ALAN PARDEW has challenged Newcastle United to follow suit and produce a crop of “exceptional” young players that can go on to emulate the success of Southampton’s academy graduates.
The Magpies announced this week that its academy has been awarded Category One status – the highest ranking under the Premier League’s Elite Players Performance Plan (EPPP) – after a rigorous auditing process.
Southampton also boast Category One status and their work at academy level has been highlighted this season, in which several products from their youth system have flourished in the Premier League.
The likes of Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw and James Ward-Prowse have all impressed with Lallana and Shaw both working their way into the reckoning for Roy Hodgson’s World Cup squad this summer and their coming of age has been a big reason behind Southampton’s success this season.
Sammy Ameobi, Adam Campbell, Gael Bigirimana, James Tavernier and Haris Vuckic have all had spells in the first team in recent years, but none have managed to establish themselves as regulars. Paul Dummett is enjoying a run in the side in place of Davide Santon, but Pardew, who returns to his former club on the south coast this afternoon, admits the club has fallen short when it comes to bringing young talent through.
“The thing that highlights academies isn’t players coming through, because they do, we’ve got Dummett in the side, Steven Taylor, Shola and Sammy (Ameobi). What you really need is an exceptional player to come through and that’s what Southampton have done.
“They’ve had (Theo) Walcott, (Gareth) Bale, Shaw, Lallana and it makes a huge difference. Look at Liverpool, they’ve got three or four who have come through from the academy. That’s what you want. I know we will get players through here, but will we get an exceptional player? That’s the art of the academy.”
When he took over the club in 2007, owner Mike Ashley promised to pump considerable resources into making the academy more successful and even though the club has gained a reputation for recruiting from abroad, nurturing home-grown talent remains in the forefront of his mind.
Youngsters Adam Armstrong, who made his Premier League debut in this defeat at Fulham, Freddie Woodman and Lubo Satka have all been handed professional deals this week and Pardew believes there are one or two players already at the club that could develop into Premier League stars.
He said: “We haven’t really ticked those boxes since I’ve been here (of bringing through enough young players). But I do feel we are doing a lot better. We’ve got another young player to sign shortly and we’ve signed five or six from the youth team that did well in the FA Youth Cup. “Certainly in my mind, I can think of two players who could be exceptional depending on their development and that is good news.”
Lallana had already broken into the Saints first team when Pardew took over in 2009 and the Magpies boss admits even in the lower reaches of the Football League, the 25-year-old had the potential to play at the top.
Newcastle are looking to bounce back from their midweek home defeat to Everton at St Mary’s, and Pardew has pin-pointed Lallana as the player his side will have to pay special attention to.
“Lallana is the key there, he’s the one who brings it all together. He’s the one we really need to keep an eye on,” the Magpies boss said.
“We always felt, my management team there, that he had a really great chance to become a really top player. He was linked with a couple of top players even when he was really young, so he’s not a mystery. But it’s the way he has developed that has been so impressive.
“He’s not blessed with great pace, but he has got a bit stronger and quicker since he worked with me and his confidence is very high. He is a stable lad as well in terms of his personality and when you put that all together he is going to have a big, big career.”
Asked why Southampton have enjoyed more success with their academy, Pardew pin-pointed to an emphasis on players’ psychological development as well as the physical side of the game.
He said: “There’s not a magic formula. They have a huge catchment area and it’s a different type of catchment area. There is a big working class community, but there are a lot of middle class kids who have good education.
“The players who come out of Southampton are quite intelligent and there might be something in that. We have to put more intelligence into our players here. That’s another side of the academy, it’s very important to not just look after the football side of it, but to also bring the right personalities through.
“We want them to be level headed. Look at Bale, Walcott, Lallana, Shaw, they’re all comfortable with the media, they’re all together sort of guys. That’s not down to location, that’s down to education.”