When outsiders think of Southampton Football Club, they think of The Saints’ outstanding youth programme, and our ability to produce top talent.
Gareth Bale, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Matt Le Tissier, Alan Shearer. They’re all big names in world football from the past and in the present.
However, former Saints manager Ronald Koeman famously called out the illustrious Southampton youth system in his last season with the club, stating that they are not good enough.
But Claude Puel has shown the academy’s strength once again. James Ward-Prowse, Harrison Reed, Matt Targett, and Sam McQueen highlight this generation that is currently breaking through into the first team.
The Frenchman has handed a number of players opportunities this season, and in some cases debuts, as he looks to kick on with The Southampton Way when it comes to the development of the youngsters.
Let’s look into the future though, and analyse the hottest prospects to break into first team in coming years!
Yan Valery was brought in not long ago, but has the potential to be a real future star at the club.
The French right-back and has represented his country at Under-17 level and his pace and crossing ability set him apart. He could be a big component of Puel’s future plans because of their French connection.
If we have a depletion at right-back, look for him to make his breakthrough. Still just 17, he has already broken into the Under-23 team, and is continuing to impress.
Another 17-year-old that has broken into the U23 squad, Slattery has been at Southampton since he was just eight-years-old. The five foot seven central midfielder is a true box-to-box player, capable of defending as well as attacking.
He has represented England at the U16 and U17 levels and is an incredibly exciting player. Look at him as a future replacement for Steven Davis.
We can’t have this discussion about future Southampton stars without talking about Josh Sims can we?
Sims has performed extremely well for the U23’s, and he impressed Claude Puel so much he was called up to the first team for the Everton match and has been in and out ever since.
He responded by notching an assist less than a minute into his professional debut, right in front of the watching Ronald Koeman.
The talented winger has great technical ability, and brings a youthful ambition whenever he plays.
I think I speak for every Saints fan when I say that I’m looking forward to seeing him in the first team more often.
Alfie Jones (as sad as this sounds) is the perfect future replacement for Virgil van Dijk. His experience in the Southampton youth set up as the main centre-back means he is incredibly comfortable on the ball while holding the back line.
The 19-year-old earned Young Player of the Year for the Saints in 2015/16, and has been a mainstay for the U23’s so far this campaign. He has led the team out before, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we have a captain in him, albeit much further in the future.
Sam Gallagher has been waiting for his moment for a while now. His youth record has been solid, and he even has a few first team appearances in the last few years. He scored once for Saints in the Premier League back in 2014, and once in the FA Cup in that season as well.
His breakthrough has since stalled though, with Gallagher getting sent out on loan by Ronald Koeman and now Claude Puel, but this season at Blackburn he has excelled. His form at Edwood Park has had some fans clamoring for him to be recalled and sent into the first team.
His winter run of form which saw him score six goals in eight games certainly demands attention. Hopefully in the coming seasons he gets more game time, and he has the potential to be the long-term solution to Southampton’s striker problem.
The Final Thoughts
Do we have the next Gareth Bale or Matt Le Tissier in our academy right now? Maybe!
Our youth system is always churning out a good stream of talent, and it would be amazing to see one rise above to the next level.
It’s crazy to think that these people are younger than I am now, and they have the ability to live the dream of so many people. They are all in Southampton’s famed academy for a reason. I would love to see these players in our starting 11 at some point, let’s just hope that they stay on the path to success.