Former Saints shine bright at Arsenal & Spurs

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Tucked away on the south coast with an ethos based on Barcelona's famous La Masia set-up, and run at a cost of £2.3million a year, North London has a lot to thank the Southampton academy for.

Away from the limelight, the Npower Championship club has produced, in recent years, the likes of Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to name but a few of their homegrown stars now worth multi-millions to their respective Premier League clubs.

Add to that the likes of Nathan Dyer (Swansea), Andrew Surman (Norwich), Leon Best (Newcastle), Chris Baird (Fulham) and Wayne Bridge (Man City & Sunderland) beforehand, and it's clear to see why Southampton has become almost synonymous with the development of bright young talent.

Les Reed, the club's head of football development, insists it is only the start: "Alex was not an accident. Maybe at the next stage of our academy's development we'll have two Oxlade-Chamberlains in a single year, and then three."

After moving to the Emirates Stadium in a £12million deal last summer, Oxlade-Chamberlain has enjoyed an impressive start to his Arsenal career, netting his first and second Premier League goals in only his third league start for Arsene Wenger's side in the 7-1 demolition of Blackburn on Saturday.

The 18-year-old rose through the ranks with the Saints from the tender age of seven before eventually breaking into the first-team to make his professional debut aged just 16. The young winger has gone on record saying he feels indebted to his former club for transforming him into the exciting talent he is today.

"I owe them massively - I'd been at Southampton since I was seven," he told Arsenal's official website. "They put so much hard work into me and the fans down there welcomed me into the first team so warmly.

"I couldn't have asked for more, so I've got a lot of time for them and I hope to be able to play there again one day and show my appreciation. I'll always have a place in my heart for them."

Walcott is another young Gunner who took the Saints-Arsenal route, nurtured from 11 by Southampton until his big-money move at 16 in 2006. Both he and Oxlade-Chamberlain have been tipped as key England players of the future, while Welshman Bale, who is pulling up trees at Tottenham, is now widely regarded as his country's brightest star.

Bale was spotted by Southampton at nine and attended their satellite academy in Bath before signing up, making his first-team debut in 2006, and moving to White Hart Lane a year later.

"Imagine if the whole team had stayed together, it would be fantastic," reflected Walcott. "It's just a sign that they do things right - they are such a great family club.

"They look after their players and it shows, especially with how Gareth [Bale] is playing at this moment in time.

"Southampton was a great start for me and the other boys but not just for us - there is also Nathan Dyer and Andrew Surman. I could keep on going with that list. It's just nice to see."

Southampton were among the first clubs to adopt an academy system in the late 90s - when they were still a Premier League club. After relegation in 2005, there was even more emphasis placed on youth development as a cost-effective way of protecting their long-term future.

"The club has always had a philosophy of giving youth a chance and raising its own talent," explained academy manager Matt Crocker. "The model is Barcelona, who have home-grown players and success.

"From Mick Channon to Danny and Rod Wallace, Matt Le Tissier and Alan Shearer. What we're doing now is continuing those traditions at even higher levels."

A planned upgrade to the club's training ground and facilities is currently being spearheaded by Saints chairman Nicola Cortese, in a bid to bring the academy in line with Europe's best.

You don't have to look hard to find clear proof of Southampton's success in developing players and bringing them up to Premier League standard - a benchmark that the club will be hoping to reach themselves as they strive to re-establish themselves among England's elite.

Nigel Adkins has stated that he would like to see 50 per cent of his future Saints side made up of homegrown talent, an ambition that could soon be a realisation. The future certainly looks bright at Southampton – if they can keep hold of their top talents.

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