Southampton are known to develop and produce some of the most talented players in England. They have paved the way for numerous gifted players over the years and continue to be a conveyor belt for game-changing talents of the future. The tradition to promote youngsters has always been a part of the club’s DNA and here are a few well-known names who emerged from their famed youth setup.
Matt Le Tissier
Second on the list for leading goal-scorers in the history of the club, Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier remains one of their best youth products. Le Tissier made his debut for the Saints in 1986 and stayed with the club till 2002 even though top teams from across Europe were desperate for his signature on more than one occasion.
A free-kick specialist and a technically gifted attacking midfielder, Le Tissier had a penchant for spectacular strikers and is considered one of the most reliable players, having converted 47 times from 48 attempts. The first midfielder to score 100 goals in the Premier League, Le Tissier’s affinity for Southampton meant that he only ever played for one club as far as top-flight football in Europe was concerned.
After spending two years in Southampton’s youth squad, Alan Shearer was promoted to the first team and never looked back. Shearer’s eye for the goal was evident from the outset, with him becoming the youngest player to score a hat-trick in the top division soon after his Southampton debut. However, he still had to bide his time before becoming a first-team regular at the club and had to wait till the 1990-91 season to truly make his mark, when he was voted the Fans’ Player of the Year.
He moved to Blackburn Rovers in 1992 and won the Premier League title with them in 1995 after building a magnificent partnership up front with Chris Sutton that saw both players score goals galore. After his adventure with Blackburn, Shearer moved to his boyhood club Newcastle United and became their top-scorer as well as the leading goal-scorer in Premier League history.
Gareth Bale’s transformation to a superstar from a young full-back in Southampton’s youth setup speaks volumes about the club’s eye for up and coming talent. After making his debut in 2006 as the second-youngest player to ever play for Southampton, Bale signed for Tottenham Hotspur. Hampered by injuries and adjusting to life in north London meant that Bale had a slow start to his career with Spurs. Once he did settle, though, the Welsh winger became unstoppable.
After being deployed higher up the pitch, Bale’s explosive pace and power became areas of concerns for defences. His superb performances saw him win the Premier League Player of the Season in 2012–13 ahead of a move to Real Madrid before the next season. With Real, Bale has won two La Liga titles, four Champions Leagues and a Copa del Rey. His goal-scoring exploits in Champions League finals for Real remain his best moments with Los Blancos.
Theo Walcott was highly rated as a prodigious talent and is the youngest player to play for Southampton’s first-team. Blessed with lightning-quick pace and tricky feet, it was only a matter of time before he moved to Arsenal to develop further. A surprise inclusion in England’s 2006 World Cup squad, a lot was expected of him in the years to come.
However, many believe the pacey winger hasn’t quite lived up to the billing. Even though he won two FA Cups and scored more than 100 goals for Arsenal during his injury-ridden more-than-a-decade-long stay with the Gunners, people still wonder what could have been with Walcott. Now 31 years of age, Walcott is currently plying his trade with Merseyside club Everton.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain followed a similar career path to Walcott. After impressing as a youngster in Southampton’s youth setup, he moved to Arsenal in 2011 and won three FA Cups with the Gunners. However, unlike Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain hasn’t spent most of his peak years at the north London outfit and instead opted for a move to the red side of Merseyside to join Liverpool.
With Liverpool, Oxlade-Chamberlain’s development has gone from strength to strength. He has won the UEFA Champions League as well as the Premier League with the Reds and seems to have a bright future ahead of him. Still only 27 years of age, he’s likely to enjoy more success and win a lot more trophies to perhaps become the most decorated player to have graduated from Southampton’s youth academy.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Laurence Griffiths