Ex pro on which Prem club has best academy - not Arsenal, not United

Adam Lallana

According to Alan Shearer the best Premier League academy is not one of the big clubs like Liverpool, Manchester United, or Chelsea, but Southampton

The South Coast has been acting as a footballing conveyor belt, churning out elite-athletes in the sport for generations, according to former professional and current media pundit Alan Shearer who points to Southampton icons from the 1990s to wonderkids of today as evidence.

Academies oft regarded as the best in the country have traditionally been West Ham United, thanks to the progression of players like Frank Lampard and Rio Ferdinand and legends such as Bobby Moore and, in the modern era, Arsenal, who are currently nurturing stars such as Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs while also bragging the breakthrough of pedigree players like Tony Adams and Andy Cole.

From Bobby Charlton and Duncan Edwards in Matt Busby's era, to Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville in Sir Alex Ferguson's reign, Manchester United have also long acted as a football farm that cultivates top class professionals.

However, none of the aforementioned are as strong as Southampton, according to Shearer, who believes that the main difference between themselves and 'the big clubs' is that the Saints are continually giving their youth a chance, which puts those players on a fast-track to greatness.

'How can Southampton carry on churning out players whereas big clubs have struggled to do that?' Shearer asked rhetorically in a report entitled 'Southampton are a model club' on BBC. He continued: 'The answer, probably, is that they are giving their kids a chance.

'It's refreshing that they are continuing to produce youngsters at an academy that has worked wonders over the years. The money that football club has made out of their youth academy, it's a model for everyone to look at.'

The man believed to be the heir to the throne vacated by Thierry Henry - Theo Walcott, now coming of age at the Gunners - was discovered at Southampton, as was Real Madrid's world record signing; Gareth Bale, who cost Los Blancos £86m in the summer from Tottenham Hotspur, where he was a triple-crowning player-of-the-year in his final season in England.

The club are still developing youth products, with Adam Lallana making his England debut last week, and James Ward-Prowse cited as the next Beckham due to his ability from dead ball situations.

A Premier League winner with Blackburn Rovers and an icon at Newcastle United, the now 43-year-old Shearer explained that one of the reasons that factored into his decision to join Southampton's academy in 1986 was because they 'gave youth a chance', something he found in 1988, when he progressed into the senior squad and made his debut on March 26, against Chelsea in the old First Division, as a substitute.

On his full debut, he made headlines by returning an astonishing hat-trick, aged 17 years, against Arsenal.

Speaking about the club's role in creating superstars, Shearer said: 'that started with Danny Wallace, Steve Williams, Matt Le Tissier, myself, Rod Wallace, Bale, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott - and the guys coming through now like Lallana, Luke Shaw and Ward-Prowse.

'That hasn't just happened this season, it's been happening for years. It's incredible and a model that a lot of people should look at.'

The Premier League are recognising that there is a dearth of young, local quality throughout the division as a whole and, in order to combat this, a £320m initiative called the Elite Player Performance Plan has been developed.

According to the official website, EPPP aims to 'increase the number and quality of home grown players gaining professional contracts in the clubs and playing first-team football at the highest level' through the 'creation [of] more time for players to play and be coached' in an improved environment.

Shearer continued: 'It's an argument that youngsters are probably not getting a chance at bigger clubs because of the huge demand for success so they try and go out and buy it. I know plans are in place to try and correct that through the EPPP but Southampton have been doing that for years and years.'

image: © wonker

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