You’re 17 years-old and you’re pretty handy at this sport that they call football. You’ve been plying your trade in the lower leagues for a few months until all of a sudden you’re presented with a dilemma: Man United, Liverpool and Arsenal are all interested in your services and you can choose which one you’d like to join. Sounds good doesn’t it? It’s every schoolboy’s dream, but this fantasy has turned into reality for Southampton’s boy-wonder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Oxlade-Chamberlain has played only a handful of first team games for the Saints in League One, but this isn’t stopping some of the biggest teams in England lining up to offer him a contract. If this article is the first that you’ve heard of him, it certainly won’t be the last. His father, Mark Chamberlain, is a former England winger and believes that his son will be better, and has more to offer the game, than fellow Southampton graduate Theo Walcott. While you should take any father’s comments with a pinch of salt (I was a footballing world-beater too according to my dad) there seem to be many influential people who are quick to agree with him.
Nigel Atkins has been full of praise for the youngster; “Some of the things he has done are magical. When you see him running with pace and with the skill that he’s got, it’s a joy to watch”. Southampton are keen to keep Oxlade-Chamberlain at the club and carry on developing him themselves, but as the month progresses it is looking more likely that teams are willing to meet their £10 million asking price. As a move draws nearer Atkins has said that: “We would only let him go to a club that would nurture him and treat him properly”. But which would be the best club to aid his development?
The rumours which getting louder are suggesting that Arsenal are looking the most likely to secure the players’ services, and if that proves to be the case then Oxlade-Chamberlain will be in very good hands. Arsenal’s academy, headed by former Gunner Liam Brady, is widely believed to be the best in the country at developing talented, young players into established Premier League footballers. In 2009, England boss Fabio Capello said: “I’m very lucky, because I’ve had the opportunity to look at Arsenal’s academy where the England team train and their work is incredibly good. It’s a very important example for the other English academies”. Arsenal academy graduate Kieran Gibbs has also publically praised the set-up which has seen him make the step up into the Arsenal first team and even make his England debut. He said: “There is a new angle coming into the way we are taught to play, especially here at Arsenal. You always learn first how to play the game technically and the coaches and everyone else at Arsenal really help you with that. It is a good place for the young English players to learn their trade”.
The work that Arsenal have done with Theo Walcott is sure to have not gone unnoticed by Southampton, but Walcott is just the latest in a long line of established Premier League players who have come through the Arsenal academy. Cesc Fabregas, Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs and Aaron Ramsey are Arsenal youth products currently involved in their first team picture, while the likes of Sebastian Larsson, Matthew Upson, David Bentley and Ashley Cole are just a few of Arsenal’s success stories that have moved onto pastures new. Arsenal’s recent track record of bringing quality, and notably English, players through their academy is surely without equal in the Premier League, and it is this which could see them beat the Reds in landing Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Liverpool on the other hand seem to have even greater problems when it comes to youth development. In a starkly honest assessment at the end of last season, Liverpool youth coach Rodolfo Borrell deemed that the Reds’ programme for developing young players was ‘unacceptable’. He continued to say that: “The under-18s had no centre-forward, no balance, no tactical level, no understanding of the game. We are working hard, but you can’t change things overnight. I think we have made a lot of progress over eight months, but we need to improve a lot more to get more players into the first team. I think if we keep working hard maybe in two years somebody can appear in the first team”. However, the likes of Jonjo Shelvey and Danny Wilson have since been added to show a dedication to developing youth and Jay Spearing was included in the starting XI on Sunday by Kenny Dalglish which shows that they have gone some way to repairing their problems.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain really does seem to have to world at his feet, and his next decision could prove to be vital. Given their track record I would say that Arsenal would do a fine job of moulding him into England’s next star, but he must be patient. Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale have proven that it can take time after a big move to become a Premier League regular. Southampton seem to have done a great job taking care of him, let’s just hope his next club can do the same, whoever they may be.