It has been quite the season so far for Southampton’s U18 side, who became Premier League South champions with a 3-0 win against Reading today (Wednesday).
Goals from Diamond Edwards, Kamari Doyle and Rylee Wright confirmed Saints’ position at the top of the U18 Premier League South table as Southampton won the title for just the second time in the club’s history.
It has been a deserved success for Carl Martin’s team, with Saints impressing this term at U18 level and the likes of scholar of the year Dominic Ballard and Luke Pearce among the players to shine for a side that has won 19 of 25 league matches, only losing four times as they finished top of the division, ahead of second-placed West Ham United.
READ MORE: Southampton academy graduate delivers verdict on current crop of Saints youngsters
There has also been success for Saints’ young players when stepping up to the B team, with the recent impact of 16-year-old Tyler Dibling making the headlines as he scored a hat-trick in a 4-2 win against Newcastle United at St James’ Park.
Southampton’s first team manager Ralph Hasenhuttl has recently spoken of the success of the Southampton academy and why everyone involved deserves praise for the success, particularly at U18 level, with the young Saints now preparing for a play-off with Manchester City, who have won the north division and have a ten-point advantage over Liverpool in second.
Hasenhuttl said: “The whole academy and all the people working there get the credit, it seems all the changes we have made in the past are now coming slowly but surely to shine in the light. This is good for the guys, we invested a lot and I don’t want to speak about the things we have done to help them, in the end they do the job, they work with the players, scouting, managers, coaches – everybody .”
Hasenhuttl’s words are ringing true with the success being enjoyed by the U18 side, who celebrated at the club’s Staplewood training campus today, but will round off their league fixtures with the visit of Chelsea on Saturday. That will be followed by the national final against City, although no date has yet been confirmed for the game, which is set to be scheduled after the regular season is concluded.
But now, Southampton fans will be hoping to see more young players come through the system, with the likes of Ballard and Dibling among those on Hasenhuttl’s radar. Indeed, the Austrian has recently spoken positively about both, including after Ballard signed his first professional contract last month.
“We have a lot of very good players in England, young players. You have to give them very early the signal, this is the direction we want you to go, and then you have to look how serious and how professional they are,” Hasenhuttl said at the time. “Then follow the path and help them when you need to, but you can only show them the way, they have to go the right direction. I think it is a good message that he [Ballard] decided to stay with us and gets the chance here to sign his first professional contract, we will have an eye on him.”
The next step for some of those players who have been featuring – and excelling – at U18 level and for the B team is to try and break into the first team squad, which is not an easy thing to do. Hasenhuttl will be wary of putting young players in to the first team environment too soon, despite the Austrian giving Premier League debuts to many youngsters already in his time at the club, including Nathan Tella and Will Smallbone. Indeed, the Saints boss has called for patience over the young players, insisting that there is always the chance that some can make the step up.
“We will see. This season it is a little bit tougher for the young lads, last season it was easier,” Hasenhuttl said recently. “But it should not be easier, the problem is you can only lift a player to the highest level when there are players around them of the highest level. Otherwise, you adapt more to a lower level because it doesn’t work.
“I mean, you can still work with the very high level cognitive exercises we have to make them quicker in the mind, but at the end you should also have quality around them so they can see, ‘okay, you have to be that quick with your decision making’. Last season, we had too many academy players and the whole quality of the session was going down and it is much harder to develop them. This is the reason why we have to show patience, and in the end when the moment comes he will get the chance.
“When you look today on the debut from top Premier League players, how early they have made their Premier League debuts and their ages, some not older than 16 or 17, I think it is getting younger and younger for the really good ones. It is not key that you need to bring 10 or 11 players from the under-16 team to the Premier League, you only need to bring one or two there. This chance is always there.”