The link that connects Chris Baird (Fulham), Wayne Bridge (Manchester City), Gareth Bale (Tottenham) and Theo Walcott (Arsenal) is that they are all products of the Southampton Academy production line that it was thought had stopped in recent years.
Going back to the 1980s, that same line (although without the Academy title) produced such names as Alan Shearer, Rod Wallace, Danny Wallace and of course Matthew Le Tissier to name but four. Today, visitors to St Mary's see another couple of hot prospects in Adam Lallana and Alex Chamberlain.
With three of the four that are currently playing regularly in the Premier League, the story as far as Southampton supporters is concerned is similar. This is that St Mary's did not see the best of them and they then initially struggled to make an impact at their new clubs. The exception to this is Bridge whose move to Chelsea appeared to come at exactly the right time for him to develop his career and start winning medals.
It is only really this season that Baird and Bale have started to show the promise that got them their big moves into the Premier League.
Bale, having been unfortunate to have failed to be on the winning side in his first 24 matches whilst at Spurs, appeared to come from nowhere to make his Saints debut against Millwall in April 2006.
Whilst the electrifying pace that is being much publicised at present is something he appears to have developed whilst in north London, his crossing and left footed free kicks are the abiding memory of his 45 appearances (which produced an impressive total of five goals) for Southampton.
There aren’t many people who don’t know the Theo Walcott story but even at the time of the transfer, it was believed that a spell in Arsenal reserves would be a backward step.
The fact that he had to wait seven months between leaving St Mary's and making his Arsenal debut added fuel to the argument that the deal should have been done in the Summer of 2006 rather than during the January transfer window. The five goals that he scored in just 13 first team appearances for the Saints showed the potential that is hopefully now going to be realised.
As for the current starlets, only a crystal ball can tell exactly what will happen but for Lallana, who has only shown his best form since Saints’ relegation to League One, it is felt that he needs to prove himself in the Championship before attempting to make a further move upwards.
If Southampton are going to achieve promotion this season then there is no reason why he can’t do that at St Mary’s, despite his contract expiring in the coming summer.
Alex Chamberlain, meanwhile, is in a similar position to Walcott. He is young and raw but has the makings of being a very good player. Having committed him to a three year contract in August, Southampton have shown how much belief they have in him, and the hope on the central South Coast is that he looks at what happened to the young Walcott before making a decision to move away too quickly.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are that of the writer and may not replicate those of the Professional Footballers' Association.
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