Few academies in England can claim to have produced future Premier League stars with such consistency as Southampton over the last decade. Arsenal have swooped for practically every Saints teenager to show half a season of decent form, whilst Liverpool are regular shoppers at the St. Mary’s market stall as well. Four Saints academy products have made the last two England squads and a further four have been called up at U21 level since the start of the season.
Many of those success stories stem back to two fateful days in 2005, when Southampton faced Ipswich Town in the final of the FA Youth Cup. Although the young Tractor Boys won the battle – two battles, actually – to win the title 3-2 on aggregate, it was Southampton’s runner-up cast that went onto much bigger and brighter things…
From the Southampton players involved in both legs, three names inevitably stand out – Theo Walcott Adam Lallana and Gareth Bale. Ironically, the latter duo were excluded from both starting line-ups and had to settle for spots on the bench. Arsenal famously moved for Walcott as a 16-year-old, heralding a shock call-up to Sven Goran Eriksson’s 2006 World Cup squad, and his career since has weaved between relative success with the Gunners and struggling to meet the expectations placed on him as a youngster.
Lallana, meanwhile, helped Southampton charge from League One to the Premier League before earning a big-money move to Liverpool, where he has since established himself as not only a key player for the Reds but also the England national team. Bale, of course, became the most expensive player in the world when he left Tottenham for Real Madrid in summer 2013. He’s since won two Champions League titles.
While they may not have matched Walcott, Lallana and Bale in forging careers at the very top of the game, former youth team-mates Nathan Dyer, Leon Best, Martin Cranie and David McGoldrick have made names for themselves at a decent level. In fact, Dyer boasts one achievement that has thus far evaded the former trio in the Premier League title, being part of the Leicester squad that lifted it in 2015/16 after signing on loan from Swansea.
Best and McGoldrick, on the other hand, have spent most of their careers in the Championship – McGoldrick ironically enjoying the best form of his career for FA Youth Cup final foes Ipswich. Best now plies his trade with the Tractor Boys as well, but is yet to score since signing in August. Cranie, meanwhile, is a classic Football League journeyman, spending spells at Yeovil, Portsmouth, QPR, Charlton Athletic, Coventry, Barnsley and current employers Huddersfield.
Having failed to make names for themselves at Southampton, goalkeeper Andy McNeil, substitute Feleciano Condesso, defender Sebastian Wallis-Taylor and midfielder Tim Sparv all sought opportunities abroad. The glovesman returned to his native Scotland to test his luck north of the border, representing most notably Hibernian, Montrose and Livingston before undergoing a short spell in New Zealand with the excellently named Waibop United. He moved back to Scotland after just 15 league games and left Morton in January this year to undertake a coaching role at Guangzhou R&F.
Sparv headed back to Scandinavia with Halmstad and is now at FC Midtyjland – scoring against Southampton and beating Manchester United in the Europa League in 2015. Wallis-Taylor was last heard of in France, captaining Ca Lisieux after moving there in 2009, but details of his career since are hazy. Condesso daringly ventured to the exotic destination of Villarreal, but struggled to make the grade there as well and eventually disappeared into the depths of lower league Portuguese football.
Whilst Lloyd James went on to enjoy much more success than team-mate Kyle Critchell, both of their careers have headed in the same direction since leaving Southampton – downwards. Whereas James went on to make 85 appearances for Saints at senior level, albeit 30 coming during his final season in League One, Critchell didn’t make a single first-team outing.
He dropped down to League One with Chesterfield in 2007 but after just ten games slid further down the English pyramid, this time joining Weymouth in the Conference Premier. He’s since undergone three more spells with Weymouth, but spent last term with Portland United in the Wessex League. James, on the other hand, has spent his career in League One and League Two, and signed for Exeter City last summer after being released from Leyton Orient.
It’s difficult to get accurate information on what has happened to Sean Rudd and Craig Richards despite both starting for Southampton against Ipswich. Rudd and Richards were both huge characters within Southampton’s youth squad but struggled to make the step up to senior level and after unsuccessful trials with lesser sides, the latter was forced to retire through injury. Richards made a shock move to New Zealand in 2006, going on to represent Sailsbury United and Dandenong Thunder, but has since returned to England, turning out for Brackley Town and Winchester City.