Smaller clubs like Southampton, Swansea City, and Wigan are normally not known for titles and big money spending like storied clubs such as Manchester United.
They thrive on committed and passionate fans, the occasional upset over a superpower club, just being a part of the Barclays Premier league, and fighting to finish in the top ten of England's top flight. Unlike most clubs that live in the shadows of the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal, and Tottenham, Southampton have something else to hang their hats on; a youth academy that has developed a reputation for producing great players.
The likes of Alan Shearer, Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all spent the early years of their careers playing football for the Saints youth squads. Alan Shearer, the all-time Premier League goal scorer, was part of the some of the most successful Newcastle United squads in the late 1990's and early 2000's. Widely regarded as one of the best strikers to ever play the game, Shearer made his start in the football world as part of the Southampton youth Academy.
Shearer made his first senior team start in 1988 for the Saints. He started his senior career strong scoring a hat-trick in that game. After a transfer to Blackburn, Shearer scored 34 goals in the 1994-95 season to lead the Rovers to the Premier League title. In 1996, Shearer was part the most expensive transfer to date at £15 million to his home club, Newcastle United, where he would finish his playing career.
Gareth Bale is currently tearing up defences in the Barclays Premier League for Tottenham Hotspur and is also a graduate of Southampton's Academy. Bale is widely regarded as the third best player in the world at the moment and recently was given the PFA Player of the Year Award and the PFA Young Player of the Year Award. Bale had a bit of a shaky start and White Hart Lane and was believed to be one of the worst bad luck charms in sports history with Spurs not winning a match in 24 consecutive games in which Bale had appeared. After a switch from left back to left midfield and a memorable Champions League performance against Inter Milan in late 2010, Gareth Bale became a footballing sensation. Now easily the Spurs best player, Bale has become one of the hottest transfer targets in the world.
Theo Walcott and Arsenal teammate, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are two other famous midfield players currently in the Premier League. Walcott has spent his years away from the Southampton youth academy tearing apart Premier League defences and sending managers into fits when tasked with trying to figure out how to stop the speedy winger. Along with his speed, Walcott is equipped with great foot skills and goal-scoring ability, which have turned him into one of the most complete players to play in England's top flight.
Oxlade-Chamberlain has spent most of his time at Arsenal switching between time as a starter and coming off the bench. He has not quite lived up to what was expected of him after leaving Southampton's academy, but the 19-year-old has plenty of time to blossom. The young midfielder has a very nice shot and is extremely confident on the ball, loving to take defenders on. He also has a great IQ of the game and sees the field very well. Give it a couple years and Oxlade-Chamberlain could be a top player in the world.
So, who could be the next star to come out of the Welsh club's academy? Many Saints fans are exuberant about the young prospect Luke Shaw. The 17-year-old left back has been gaining interest from top clubs like Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Tottenham. Southampton is hoping to hold on to this potential superstar, but a large offer might lure him away.
Shaw has been praised as a near perfect aerial defender, not just heading balls away, but finding teammates to complete headed passes. Shaw also possesses good speed and a great awareness for the game knowing when to hold the ball, attack the wings, and pass the ball to a teammate for a goal scoring opportunity. His current left back position has some questioning if he could become the next Gareth Bale. He has a long way to go before he reaches Bale's status, but the surprisingly strong 17-year-old has plenty of upside and could reach that level one day. No matter how Shaw's career turns out there is a good chance he will be known as another great player to graduate from Southampton's prestigious Youth Academy.
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