 2004, but worse experiences were to come for the defender in the 2004/05 season. Having initially been loaned to Bournemouth the youngster was given a chance at Saints under new boss Harry Redknapp, but as Redknapp’s side meandered hopelessly towards Premier League relegation Cranie looked lightweight and out of his depth.

It may be harsh to judge the likes of Cranie, Best and Dexter Blackstock on that terrible season, young players very much thrown in at the worst possible time.

Things didn’t get much better for Cranie, as Saints started life in the Championship, Cranie was used sparingly in 2005/06 and then in the 2006/07 season he spent two spells on loan at hometown club Yeovil.

On the expiry of his contract in the summer of 2007, the eyebrows of most Saints fans were raised when he was signed by former boss Redknapp for Premier League Portsmouth.

Cranie never quite made the grade with the blue few either, and spent most of his time at Fratton Park on loan with Championship side QPR, and then in League One with Charlton Athletic before settling at the Ricoh in 2009 and becoming a regular in the Coventry side.

Cranie. Now shooting for Saints.

Chris

A Saint Amongst Them: Reading

Saints travel to the Madejski Stadium on Saturday for the Championship 17:20 kickoff, and will be looking to push on with their recent good form having established a five point gap the the top of the table.

The Berkshire club had an inconsistent start to this season but are now unbeaten in their last six games and will be looking to push on.

The Reading squad is a strong one, and in my opinion should be at least play off challengers this season. Amongst their squad, they boast three ex-Saints, two regulars who enjoyed first team football and one who, well didn’t…

Joseph Mills

‘Fish’ has he was affectionately know at St. Mary’s followed his brother Matt through the Southampton Academy, and is seemingly mirroring his older sibling’s career path.

Breaking into the first team in the 2008/09 season, Mills struggled to establish himself regularly, the likes of Andrew Surman, Rudi Skacel and latterly Lee Molyneux keeping the youngster out in Saints ill fated Championship relegation season. This eventually saw him head off to Scunthorpe United on loan, playing regularly under Nigel Adkins.

The drop to League One looked like it might have been the perfect tonic for a young left-back trying to establish himself, having already shown glimpses of what he could do. Sadly it was not to be, new signing Dan Harding came in and made an immediate impact leaving Mills to remain a bit part player in the 2009/10 campaign. He did make a surprise start at right-back in the Johnstones Paint Trophy final though, as Saints raised the cup with a 4-1 win over Carlisle at Wembley.

Mills found himself further down the pecking order at St. Mary’s in 2010/11 with Saints adding Ryan Dickson to their squad in the summer. Barely used, he was off on loan again, returning to the Championship with Doncaster Rovers. Mills proved himself a quality player at the Keepmoat which saw Reading convinced enough to make a move for him in the summer.

Mills was in the unfortunate position of never being a bad player in a Saints shirt, but always competing with someone better than him, always sharp going forward, I think it were some defensive frailties that saw four consecutive Saints managers not be willing to give him an extended run. At least he left Saints on friendlier terms than his brother!

Mills and Boon? Not that kind of Reading.

Opposition’s view:-

Dan from popular Reading blog The Tilehurst End gave his thoughts on Mills:-

“The jury’s still out on Mills at the moment, with the left-back having only joined the club at the back end of the transfer window for a nominal fee from yourselves. Ian Harte struggled through the first few games this season and Reading fans were clamouring for someone with a bit of pace to come in and Mills certainly ticked that box with agility that’s been lacking since Ryan Bertrand left after a loan spell in 2009/10. 

Mills certainly offers something going forward, as his crosses have been quite good and he’s even managed a few efforts on goal during his brief time in the team. Unfortunately his passing, set pieces and defensive positioning have failed to impress Royals fans. Already some are calling for Harte’s return to the starting XI and the Irishman was on the bench for our recent games with Boro & Burnley.

Still Mills has been part of a defence that’s gone four unbeaten so I can’t see a change happening in the short term but given McDermott’s preference for experienced players I wouldn’t be shocked to see a change if we have a dodgy result or two.

Long term he’s got a long way to go to fill the boots of Nicky Shorey, Chris Armstrong, Ryan Bertrand and Harte last season.”

Alex Pearce

The Scotsman joined Saints on loan from Championship rivals Reading in 2008 as we looked to shore up our leaky defence. In a rare occurrence for a centre half Pearce scored on his debut as Saints came from behind to beat Preston 3-2, but sadly that was the highlight of his St. Mary’s stay.  Saints would win just one other game during his loan spell, ironically against Reading when Pearce was ineligible to play. Saints kept two clean sheets in that spell, both 0-0 draws, both when Pearce was left out.

A player that always looked like an attacking danger from corners, but never looked convincing at the defensive job he was actually employed to do, Pearce returned to Reading at the end of 2008 and went on to establish himself as a first choice player at the Madesjski.

Pearce. Struggled to get ahead at St. Mary's.

Opposition’s view:-

Dan gave us his thoughts on Pearce:-

“Pearce is someone that still polarises opinion more than three years after making his debut for the first team. I’ve written a big piece about him here which covers most of his ups and downs at the club  http://thetilehurstend.co.uk/2011/07/18/the-ups-and-downs-of-alex-pearce/ 

This season has seen more of the same. Initially he seemed to struggle alongside Tottenham loanee Bongani Khumalo but the acquisition of Kaspars Gorkss has seen him improve and he’s looking back to the form that won him a lot of fans last season.  There will always be concerns about his pace and agility but if John Terry can get away with it, I’ve no reason to doubt that Pearce can establish himself as a good Championship defender, especially if complimented with the right partner.” 

Cedric Baseya

The giant striker (height is between 6’3″ and 6’5″ depending on where you read it) came through the Southampton youth system and made his first and last apperance for the first team in the 2007/08 season against Ipswich Town, coming on for the last minute and not touching the ball once.

Baseya had previously made his professional debut during a loan spell at Crewe Alexandra and was released by Saints in 2009. He joined French Ligue One side  Lille before heading to Le Harve on loan and then to AS Cherbourg.

Reading signed him last month and he his yet to make a first team performance, though he will be eager to impress having so far never scored in his professional career, an odd record for a forward.

Baseya. A tall order for goals?

Opposition’s view:-

Dan gave us his thoughts on Baseya:-

“We’ve not seen the Frenchman anywhere near the first team but that hasn’t stopped there being an 18 page thread on him on the popular Hob Nob Anyone? message boards! He hasn’t got a stellar scoring record… well he hasn’t scored at all, but Reading have worked wonders with cast-offs in the past and he’s managed a couple of goals in the reserves already, so some reasons to be optimistic.” 

Chris