The secrets to the success of Southampton's thriving Academy
By Aidan Magee
Last Updated: 25/11/16 3:38pm
Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, Adam Lallana...What's the secret to the success of Southampton's Academy? Aidan Magee finds out and speaks to two of the latest players to break into the first team; Harrison Reed and Sam McQueen...
English football's academy system has attracted its fair share of criticism in recent years as the volume of home-grown talent has declined steadily since the formation of the Premier League.
Sky Sports' Jamie Carragher was among those critics last summer when he suggested many graduates of what he labelled the 'Academy Generation' were "too soft", pointing to England's failure at Euro 2016 as a case in point.
Southampton, however, appear to be extracting more from theirs than most. In fact, since 2001 it has produced more than 20 players who have gone on to earn international recognition, while spawning some of the biggest names in football today.
Bale, Walcott, Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Calum Chambers, Luke Shaw and Wayne Bridge are the standout names from a system which aims to make-up around 50 per cent of the club's first team squad at any given time.
Sky Sports News HQ was granted exclusive access this week to the recently revamped Southampton Academy, in the leafy Hampshire village of Marchwood.
We were shown around the new training pitches and new stand - as well as the Academy Village and classrooms, by recent graduates Harrison Reed and Sam McQueen - who have broken into the first team over the last 18 months.
"You can't help but be inspired by the names who have come through here," says McQueen, who was loaned to Southend last season.
"Some of them were in the first team when Harrison and I were in the Academy and they were good to us. They talked to the younger players and gave us encouragement.
"We spent time around the first team and it was always nice to know that the pathway existed."
Southampton try to achieve a consistency of playing style throughout their age groups. It holds Category 1 status in the Premier League's Elite Player Performance Plan.
Their youth system played a major role in rebuilding the club following relegation from the Premier League in 2005 and their eventual fall down to League One. They returned to the top division under Nigel Adkins in 2012 after a seven-year absence.
Southampton pride themselves, according to the Academy section of their website, on developing "fine young men", as well as top-level footballers who can flourish in the game.
"The classroom stuff was important because while it was a bit of a drag when you wanted to be out on the pitch playing, it gave those who didn't make it all the way through something to fall back on," says Reed, who came on as a substitute in last week's goalless draw with Liverpool at St Mary's.
"The Academy here isn't just about making you a good player. The club wants you to be a good person, too.
"You also learn about the body and the nutrition side of the game. It all stands you in good stead for what lies ahead.
"The biggest change between 14 and 18 is the pressure of having to perform at your best. That's the period where quite a few players fall out of the game. It's how you handle that pressure."
Local boy McQueen, 21, who is reportedly the subject of interest from Liverpool, and Sussex-born Reed, also 21, believe they can go a step further and follow their elders into the England squad.
Southampton host Everton at St Mary's on Sunday, live on Sky Sports, as former manager Ronald Koeman returns to the club for the first time since leaving for Goodison Park last summer.
Watch Southampton v Everton live on Sky Sports 1 HD on Sunday from 4.15pm. Or watch for £6.99 without a contract, with a Day Pass from NOW TV.