Do smaller clubs need protection over top young players?

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Football News

Southampton supporters could've been forgiven for wanting to throw the towel in after witnessing something of a player exodus at St Mary's over the summer. The exciting squad that exceeded expectations by finishing eighth in the Premier League last season was swiftly disbanded within a matter of weeks after the 2013/14 finale.

First out the door was manager Mauricio Pochettino, who left for a fresh challenge with Tottenham Hotspur. His exit was followed by the surprise departure of Rickie Lambert to Liverpool - the first of three senior players that swapped the south coast for Anfield, with Saints captain Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren also heading to Merseyside.

However, the sale of those three aforementioned stars should not have left the Southampton fan base as frustrated as the loss of Luke Shaw or Calum Chambers; two talented teenagers that came through the club's esteemed youth academy before being snared by Manchester United and Arsenal.

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Both were sold for over-inflated fees that exceeded £40 million combined, but the irritation remains that the players are still in the formative stage of their respective careers, and should've stayed put to continue their development at Southampton for another season at least.

It's an all too familiar story when an emerging young talent is lured by one of the Premier League big-boys, before they've even had a chance to fully establish themselves as a senior player at the club that initially nurtured them.

New FA ruling needed

To avoid situations like this occurring in the future the Football Association should set about enforcing an obligatory rule that a clause must be inserted into every scholar's first professional deal, requiring them to make a set number of first-team appearances before being able to request a transfer whilst under contract.

That way, any up-and-coming starlet would be forced to either honour their deal in it's entirety, or at the very least repay the club that first showed faith in them by committing to a minimum amount of matches.

Chambers joined Arsenal this summer having made just 27 first-team appearances for Southampton during his breakthrough campaign, and hadn't even fully established himself as a certain starter in the team.

New Saints boss Ronald Koeman was more than happy to sanction the defender's sale, labelling the £16 million offered by Arsene Wenger as a "gift". Supporters were slightly more annoyed about the versatile star's departure after being encouraged by the homegrown talent's early performances under the former tutelage of Pochettino, and the belief he would play a more important role this season in the aftermath of other player exits.

Departures inevitable

Shaw was a slightly different situation in the sense that he had already enjoyed the best part of two full seasons as Southampton's first-choice left-back, making 60 Premier League appearances before his 19th birthday.

Last summer he signed a five-year contract with the club he had been affiliated with since the age of eight, but clearly had no intention of honouring that long-term agreement after pushing for a transfer less than 12 months later.

His surprise call-up to Roy Hodgson's World Cup squad at the expense of the experienced Ashley Cole was proof of the full-back's meteoric rise and offers some justification to the £27 million it took the Red Devils to pay to get him to Old Trafford.

But, had the minimum appearance clause been active in Shaw's contract then Southampton would've been under no pressure to sell, and Manchester United would've had to wait before inevitably swooping in the future.

The ruling would help provide protection to the selling club, allowing them slightly more long-term sustainability with emerging stars staying for longer. It would be particularly beneficial to Southampton, who have no shortage of talent still coming through at St Mary's, with James Ward-Prowse, Lloyd Isgrove, Harrison Reed and Matt Targett all in first-team contention this season.

In theory, the ruling would have another impact on the major clubs guilty of stockpiling exciting young talent solely for their own benefit, as players might think twice about committing themselves to a team where their chances will be knowingly limited.

With the knowledge that a permanent exit can only be decided by the club until they meet their minimum appearance clause quota, a more lucrative long-term deal suddenly becomes less appealing for those not content with youth and reserve team football, or at best a temporary loan spell away.

Ryan Bertrand - the man Koeman brought in on a season-long deal to replace the outgoing Shaw at Southampton - is a classic example of a talented young player whose progression has been hampered due to a lack of first-team opportunities at Stamford Bridge.

Abusing the current system

Chelsea are one of the worst clubs when it comes to stifling young stars of the future. They have a ridiculous amount of talent on their books that are a million miles away from Jose Mourinho's senior side, and never seem to get any closer because of the constant reinvestment in new high-profile stars that are fast-tracked straight into the first-team.

The 26 players out on loan this season is testament to the fact that the Blues are in many ways cheating the youngsters and the current system, and would be forced to change their approach to emerging player recruitment if the suggested FA ruling was implemented.

Arsenal wouldn't have been allowed to sign Theo Walcott or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain at the times they previously chose to pounce on Southampton and Tottenham would've also failed to snare Gareth Bale.

All these examples are taken from a now established Premier League club, but the same thing happens at all lesser known sides right the way down the divisions. If Saints are incapable in the current climate of keeping hold of most of their brightest emerging talent, then what hope do all the others have of building for the future?

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