Southampton: Creating the La Masia of England

Gareth Bale of Tottenham Hotspur and Theo Walcott of Arsenal are both products of Southampton's academy. (Getty Images)

Gareth Bale (L) of Tottenham Hotspur and Theo Walcott (R) of Arsenal are both products of Southampton’s academy. (Getty Images)

When it comes to youth development in football, Barcelona’s La Masia is considered the benchmark. Over the years, La Masia has been a minefield of amazing footballing talent. The academy, following the philosophy and structure laid down by the legendary Johan Cryuff, has been one of the major reasons for the dominance of Barcelona and Spain in world football in the recent times.

The success of Spain based on their youth development projects has inspired the English FA also to implement a similar strategy of focusing on the youth level projects. It has started its own Elite development centre at St. George’s Park. And they have chosen none other than Southampton Academy chief Matt Crocker to be the head of coach and player development there.

Southampton’s mini-La Masia has been at the forefront of producing quality young footballers in England. Players like Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott & Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have all come through their ranks.

Gareth Bale was spotted as a nine-year-old playing for a Cardiff boys’ team and drafted into the academy. The Welshman is currently the hottest property in world football and subject of a speculated world record bid from Real Madrid.

There was another boy who shared a room with Bale at the Darwin Lodge. Currently, playing for fierce rivals Arsenal, Theo Walcott had some amazing duels with Bale on the wings. Both the roomies have come a long way to play for two of London’s top teams.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain joined Southampton academy at the age of seven. Courted by all of the top teams in England, the Ox signed for Arsenal and has shown great potential at a young age.

In the recent times, players like Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw have been attracting a lot of eyeballs with their brilliant displays. Luke Shaw, at 18 years of age has been particularly impressive in the past season. Fantastic pace, great ability in the air, good ball control he has drawn obvious comparisons with Bale.

Southampton has also had its lows in the recent times with its relegation to the third tier of English football but they have stuck to their philosophy all this while. And there has been a visible progress at the club with each passing year.

Though Bale was sold very early, Oxlade-Chamberlain was sold for much more than Walcott and their transfer fees were enough to run the academy for many years. This year Luke Shaw has signed a five-year contract extension signifying a new progression for the club.

Apart from these players, they also have more than a squad size of players playing in the Premier league and the Championship. Andre Villas-Boas recently praised the Southampton academy and compared it to other centres of excellence like Sporting Lisbon and Barcelona’s La Masia.

The arrival of Mauricio Pochettino has resulted in the club being able to attract some exciting players from all around Europe. Signings like Gaston Ramirez, Dejan Lovren and Victor Wanyama indicate the club’s high ambitions. With a solid base of players coming from the youth academy, Southampton has all the right ingredients to work towards creating a successful premiership club.

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