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FourFourTwo Football League blogger Chris Cox explains why Southampton's bright young thing's interests may be better served by staying with the South Coast club rather than jumping ship for a top Premier League side such as Arsenal or Manchester United...
They say that love is blindness. It appears ambition is too.
Once again, the scent of young blood has got caught up in the nostrils of those occupying the upper echelons of English football. There’s a new kid on the block and word is, he’s pretty good. But he’s not playing for a club with immediate desires for the top prizes - the Premier League, the FA Cup, the Champions League, The World…
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Southampton’s latest in a long line of football prodigies, has found himself in the limelight. The son of former England international Mark Chamberlain has already achieved great popularity at Saints, not only thanks to his speedy ascension into the St Mary’s first team, but also by causing uproar at Portsmouth.
When Mark, formerly a youth coach at Fratton Park, announced he wouldn’t be sending his son to play in the blue half of Hampshire, opting instead for the prestige of Southampton‘s prolific academy system - he ended up being forced to suspect that his parenting skills were being rewarded with a P45[link]. The kid had to be something special.
Anyone who has seen the Arsenal and Manchester United target in action this season will say that he most certainly is. Some outstanding displays on the wing, including two chipped goals from the touchline against Dagenham & Redbridge say it all. He’s got confidence, skill and a cool head. Southampton have done it again - unearthed another England star of the future.
Oxlade-Chamberlain has been a revelation at St Mary's this season
Arsenal lead the chase for the youngster’s signature - with Manchester United and Liverpool also said to be strongly in the hunt - with £10 million said to be Southampton’s asking price. But is a 17 year old with no experience of top-flight football really worth so much?
Perhaps these clubs, particularly Arsenal, would be better served by investing that money into own their academies - with the top sides increasingly getting into the habit of pilfering the top youngsters from smaller clubs just as they’re starting to develop, very few players truly ‘come through the ranks‘ at the elite clubs. For example, Arsenal’s England international Kieran Gibbs spent three years with Wimbledon before being snapped up by the Gunners at 15, while highly-rated Manchester United prospect Tom Cleverley arrived at Old Trafford from Bradford City at the same age.
In 2005, Arsenal’s ’recruitment drive’ included one Theo Walcott, who had recently made his debut for Southampton and looked every bit the pocket-sized wing dynamo. Blessed with blistering pace, impressive technique and bundles of flair, it wasn’t long before a pre-contract agreement with Saints was torn up as the big boys came calling.
Arsenal would be young Theo’s destination, despite interest from his boyhood club (not that he had yet ceased to be a boy, really) Liverpool and a last-gasp bid by a Chelsea side that had just won their first title in over 50 years under the stewardship of one José Mourinho. A £10 million deal was thrashed out with Saints’ chairman Rupert Lowe insisting his visit to Arsenal’s training ground was just a fact finding mission, and not the two clubs talking business.
A year later, rookie left back Gareth Bale was making a similar sized splash on the south coast, owing principally to his accuracy from dead ball situations, lung bursting runs and a level-headedness uncommon with young pros. Bale was seen as having the potential to take Southampton back into the top flight after a two year absence, and came close to doing so in 2006/07 when he helped Saints finish sixth in the Championship, only to be defeated in the play-off semi-finals by eventual promotees Derby County.
Deep in conversation with a referee - Fergie will love that...
Like Walcott, the Welshman had put in a series of scintillating displays in the second tier and had caused Premier League heads to turn. Such was the interest in the player that Liverpool were having scouts turned away by security at Southampton’s Staplewood training ground.
But following the team’s penalty shoot-out defeat at Pride Park interested parties could be kept from the door no longer, and another glimmer of hope for Saints fans was gone. Bale also left for North London, opting for Tottenham over Manchester United for a fee rising to £10 million.
Despite an impressive start, with goals against Fulham and Arsenal in his early matches, it was only in the second half of last season, three years after Bale’s move to N17, that he was considered to have gone anywhere near fulfilling his huge potential.
Physically Bale is now a completely different animal from the slight full-back who found himself burnt out after half a season in red and white. He now looks every inch the real deal, an superb athlete with an excellent touch and the ability to put in some amazing crosses from the left wing.
But nonetheless, it wasn’t instant. Who could forget the stat trotted out every other weekend: ‘Tottenham have never won a league game with Bale in the team’ that took over two years to shake.
Alex will hope to follow in dad Mark's footsteps and play for England
Despite hitting a hat-trick for England in Croatia back in September 2008, Theo Walcott has rarely if ever fully lived up to the hype. Questions constantly arise over his ‘footballing brain’ or lack thereof, as well as his injury record. Five years since moving and Walcott seems now to be just another Arsenal squad player rather than the stand-out genius he perhaps could have been.
Both Bale and Walcott moved as soon as their names hit the gossip columns. There was never any question of learning their trade and then moving on at a later date. Put simply, there should have been.
If the two were so confident in their ability and potential to further improve then they should also had belief that a move at a later date could have and would have materialised. Their transfers were surely not ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunities given their obvious talent.
It soon became evident that Southampton were desperate for the money anyway, and even if the pair had wanted to stay, the club’s finances would have forced hands in the boardroom and they would have been sold on. This time around Southampton are on a far more stable financial footing, so it seems that the decision as to whether or not the youngster leaves will be purely the down to the man himself.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain ought to take a step back and properly assess the two paths he can choose.
Go to one of England’s top sides and risk stagnating and maybe even not realising his potential by playing reserve team games and warming benches, or for the time being stay at Southampton where he will be first choice in a team playing good football and fighting back to the Championship.
Sadly it seems that the former is more likely, which may be good news for Arsene Wenger or Sir Alex Ferguson, who could probably do with another nipper for their Carling Cup Playground XIs…
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