St. Mary’s Stadium has become a second home to Premier League scouts down the years, with many setting up an almost permanent residence on the South Coast to view the conveyer belt of talent emerging from Southampton’s academy. It seems that almost every year a new teenage sensation emerges from the club, enticing chairmen to open the cheque book, and send vast quantities of cash towards Hampshire, for the latest British talents.
It’s looking increasingly likely that the FA will hand Gareth Southgate the role of technical director within its organisation, with a view to revolutionising the way in which young talent is nurtured in England. The former Middlesbrough manager has reportedly made a big impression since his appointment as Head of Elite Development, alongside Trevor Brooking, and is set to be trusted with the task of transforming the long-term future of the national side, in a similar fashion to the work of Matthias Sammer with the German set-up. Although Southgate clearly has ability when it comes to the nurturing of young players, maybe the FA could learn from the successes of Southampton’s youth set-up.
Although Rupert Lowe’s legacy at the club may best remembered for some truly woeful financial decisions, he is actually the man who laid the foundations for the academy’s recent success. Lowe’s admiration of the system at Arsenal in the late 1990’s was key in the former chairman’s adopting of the youth policy at the club, although the Saints have churned out talented players in the past, such as Matt Le Tissier, the changes made during the period have transformed the club’s production of talent, sending it into overdrive.
The likes of Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are the most recent of graduates from the south coast, with the trio carving out, what look to be, promising top-level careers. Bale’s example provides an insight into the running of the youth set-up at the club, with the Welsh international originally being spotted by the club’s Bath-based branch. With Southampton’s catchment area being relatively small, due to the locality of a number of clubs and the coastline location, the Saints set up centres in various other areas including the West Country. This allowed them to spot the youngster at the tender age of nine, offering him the chance to train in a location reasonably near to his home town of Cardiff. As well as expanding the scouting network, the club purchased a hotel close to Southampton, in which players could co-exist for extended periods of time, building a rapport and feeling of independence, which is of real significance according to Lowe:
“We bought a local hotel, Darwin Lodge, for £250,000, where the boys lodged and installed Julia Upson to run it. She was like a mother to them. We made sure their diets and education were right, that their entire lives were stable. By the time I left, Southampton had the whole sweep necessary to produce not only players of quality but players who are also decent people.”
Although the vast majority of youth development is taken on by clubs, keen to manufacture their own talent, the FA could learn from the example of Southampton. If they are to find the next generation, the methods of extensive catchment areas and creating a well-rounded individual, rather than just a complete footballer, could be adopted. Southampton’s approach is proven to achieve results, with the club consistently producing top-level players, which is ultimately the goal for the FA. Southgate has a big job on his hands, and creating a relationship with clubs proven to achieve results, as well as adopting their ideas, may well be the way in which he can build the next generation of England’s national set-up.
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