When we as fans think of Southampton Football Club, we think of the hero’s that have worn the red and white stripes, our rise from League One, and the joy handed to us as a result of supporting this remarkable club. But to the rest of the world and the average football fan, we are best known for our conveyer belt of young talent, better known as the academy; a part of our club that with thanks to the appointment of Claude Puel, has been brought back to life.
Looking back on the 2012/13 season – the year of Southampton’s return to the Premier League – Nigel Adkins placed an unprecedented amount of faith in Southampton’s youth. He was not only responsible for giving James Ward-Prowse his Premier League debut on the opening game of the season against Manchester City, but he also handed a then 17-year-old Luke Shaw his Premier League debut soon after too.
Then along came Mauricio Pochettino in January 2013, and with him, came the rapid development of our finest young assets. Over the next season and a half, Luke Shaw transformed from a raw talent, into one of the Premier League’s most in-form and sought after fullbacks – earning him a £30m transfer to the Theatre of Dreams later that summer.
This was all whilst Pochettino helped James Ward-Prowse to become a key asset to the first team, Harrison Reed was finding opportunities during the absence of first team players, and of course, Calum Chambers was battling with Nathaniel Clyne for a starting place in the side. This was an achievement that Arsene Wenger deemed so impressive, that at the end of the 2013/14 season, the 19-year-old transferred to Arsenal in a deal worth £16M.
But on the 27th of May 2014, Southampton had to handle two gut wrenching departures; firstly, there was Mauricio Pochettino’s decision to leave for Tottenham Hotspur, and unknowingly at the time, there was also the destruction of the pathway between the academy and the first team.
With the appointment of Ronald Koeman, Southampton went on to record back-to-back record breaking seasons, with qualification to the Europa League also achieved over both years. However, there was a price to pay for this undeniable success; whilst dreams of European football were being achieved, Koeman was continuing to completely disregard the young talent available in the academy.
During Koeman’s two year reign at Southampton, the Dutchman failed to even significantly develop one academy talent, turning to experience over youth at any possible opportunity.
In fact, Koeman not only avoided promoting young talents, but also opted to slander them in the press, once stating how he wasn’t impressed with the standard after watching an U21 match.
Koeman stated “I look to the development of young players and they still have a lot to learn and they are still not on the level that is needed for the Premier League.
“For some of them it is a long way, maybe too long. Only Matt Targett is ready for the the first team. Harry Reed is also close, but the rest not so much.”
Koeman was adamant that the talent in our academy simply wasn’t good enough, but with Southampton Football Club now under the control of Claude Puel, Koeman’s comments have been made to look rather foolish.
Since the start of the season, Southampton fans have been treated to the attacking talent of Josh Sims, the bite of Harrison Reed, and even the creativity of Jake Hesketh. Not to mention that James Ward-Prowse has also shown improvement in his awareness on the field too, but perhaps the most impressive integration of an academy star has been the introduction of Sam McQueen.
The 21-year-old spent his years in the academy as a direct winger, but under Puel, McQueen has been transformed into an expressive and attack minded wing back.
Many at this point may say that such a decision by Puel was only made due to Bertrand’s injury, but I would heavily disagree. At the time of Bertrand’s absence, left back Matt Targett and versatile centre half Maya Yoshida were still available for selection, yet still, Puel wanted to analyse the entirety of his squad to see what was at his disposal.
To me, finding a first team left back in the form of an academy winger shows just how willing Puel is to provide opportunities to our young talents. Best of all, these young players haven’t been handed such opportunities out of desperation either. These academy players have been given opportunities ahead of established first team players, and it shows on the field just how much faith and confidence Puel has given these youngsters.
In short, Puel respects what Southampton Football Club is all about. He understands that to us fans, we of course expect attractive football, but that we also love to see products of our own academy out there in the red and white stripes.
We are still in the early days of Puel’s tenure at Southampton Football Club, and therefore, there are still questions to be answered as to whether he can meet the clubs demands of annual progress. However, in just his five months at the club so far, Puel has without a doubt proven his burning desire to create attractive football and develop young talent; two components that fit perfectly with the ideologies of Southampton Football Club.