Widely considered one of English football’s pre-eminent developers, Southampton unsurprisingly have an envious record when it comes to performance at youth level.
In the last 30 years, the likes of Gareth Bale, Wayne Bridge, Adam Lallana, Theo Walcott, Matthew Le Tissier and Alan Shearer have all come off their production line.
Lallana, Walcott and Bale, in particular, were teammates and helped Saints reach their first – and to date only – FA Youth Cup final in 2005.
Up against them on that occasion was Ipswich Town, who across the two-legged final were victorious 3-2 on aggregate.
Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that despite losing, more of the Southampton players went on to reach lofty heights compared to their opponents.
So, where are those youngsters now?
Goalkeeper: Andrew McNeil
The former Scotland Under-20 international never played a match for Saints, but instead joined Hibernian before playing for the likes of Raith Rovers and Livingston. He most recently represented Greenock Morton before retiring in 2017.
Right-back: Martin Cranie
Ending a four-year association with Southampton in 2007, after making 16 league appearances, the defender joined South Coast rivals Portsmouth before enjoying spells with Coventry City and Barnsley. He remained at the latter for three seasons but has had something of a nomadic career since, turning out for Huddersfield, Middlesbrough, Sheffield United and, now, Luton Town.
Centre-back: Craig Richards
The versatile defender, who was born and raised in Southampton, never really managed to establish himself at his boyhood club. He was released a year after the Youth Cup final and subsequently joined Salisbury, though, he has since turned out for Brackley Town and Winchester City, amongst others.
Centre-back: Sebastian Wallis-Taylor
Wallis-Taylor was let go shortly after being part of the final squad and would enjoy spells with non-league Havant and Waterlooville, Bognor Regis and Lewes. The full-back, born in France, returned to his native homeland with CA Lisieux in 2009/10.
Left-back: Sean Rudd
An instrumental figure in Southampton’s successful youth program during the mid-2000s – winning the academy league as well as reaching the Youth Cup final – he was another that failed to make the step up and has since retired from the game through injury.
Right midfield: Nathan Dyer
A teenager when he joined the Saints youth set-up, Dyer spent four seasons at St. Mary’s as a professional before relocating to Swansea where he’d go on to make almost 400 league appearances before departing this summer. Whilst on loan with Leicester City in 2015/16, he collected a Premier League winners’ medal.
Central midfield: Lloyd James
After spending three seasons with Southampton, whose academy he joined in 2000, the defender-cum-midfielder switched to Colchester United in 2010 before enjoying spells at Leyton Orient, Exeter City and Forest Green Rovers, whom he joined in July 2018.
Central midfield: David McGoldrick
The well-travelled forward, who joined Southampton from Notts County in 2004, made 64 league appearances and scored 12 goals for Saints. He continued his football journey with Nottingham Forest and then Ipswich Town, before joining Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United — helping the Blades achieve promotion to the Premier League.
Left midfield: Tim Sparv
Sparv, who has 76 international caps with Finland under his belt, never featured for Southampton but instead made his name first at Swedish outfit Halmstad and then Dutch club FC Groningen. He earned a transfer to Greuther Fürth before moving to Danish side FC Midtjylland, where he’s won two Danish league titles to date, making over 150 appearances for the club in all competitions. He was also key to helping Finland reach Euro 2021, what will be their first major tournament.
Striker: Theo Walcott
After playing just 21 times for Southampton’s first team, scoring four goals, Walcott was on his way to Arsenal who agreed a £9m fee with the Saints in January 2006. Such was his potential as a teenager, he made Sven-Göran Eriksson’s squad for the 2006 World Cup, though never played a single minute.
Despite making almost 400 appearances for Arsenal, the feeling is he never quite fulfilled his potential there. Now in his 30s, Walcott returned home this summer after falling out of favour at Everton where he competed with the likes of Richarlison, Bernard and fellow ex-Gooner Alex Iwobi for a starting spot.
Striker: Leon Best
Another member of Southampton’s squad, who joined from Notts County, the Republic of Ireland striker ultimately played 15 league matches for the Saints before representing 11 clubs in a 12-year period. This includes Newcastle United, where he managed 10 goals in 46 matches, and was part of their successful Premier League promotion team in 2010.
These days Best, who has seven international caps, is a free agent having last represented Charlton Athletic.
Lallana, who joined Southampton’s academy aged 12, ended a 14-year association with the club – where he made 265 appearances, scoring 60 goals – when he joined Liverpool in 2014. The club’s former captain was part of two successful promotion sides in 2010/11 (League One to Championship) and 2011/12 (Championship to Premier League).
Lallana was initially a rejuvenated figure under Jurgen Klopp, but bad luck with injuries meant he was spending more time warming the substitute bench. He’d soon move on after winning a first Premier League title by joining Brighton in the summer.
Currently without a club having spent last season with Portland United, the former Saints defender, who never represented the club at senior level, has featured for seven clubs, including Weymouth, on no fewer than four occasions. Critchell’s career has also been affected by the player suffering a life-threatening illness during one of his Weymouth spells.
After realising his opportunities were limited, the Portuguese midfielder left Southampton for Villarreal but never made the grade before joining Spanish clubs UD Logroñés and Ontinyent CF. He then turned up at Portuguese outfits Vendas Novas, Oriental, Montemor and Alcochentense.
Arguably the most successful product of Southampton’s academy, the Wales international, who initially started life as a full-back, transformed into one of Europe’s most feared wingers at Tottenham Hotspur before a then world-record transfer to Real Madrid — with whom he’s won four European Cups and a La Liga title. He’s now back at Spurs albeit on loan.
At international level, Bale has 33 goals in 85 caps so far, playing a key role in Wales’ run to the semi-finals of Euro 2016.