Tag Archives: Francis Benali

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

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You’ve got to And it to Anders…

The other night I was thinking about that most contentious of issues. The underrated player.

Mainly because, somebody who I have been hailing for some time now is seemingly getting the recognition that he deserves. That man is Richard Chaplow whose performances of late have showed why his £50k price tag and place in Preston’s reserves seems even more ludicrous now than it did at the time when we signed him.

I am a sucker for an underrated player. Those that some just don’t seem to get. I recently wrote a piece on Guly along the same lines, who has since put in a match winning performance at Coventry, yet I still saw comments from fans that other than score and have a hand in the other three goals, didn’t really do a lot…

I put the question to the Saints Twitter faithful on who was Saints most underrated player, and of course the opinions were varied. Suggestions ranged from Perry Groves to Agustin Delgado to Franny Benali to Jo Tessem and current players Ryan Dickson and Danny Butterfield also got mentions. The player that got the most votes was Chris Marsden, but as Sam Dobson pointed out and I am inclined to agree, Marsden is actually pretty highly regarded amongst Saints fans.

One player that didn’t register a single mention, but one that I always felt was sometimes misjudged by fans is likely to line up at Wembley against England on Tuesday for his 122nd or 123rd international cap.

Anders Svensson joined Saints in the summer of 2001 from Elfsborg for a fee of £750k by then caretaker manager Stuart Gray, the 24 year old Swede came in as a relative unknown to the fans, but already had sixteen international caps to his name.

Initially signed as an attacking midfielder to replace the outgoing Hassan Kachloul, Gray expected big things of the Swede “Anders can play off the front man or in midfield. He’s not an out-and-out striker but is certainly a forward-thinking midfield player who pops up in that area.”

Anders Svensson. Turning his opponents inside out.

Svensson was brought in to liven up a goal-shy Saints midfield that had netted just three goals between them in the previous season, and he provided that outlet with some success. Svensson got six goals in his first season, but more notably provided some much needed creativity that saw Marian Pahars race to fourteen goals for the season. As Saints turned their early season poor form around under new boss Gordon Strachan, Svensson was rapidly becoming a key player in the side. Mostly used in central midfield but sometimes on the left Svensson was never really used in his favoured position playing off of a front man, but nonetheless his contributions were notable.

He starred at that summers world cup, famously scoring the free kick that knocked Argentina out!

The 2002/03 season is one that will be forever engrained on every Saints fans mind. Anders played a key role in the side that finished 8th in the Premier League and reached the FA Cup final. Although he started less games than he had the previous season, his starring role and brilliant individual goal against Spurs in the 3rd round of the cup was his stand out performance in a Saints shirt.

Often accused of inconsistency, he was regularly accused of not trying, and the 2003/04 season proved to be the beginning of the end for Anders in a Saints shirt. Gordon Strachan left in February 2004, and Paul Sturrock came in March. If anyone in the squad wasn’t a Sturrock type of player it was Svensson and he ended the season having played almost as many games from the bench as he had started. He didn’t find the net once.

2004/05 was another season that will never be forgotten, but for very different reasons. Under messrs Wigley and Redknapp, Svensson was used more frequently but as Saints bimbled to a sorry end to the season and relegation it was clear that the Swede’s future lie elsewhere.

Svensson battles the dutch to secure Euro 2012 qualification.

It was strongly rumoured that Svensson was offered a new contract by Saints, but he was a better player than the Championship, so it was no surprise to me that he decided to move on.  What did shock me was his destination, returning to his former club Elfsborg on a free transfer.

That move hasn’t hindered him at all from an international point of view, though I can’t help thinking there is a certain amount of wasted potential in Svensson. His move to Saints started promisingly but perhaps we, or at least the managers and coaches of the club are as guilty for that as anybody. I think that perhaps we had a very talented footballer at our disposal but weren’t prepared to change our formation or style to maximise his impact.

Now aged 35, he is still with Elfsborg and still playing a key role for his country. He is the Swedish vice-captain to Zlatan Ibrahimovic and second only to the great Thomas Ravelli in caps, ahead of such notable players as Olof Mellberg and Henrik Larsson.

He was part of the Sweden side that secured qualification for Euro 2012 with a 3-2 victory over the Netherlands last month and can hopefully look forward to appearing at a fifth major championship.

So look out for Anders at Wembley on Tueday night and wonder what might have been. Perhaps his time to arrive in the English game was a little too soon, and with the wrong managers…

Chris

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