Southampton defensive midfielder Oriol Romeu turns 30 later this month and is now in the final two years of his contract at St. Mary’s. With the Spaniard heading into his 30’s, the club may start to think about what life starts to look like post-Romeu.
He has played 216 games for Southampton since joining from Chelsea in 2015, establishing himself as a regular in midfield almost instantly. His tally of 21 Premier League appearances last term was the only season in which he has not featured in at least 29 league matches for the Saints, emphasising his importance over the past six years.
All good things must come to an end, though, and there could be a player currently in the Southampton academy who could take the torch from Romeu and burn bright in the middle of the park – Caleb Watts.
The 19-year-old Australian international has already made his first-team debut for Southampton and could be the long-term successor to Romeu. Australia’s technical director, Trevor Morgan, was effusive in his praise of the midfielder earlier this year and backed him to have a career in the Premier League. He said:
“He’s a wonderful talent. He was exceptional for us at the World Cup and showed no fear in the matches we played.
“He’s with a very successful team at the present time, and yeah they’ve got some injuries, but he’s a guy that can attack space quickly, he can score goals, he takes responsibility and wants to be on the ball.”
Morgan added: “He’s got a very high work rate, he’s flexible in that he can probably play anywhere in midfield, and he’s an intelligent player; when you speak to him about the game, he understands the game and he reads the game.
“On top of that, he’s training in a Premier League environment and he’s had to fight his way up into that squad, so I think he can have an excellent career and very likely at the Premier League level.”
As Morgan said, Watts can play in a variety of midfield roles – including holding midfield – and his energy could allow him to screen the defence whilst also having the quality on the ball to pick out passes.
He played three games in the Premier League last season, coming off the bench in all three, and featured in the FA Cup against Shrewsbury. This suggests that Ralph Hasenhuttl, like Morgan, sees potential in Watts and believes he can do a job at the first-team level.
Romeu still has two years left to run on his contract at St. Mary’s and this means that he can take Watts under his wing over the next 18 months or so to help him progress as a holding midfielder. The Australian can learn from the ex-Chelsea man to help make that leap from development football to being a first-team regular.
It is now down to Watts, however, to fulfil his potential and show Hasenhuttl that his Romeu replacement is already in the building and that another signing is not required.