The Saints have been producing top-class players for years, and it is high time that they are appreciated for it.
Over the years there have been some marvellous outcomes from certain football academies. Manchester United had the Class of ‘92, while West Ham United produced Frank Lampard, John Terry, Joe Cole and Jermain Defoe during the same era, but Southampton have stood above the rest in consistently producing world-class talent and it’s time they got recognition for it.
Foundations for this success were laid down many years ago under former chairman Rupert Lowe when he employed Huw Jennings, Steve Wigley, Stuart Henderson and Malcolm Elias. During an impressive five-year stint between 2001 and 2006, a formidable step-up in the search for local talent took place.
In the middle of those years, signs of the rise in Southampton’s academy were evident when Wayne Bridge signed for Chelsea for £7 million in 2003. But the real masterpiece of their work came towards the end of those five years in 2005 when Southampton reached the FA Youth Cup final. The squad consisted of players such as David McGoldrick, Theo Walcott, Leon Best, Nathan Dyer and Adam Lallana; on the bench was a certain left-back called Gareth Bale.
Despite Jennings, Wigley and Elias moving on, their model was kept, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain exploded through the ranks in 2010. Which brings us to where we are today with the likes of Luke Shaw (18) and Calum Chambers (19) breaking into the first team. This dates back to as many as 10 years of consistent production from the youth system which Jennings, Wigley, Henderson and Elias set in place.
£33 million have been cooped from Bale, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Dyer, Best and McGoldrick out of that FA Youth Cup team, not to mention their future values, including Bale’s whopping £85m move from Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid last summer. The value of this youth system is much more, and if the suspected sales of Lallana and Shaw go through, then it may well triple it.
The recognition this academy deserves is not for just supplying Southampton with funds and great players, but also for supporting the future of England. So it’s good news to hear that the Premier League club have invested £30m into redeveloping their training ground, which will provide even greater facilities for their youth teams when it is finished.