Tag Archives: Academy

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

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

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

The Class of 2005: Who were the real winners?

22nd April 2005, approximately 21:58. Fifteen year old Edward Upson hits the ball first time from twenty five yards. Andrew McNeill is helpless in the Southampton net. Goal Ipswich Town.

A heartbreaking end to a memorable season for the Saints youngsters, losing the FA Youth Cup final with just two minutes of extra time left to be played.

The first leg had been played at St. Mary’s four days earlier, Saints leading through David McGoldrick before being pegged back by a double from Irishman Cathal Lordan, Leon Best netting the equaliser that kept the tie on a knife edge. The second leg had remained goalless despite Saints dominance, Ipswich thankful to keeper Shane Supple that it got to extra time. Seemingly heading for penalties, substitute Upson was the youngest player on the pitch when he stole the headlines, and the silverware for the Suffolk side.

For young lads with the world at their feet, it must have been difficult to take.  For some it was to be their career highlight, for others, just the beginning. Football is a cruel world, and as is commonplace, despite being the cream of the crop as young players not all would be destined for the top.

Actually in this instance it was the losers who have fared better, the Saints squad boast four current Premier League players, the Ipswich squad none. While the Saints players have commanded massive transfer fees between them and gained many international caps, the Ipswich team have not. Having said that, not all of the Saints squad has achieved all of their footballing aims.

I decided to find out where they are now, and how different the careers of these players now hitting their peak age of 24/25 have fared.

Saints

Andrew McNeil – The Scottish keeper left Saints in January 2006, returning to his native Edinburgh with SPL side Hibernian, he forced his way into the first team at Easter Road, including playing in the 2007 League Cup final win. He was later replaced in the side and released in 2009. He spent a season in the third division with Montrose before signing for First Division Raith Rovers in 2010. He was released by Raith this summer and signed for Livingston where he is currently first choice.

Craig Richards – Local lad Richards was released by Saints in the summer of 2006. He was picked up by Conference side Salisbury City in 2007. Spells at Eastleigh, Bognor Regis Town and Winchester City followed. He now plays for Whitehawk FC in the Ryman League Division One South.

Sebastian Wallis-Tayler – The frenchman left Saints the summer after the Cup Final and signed for Havant & Waterlooville before playing for Bognor Regis Town and Lewes. He is now back in his native France playing for non-league outfit CA Lisieux.

Sean Rudd – After being released by Saints, Rudd had an unsuccessful trial with former club Oxford United before sadly retiring through injury. Now works for a Sports Shoe company.

Martin Cranie – Had already played first team football on loan at Bournemouth and Premier League football for Saints at the time of the Youth Cup final. He played in the Premier League under Harry Redknapp, before finding chances limited under George Burley in the Championship. Cranie had two spells on loan at Yeovil Town before reuniting with Redknapp at Portsmouth for the 2007 season. Spent time at QPR and Charlton on loan before joining Coventry City in 2009 where he is still a regular for the Championship outfit. Has gained caps for England at U21 level.

Lloyd James – The Welsh utility man earned a professional contract with Saints in 2006, and made over seventy first team appearances in the Championship and League One before his somewhat surprise release (having been a regular in the team) in 2010. He soon signed for Colchester United and is now an established member of the U’s first team. A Welsh U21 international.

Tim Sparv – Finnish midfielder Sparv left Saints in 2007 to sign for Swedish club Halmstads BK, he is now playing in the Dutch first division with FC Groningen via a loan spell in his home country. He has been capped fifteen times by Finland.

Tim Sparv. Now in the Dutch Eredivisie.

Nathan Dyer – The tiny winger made his first team debut for Saints at the start of the season following the final. He was loaned to Burnley before coming back and getting more regular gametime at St. Mary’s. He went on loan again to Sheffield United in 2008, before really flourishing at Swansea City, firstly on loan before joining permanently in 2009 and he is now a regular in their Premier League side.

Theo Walcott – Made his first team debut at sixteen and was soon turning heads at a higher level. Chelsea had already shown an interest in him, but it was Arsenal who paid £5 million with a potential outcome of £12 million (although that is seemingly no longer the case) for him in 2006. He has now played over one hundred times for the Gunners. He became the youngest ever full England international in 2006 and was the surprise inclusion in Sven Goran Erikssons’s World Cup Squad of 2006. He has now played eighteen times for his country.

Leon Best – The Irish striker had already played in the Premier League for Saints by the time of the final, and also spent a period on loan with QPR. Further loans with Sheffield Wednesday, Bournemouth and Yeovil Town followed before he rejected a new contract with Saints in 2007 and joined Coventry City, the tribunal setting the fee at £650k. His performances for the Sky Blues were enough to persuade Newcastle United to move for him and is now a first team player with the Toon in the Premier League. He has represented Ireland at senior level.

Leon. Doing his Best for Newcastle in the Premier League.

