There has been no shortage of top class talent coming through the Southampton academy in recent years, with Arsenal & England wingers Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Tottenham’s former PFA player of the year Gareth Bale and former Chelsea full back Wayne Bridge developing their game on the South Coast. It’s no surprise then that Champions League winners Chelsea have been strongly linked with Southampton’s latest wonderkid Luke Shaw.
The national press are linking Chelsea with a £4million bid for Shaw, and Manchester City and Arsenal have also reportedly expressed an interest, but it will take something special for Southampton to relinquish one of their brightest young talents. Manager Nigel Adkins and chairman Nicola Cortese have insisted that he is not for sale and, as one of the richest clubs in English football following a takeover by the late Swiss billionaire Markus Liebherr in 2009, there is no pressure for the club to sell – especially as they are back in the Premier League after seven years outside the top flight.
But can the 16-year-old attacking left back be the next Gareth Bale or make the same sort if impact that Alex Chamberlain did at Arsenal 12 months on? Here is a lowdown on Shaw’s star potential and three other Southampton youth players to watch out or over the next few seasons.
There is no doubt that 16-year-old Luke Shaw is the most sought-after player in Southampton’s latest generation of talented players at the moment. And, despite only making one senior appearance for Saints last season, it is clear to see why the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City want to snap him up now before he bursts on to the professional scene with a string of first team games.
He has been a regular in Jason Dodd’s Under-18 side since the age of 15, and his rapid progression through the youth ranks was rewarded with two call ups to the England Under-16’s team in 2011. He is now a regular in the Under-17’s international team, having made 8 appearances.
Shaw is an attacking full back with bundles of pace, good set piece delivery and an eye for goal, having scored three times from left back in Southampton’s successful Under-18 side, and he’s been promoted to the first team squad ahead of Saints’ comeback season in the Premier League.
He featured in the Saints squad in Cup matches against Coventry, Preston North End and Millwall last season and he will undoubtedly want to follow in the footsteps of Tottenham star Gareth Bale and former England international Wayne Bridge by making a name for himself on the left side of Southampton’s defence.
Arguably Southampton most impressive academy graduate of the 2011-12 campaign was 17-year-old central midfielder James Ward-Prowse, who was subsequently awarded Young Player of the Year at the club’s end of season celebrations. Also an England Under-17 international, Ward-Prowse made two starts for the senior team and he impressed on both occasions. Despite Saints being defeated in the last 16 of the Carling Cup, thanks to two late goals from Crystal Palace, Ward-Prowse earned praise from Southampton boss Nigel Adkins for his composed performance in the middle of the park. He scored his first senior goal in a 2-1 win over Coventry in the FA Cup and featured on the bench on a few occasions.
He’s quite small I stature, but he makes up for it with great energy and a superb passing range. His composure and ability to recycle possession certainly helps him fit in to Southampton’s style of play, and he is probably the most likely academy player to break in to the first team frequently this season.
Along with Shaw, Ward-Prowse and former Plymouth youngster Jack Stephens, Calum Chambers was also promoted to the first team squad after Saints gained promotion to the Premier League in April.
He’s another exciting talent, and another player who features in the England Under-17 set up, but he still seems to have crept in to Nigel Adkins’ long-term first team plans under the radar, as he is the only academy graduate in Saints’ first team who didn’t feature in the first team last season.
He’s a tall and talented winger who offers great creativity and a quality final product going forward. He featured regularly in Southampton’s Under-18’s team that finished ahead of the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea in the FA Premier League Academy Group A and contributed seven goals from out wide. He also scored the only goal in England Under-17’s 1-0 win over Ukraine in March, and has added a further two goals in just 6 appearances for the side.
Every good team needs a clinical goal scorer, and the Southampton Under-18s talisman last season was 17-year-old forward Jake Sinclair. Brother of Swansea striker Scott Sinclair, Jake banged in 25 goals in 29 appearances last term – an impressive record at any level. Much like his brother, he’s got pace to burn, he’s tricky, likes to run with the ball and is a clinical finisher. There are Premier League goals in his family already, and Jake has the potential to follow in his brother’s footsteps and score goals at a high level.
He’s not gained the same sort of recognition at international level as his academy team-mates Luke Shaw, James Ward-Prowse and Calum Chambers, but a strong season with the academy and Under-21 development squad could encourage Saints boss Adkins to call on the pacey forward for cup matches in the upcoming campaign.