6 Things Arsenal Could Learn from Southampton's Academy
Arsenal have taken advantage of Southampton's academy by signing both Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from the South Coast club.
This season's Saints first-team is packed full of academy products. It has been a key element in their success under Nigel Adkins and latterly Mauricio Pochettino.
Over the next six slides we examine elements of Southampton's academy that Arsenal should seek to emulate.
Give Youngsters First-Team Opportunities
Arsene Wenger is known across the world for his willingness to give youth a chance. However, Southampton are arguably even better at promoting their academy players to senior football.
The club has made the academy their core. Former chairman Nicola Cortese had stated his ambition to field a side comprised of 11 academy players, and given Southampton's remarkable productivity it doesn't seem like an impossible ambition.
The likes of Luke Shaw, James Ward-Prowse and Adam Lallana are all regulars in the current Southampton XI. The next generation is already emerging: teenager Sam Gallagher scored in the recent FA Cup victory over Yeovil.
Even though Arsenal's financial firepower has increased, Arsene Wenger must remember that academy graduates need regular access to first-team football in order to accelerate their development.
Trust British Talent
What's striking about Southampton's academy is that the vast majority of the talent they produce is British.
Many of the players in the Arsenal academy are recruited from abroad. A good example is Serge Gnabry, who came over from German club Stuttgart in his mid-teens.
The likes of Adam Lallana and James Ward-Prowse show that it's possible to produce British players who are every bit as technically capable as their continental counterparts.
Appoint the Right People
Several years ago, former Southampton chairman Rupert Lowe employed Huw Jennings, Steve Wigley, Stewart Henderson and Malcolm Elias to oversee the spotting and development of local talent. Although three of that quartet now operate at Fulham, the foundations they laid remain in the form of the prolific academy.
Arsenal have just appointed Dutchman Andries Jonker to succeed Liam Brady as the head of their academy. They will hope their appointment proves every bit as successful as Lowe's once did.
Southampton have shown a real determination to move with the times.
According to the Daily Mail, they are about to introduce a new scheme to allow academy players to measure their performances on the latest technology:
Next season, the junior teams at Southampton’s academy will be presented with mini-iPads with a specially-designed Saints App to monitor their training progress.
It will measure their performance, fitness, skills, with notes from their coaches, as they progress through the Saints system.
Should the scheme prove successful, Arsenal may consider following suit.
Treat Them Like Adults
At Southampton, academy players are treated almost identically to the first-team players.
There is huge attention to detail to make sure that the players are never put down or patronised. For example, the under-21 team even travel to games in the same customised Starliner coach usually occupied by Rickie Lambert and company.
That meticulous preparation ensures that when the players step up to Premier League level they are not thrown by the pre-match experience.
Money Is No Object
According to The Daily Mail, Southampton are preparing to spend £30 million on upgrading their academy facilities:
Soon enough this training hub will be transformed into a £30 million football factory for the best young players in the country.
There will be 12 practice pitches of varying composition because Barclays Premier League clubs use different types of turf.
Arsenal, for example, use Desso GrassMaster, a hybrid system that has 20 million artificial grass fibres woven into the surface.
When Southampton play at the Emirates next season, they will switch training pitches in the build-up to the game and practise on their own Desso surface.
At Southampton's training complex, academy players will be able to test themselves on a variety of different grass types.
It is that sort of incredible attention to detail that makes Southampton's academy the best in the country.