Alex Chamberlain: The latest Saint set for stardom

Alex Chamberlain

Southampton's latest star?

Terry Paine, Mick Channon, Martin Chivers, the Wallace brothers, Matthew Le Tissier, Alan Shearer, Wayne Bridge, Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale.

The number of top-quality players to come through Southampton’s youth system over the years is astonishing considering the size of the club.

While several of its greatest players came through the ranks during its 27-year spell in the English top flight, the club has still produced countless players since dropping out of the Barclays Premier League five years ago.

Southampton have continued to fall in recent years due to a scurrilous mix of financial woes, managerial instability and poor player performances and now languish in the third tier.

The club, though, is back on the rise and still manage to produce a vast quantity of players from their academy despite the turmoil.

Numerous recent academy graduates ply their trade for some of the EPL’s biggest clubs, while a further smattering of former players continue to impress across the Football League and Europe.

Such players helped Saints win their divisional title for four years in succession, the national play-offs in 2004 and again in 2006 and the under-18s reached the final of the FA Youth Cup in 2005, losing only to a goal in the last minute of extra-time at Ipswich.

They also reached the semi-final in 2006, losing on penalties to eventual winners Liverpool.

“You have to pay tribute to Southampton because they had a good academy and they couldn’t take advantage of it,” said Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger recently when commenting on Premier League stars Bale and Walcott.

“At the time they were in the FA Youth Cup final so they couldn’t grow with this team. Unfortunately for them they became big players somewhere else.

“The fact is that a smaller club can’t keep the good players for long enough to take advantage of it because they had to sell them too early. They had Walcott and Bale and they had some others.”

Alex ChamberlainWhile the majority of that golden era have moved to pastures new, several academy graduates still punctuate the current first team, including Adam Lallana and rising star Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

The latter, more commonly known as Alex Chamberlain, is the 17-year-old son of former Portsmouth and England winger Mark Chamberlain.

The prodigious winger has been with Saints since the age of seven and has “come on leaps and bounds” in terms of his pace and athleticism over the past year, according to former reserve-team boss Stewart Henderson.

He was also keen to highlight Chamberlain’s superb control and attacking nous, which have become an increasingly important part of the Southampton first team.

Chamberlain become the second-youngest debutant in the club’s history when coming on for the final 10 minutes of the 5-0 defeat of Huddersfield in March. Only Walcott has played for Saints at a younger age.

Chamberlain is also just behind the likes of Walcott and Tottenham star Bale in the list of Saints’ youngest-ever goalscorers after celebrating his first start by scoring a late second goal in a 2-0 Carling Cup win over Bournemouth in August.

“He’s shown in pre-season that he has the pace and the directness that we’re missing because Michail Antonio is obviously is not here,” said manager Alan Pardew after the game.

“He will come under competition I hope soon but at the moment he is there or thereabouts.

“At half-time against Cherries, I said that in the first half I thought he could have done better, even though he’s only 16.

“His age is irrelevant – if he’s good enough he’s good enough, and he is good enough.”

Five days after the game the former pupil of St John’s College in Southsea turned 17 and celebrated his birthday later that week by putting pen to paper on a three-year deal at St. Mary’s, as the club looked to end the splurge of talent away from the club.

The 17-year-old admitted he was “delighted” to have signed the contract and promised that he was ready for the “big step up”.

Few, though, could have blamed the winger for fearing for his newly-found first-team berth after Pardew was sacked in acrimonious circumstances a mere 10 days after signing his pro contract.

But his run in the first team was not curtailed. The new man at the helm, in fact, has only helped nurture his talent further.

Nigel Adkins – a man known for bringing through attacking talent at former club Scunthorpe – has given Chamberlain a larger role in the Southampton first team and the youngster has responded in the best possible manner.

The winger has become almost a permanent fixture since he took charge, resulting in previous starter Jason Puncheon leaving on loan to Championship side Millwall.

“Alex is a massive talent, he’s got great confidence, great ability and a great future,” said Adkins after watching Chamberlain’s watershed moment, coming off the bench against Oldham in October to fire home what proved to be the winner.

“We have to allow him space to fulfil that and we also have to allow him to make the odd mistake because that’s part of the learning process.

“But it was a fantastic winner he scored.”

His goals coupled with foraging runs have inevitably led to comparisons with Walcott, but the down to earth youngster is not getting too carried away with the praise.

“Theo is a great player and with me playing out on the wing people are comparing me to him but for me before this year I’ve always played in central midfield so this wing role is fairly new to me,” said Chamberlain.

“But I can run past players and I’ll do that from wherever I can, be it on the wing or in the centre of midfield.”

And for now his main goal is maintaining a starting berth and continuing his rapid progression.

“You’re going to get dropped in and out and that’s the manager’s choice,” he added. “Obviously I want to start as many games as I can so I’ve just got to keep working hard and try and prove myself.”

While Saints remains his primary target, Chamberlain’s current run of form has seen some of English football’s biggest clubs come sniffing about.

Wenger is rumoured to fancy poaching another young talent from the south coast, while Chelsea and Fulham have also been heavily linked.

It is Liverpool, however, whose interest is most reported after strategy director Damien Comolli made a personal trip to check out the winger during the 4-1 victory over Huddersfield. Furthermore, club legend Kenny Dalglish was also present to see Chamberlain score his sixth of the season.

And with such a mix of skill and guile, it is no wonder such club’s are queueing up to snare the precocious youngster.

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