The future of England lays in its youth and with the recent disaster in the U21 Euros, many will be asking what is to come. Well, simply look to the endless conveyor belt of talent; better known as, Southampton Football Club.
Players such as Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Luke Shaw and Callum Chambers have stunned Southampton fans over recent years with sublime performances for both Club and Country. The Saints continue to produce talent year on year; leading to the question, who could have changed the Euro disaster and who can be the future of this sinking England side?
74 Premier League appearances to his name and the captain of the England U21 side; it is safe to say that James Ward-Prowse is as experienced as they come, for someone just 20 years old.
This last season Southampton fans have become accustomed to his range of passing and dead ball deliveries, reminiscent of a certain David Beckham. With both Gerrard and Lampard’s international retirement, there is no longer a set piece specialist in the squad; leaving a role to be filled. These central spots have since been filled by Milner and Henderson, but both lack the ability to dominate possession in a convincing manner.
Due to his awareness and desire to find space to dominate in the biggest of games, Ward-Prowse often operates as a central roaming playmaker. With a deft touch and a positive forward approach, he doesn’t retain possession solely for possessions sake. In addition, diagonal switching passes have become second nature to the youngster. Rather like a roaming spanish midfielder, he lacks the physical presence and any natural bursting pace. But with an assist return greater than David Silva, Juan Mata and World Cup winner Mesut Ozil, is that really such an issue?
The second player is the man dubbed by many as the next Paul Scholes. Harrison Reed operates as a central midfielder and has featured for Ronald Koeman’s first team, as well as the Southampton U21s this season. His success is reflected by playing a key role in winning the Premier League U21 cup and featuring for the England U20 side.
Whilst Reed possess an incredible passing ability to switch the play and exchange quick one-twos, he most likely draws the comparisons to Scholes through his size and ginger hair. Reed’s greatest strength lays in his work rate, determination and defensive duties.
Standing at 5ft 6 inches tall, its been an amusing paradox to see Reed barge Alex Song to the floor, then somehow stay on his feet after Kouyate tumbled through the back of him. England truly lack a hard working defensive midfielder with natural ability, and provided he continues to progress, England have an incredible talent on their hands. Reed’s play involves dropping deep into the gap between defence and midfield; he then looks to quickly offload to a midfield partner or switch the ball into space or wide areas, bypassing the midfield.
His defensive duties are carried out through crunching tackles and persistent hustling against midfielder runners. “Harry bite yer ankles Reed” is a far more suitable nickname for this disciplined youngster.
Where deep English midfielders such as Carrick, Barry etc. look to lower the intensity and play predominantly short balls, Reed looks to instigate counter attacks and maintain the intensity of play.
Now, it must be mentioned that by no means are these young talents greater than their current England competitors; they still have a lot to learn and many tough games ahead of them in their career. However, they both possess the raw talent that is so desired at just 20 years old and they continue to epitomise “The Southampton Way”.
After such a disastrous U21 Euro run, it’s baffling how Ward-Prowse was left out the starting XI in the final 2 games and how Reed has been entirely overlooked. Perhaps one day James Ward-Prowse and Harrison Reed will be the difference to take both Southampton, and England to the next level.