Southampton have pumped close to £40million into their new Staplewood training ground, with a club famed for their development of home-grown talent hoping to see more potential world-beaters roll off the production line.
The list of former academy graduates on the south coast makes for impressive reading, with the likes of Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw having come through the St Mary’s system to earn big-money moves to Tottenham Hotspur (and then Real Madrid), Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United respectively.
It is easy to see why Southampton are prepared to make another multi-million pound investment in their youth programme, with the deals mentioned above having netted the club around £85m.
The facility pays for itself and, in an era of Financial Fair Play regulations, provides an important platform for the future, with greater emphasis being placed on the scouting and nurturing of stars of tomorrow.
As executive director Les Reed puts it in the Daily Echo, Southampton have given themselves the opportunity to save considerable funds by producing their own, while their burgeoning reputation as a window of opportunity for youngsters means they are now a more enticing proposition for those looking to forge a career at the highest level.
He said: “The aspiration is to be there at the top and compete with the best. That’s what we want the players to buy into when they sign here at nine years of age. Not to go to perhaps a bigger club or a more successful club and go on loan into League One.
“We want them to believe they can come from there up to here [he points towards the academy pitches at the training ground and then to the first-team area] and then the next addition will be down in reception with the trophy cabinet.”
Reed added: “One player has a shelf life. What happens when he goes? You have to buy another player.
“You’re continually spending that kind of money and turning it over on importing players, where the investment here could be for the next 50 years. Instead of buying one player, we produce five.”
Reed says the project being put in place at Southampton has also benefited the senior ranks, with summer deals for the likes of Dusan Tadic and Graziano Pelle – who have both starred during their short time in England – pushed through on the back of guided tours.
It is refreshing to see such an approach paying dividends, in an era of billionaire owners and blank cheques in the transfer market.
Hopefully the blueprint being laid at Southampton – a club sat second in the Premier League standings at present – will be noted by others and one day, in the not too distant future, English football will once again be awash with exciting young talent produced on these shores.