David McGoldrick – McGoldrick was handed a first team debut in the September following the match at Portman Road, but it would take him another three years and loan spells at Notts County,  Bournemouth and Port Vale before he would be considered a regular. He was an ever present in the Saints team that dropped out of the Championship, scoring twelve goals and left for Nottingham Forest for £1 million the following summer.

Kyle Critchell – Defender Critchell was hampered by a serious injury in 2005 and was eventually loaned out to Torquay United in 2006. He was released the following summer and joined Chesterfield. He joined Weymouth in June 2007 before signing for Wrexham the following season, injuries again stunted his progression and he was loaned to York City before rejoining the Terras. He currently plays for hometown club Dorchester Town in the Blue Square South division who he signed for in 2009.

Ashlee Jones – Sub keeper Jones was released in the summer of 2005 and signed for Rushden & Diamonds, he has played for an array of clubs since and eventually made his football league debut for Darlington in 2009, he now plays for Braintree Town in the Blue Square Premier division.

Adam Lallana – The only member of the squad still at St. Mary’s, the creative midfielder is now a lynchpin in Nigel Adkins side and has made one hundred and thirty appearances for the club, now catching the eye of Premier League suitors he has been capped at U21 level by England.

Adam Lallana, still flying high with Saints.

Feliciano Condesso – Portuguese midfielder Condesso left Saints in 2007 without playing for the first team, somewhat surprisingly he joined La Liga side Villarreal but couldn’t break into the first team setup there either. He played for their ‘B’ side in the Spanish third tier before joining UD Logrones and now plays for Ontinyent CF.

Gareth Bale – The youngest member of the Saints squad, aged fifteen, Bale made his first team debut in 2006 and played forty times that season as Saints made it to the Championship play offs. Hot property, the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester United were said to be interested, but it was Spurs who signed the Welshman for an initial fee of £5 million that rose to £7 million and Tommy Forescast. Bale struggled to make an impact at White Hart Lane to start with, but is now considered one of the best players in the world. A notable hat trick in the Champions League against Inter at the San Siro propelling him to super stardom. He has played thirty times for Wales.

Josh Dutton-Black – Winger Dutton-Black left Saints in 2007 and signed for AFC Totton. He has since had spells at Salisbury, Kidderminster, Eastleigh, Bognor Regis Town and Didcot Town. He now plays for North Leigh in the Southern League Division One South & West.

Ipswich Town

Shane Supple – Retired. Now a Gaelic Football player.

Michael Synott – Released by League of Ireland side Dundalk in the summer of 2010.

James Krause – Now playing for Cambridge City in the Southern League Premier division.

Chris Casement – Now playing for Linfield in the IFA Premiership. Capped by Northern Ireland.

Aidan Collins – Now playing for the University of London FC.

Sammy Moore – Now playing for AFC Wimbledon in League Two.

Cathal Lordan – Now playing for Cork City in the League of Ireland First division.

Liam Trotter – Now playing for Millwall in the Championship.

Owen Garvan – Now playing for Crystal Palace in the Championship. Eire U21 international.

Owen Garvan. Tipped for big things, now at Palace.

Liam Craig – Now playing for St. Johnstone in the Scottish Premier League.

Daryl Knights – Now playing for Newport County in the Blue Square Premier League.

Danny Haynes – Now playing for Barnsley in the Championship.

Blair Hammond – Now playing for Ipswich Wanderers in the Eastern Counties League division one.

Charlie Sheringham – Now playing for Dartford in the Blue Square South.

Ed Upson – Now playing for Yeovil Town in League One.

Andy Reynolds – Now playing for Lowestoft Town in the Ryman Premier divsion.

Stuart Ainsley – Now playing for Lowestoft Town in the Ryman Premier divsion.

It is clear to see that the losing Saints squad have, on the whole fared better than their Ipswich counterparts. Although it is staggering to see that of the thirty four players involved, fifteen of them are now playing at non-league level.

This isn’t a fate exclusive to these young finalists either, of the 2007 Liverpool winning side, only two players have since played for the first team, and only one (Jay Spearing) is still on the fringe. Their defeated opponents that day Manchester United fielded Danny Welbeck who has now become a first team player, the rest of the names are less familiar. In fact if you were to go through the lineups of all the previous finals, you would find only a handful of players plying their trade at the top of the footballing tree. Another case of foreigners ruining the English game? Hardly. These days half the youth teams are foreign players as clubs look to invest abroad as early as possible, all hoping to discover the next Lionel Messi. The fact is the standard required gets higher every season and more are likely to fall by the wayside with every intake. Also, I always wonder how much difference in ability there is between some players playing non-league and those in the lower echelons of the professional game. Not that much I would wager, and in reality we could probably fill another four divisions of professional clubs if it were possible.

Either way, the differing fortunes of some of these young players is a harsh reminder that the career of a footballer is a privilege to be treasured.

Chris

Thanks to Gordon Simpson (Daily Echo), Martin Brodetsky (Oxford United FC), David Seabourne (Bognor Regis Town FC Supporters Club), Graham Large (It’s Round & It’s White), Jon Dalton (Granley Rovers FC), Samuel Ridout.