Southampton have a renowned youth academy that consistently produces top-quality players. In recent years, the likes of Gareth Bale, Luke Shaw, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, Calum Chambers and Adam Lallana have come through the Southampton academy. These players have all left the club, but there are always more academy graduates coming through.
In the past, some big names have come through the academy. Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier came through the Southampton Academy, as did Premier League record goalscorer Alan Shearer. Dennis Wise, Jeff Kenna and Kevin Phillips also spent time there.
The Southampton Academy is about more than just football, though. Young players coming through are sent to school, receive a good education and are sent on courses. This means that youngsters who don’t make the grade have other options and all their eggs aren’t in the football basket.
Emphasis on Technical Players
Southampton put more focus on technical potential, whereas other clubs look for physical players who are bigger and stronger than others. Southampton give more time for young players to develop physically, as they place more emphasis on the technical side of their game. There are obvious advantages to this, as there have been stories of players being let go by their clubs because of physical attributes.
Harry Kane is an example of a player being let go for the wrong reasons. Kane was let go by Arsenal’s academy as an eight-year-old, because he was chubby and not very athletic, according to Liam Brady. This obviously came back to haunt the north London club, as he joined their rivals Tottenham and went on to become one of the best strikers around. Kane says that being let go helped him, as he has always had a chip on his shoulder and was determined to prove them wrong.
Liverpool’s Andy Robertson is another example of a poor decision made by a club based on physical attributes. The Scottish left-back was let go by Celtic as a 15-year-old because they felt he was too small. Robertson also says he was more motivated after being let go.
Kane and Robertson aren’t the only players to be let go because of these reasons, but are two current players that really stick out, as they’re right up there with the best in the Premier League for their positions. This clearly shows that there are advantages to letting a player develop physically for a few more years.
Playing Style and Progression
Throughout the Southampton Academy, emphasis is placed on using an attractive playing style. A 4-3-3 system is used throughout the age groups, and players are encouraged to keep the ball on the ground and play out from the back.
Southampton also have incentives for young players to do well. The path to the first team is clear for young players. On a board on the wall in the academy canteen are the names of every player to graduate from the academy to the first team. Changing rooms at the training ground are on the same corridor: beginning with the under-18s, then the under-21s, followed by the first team.
But the academy isn’t foolproof and some players slip through the net. Kevin Phillips is an example of this. He didn’t make it at the Southampton Academy and was released. After leaving the club, he was converted to a striker and ended up having a great career: scoring over 250 goals for various clubs, including Southampton, who he returned to in 2003 and played for the club for a couple of seasons.
Importance of Academy
The importance Southampton place on their academy is huge. The Southampton Academy is well funded, which allows it to continue churning out good players. Even when the club had terrible financial difficulty and faced administration, the academy was still funded to the same level it was previously, according to former Southampton Academy Director Matt Crocker. When a club is trying to save money, one of the first places they would usually cut back on would be the academy. But not Southampton, who have always stayed true to their values.
When the club are hiring a new manager, Southampton always aim to bring somebody in that will give their academy graduates a chance in the first team. The appointments in recent years of Mauricio Pochettino, Ronald Koeman, Claude Puel, Mauricio Pellegrino and Ralph Hasenhuttl have all had the future in mind. Mark Hughes would have also been tasked with developing young players had he stuck around longer.
In 2014, Southampton announced plans to build a new £30m state-of-the-art training ground. They could have spent £30m on a new player, but they thought of the long-term instead. If they spent the £30m on a player, things may not have worked out and the money could have gone to waste. But with the investment, the club should be able to develop more players that will serve them better in the future.
The club hope that one day, they will be able to hold onto their best academy graduates. They have been forced to sell in the past because of financial difficulty. But when you have top-class players, it’s always going to be very hard to hold onto them if a big club comes calling with a bucket-load of money.
Southampton say their aim is to produce a first team that is made up of 50 per cent of academy graduates. They have achieved this with match-day squads in the past, but it’s difficult to sustain. The club want to continue working on their academy and consistently produce players that will play in their first team, though. And if you take the players that have left the club into consideration, more than 50 per cent of their squad would be made up of academy graduates if they didn’t sell them on.
Southampton would be competing at the top of the Premier League if they were able to hold onto these players, and they’ll be hoping to hold onto their best young players in the future. Things haven’t always gone as well as planned for the Saints, but they must be admired for the emphasis they place on their academy and the chances they give to their young players.
The club have a large network of scouts, that look at players from under-six to professional levels. When they spot a young player that they may be interested in, they’ll invite them to have a trial. More information can be found here, on Southampton’s official website.
“The Southampton Academy” is part of our in-depth series, with a new article being published every week.