Football fans love dwelling on what might have been, pondering on what if. None more so than Southampton fans and with the Saints track record of selling players it is easy to see why. The previous two summer transfer windows have brought about well documented high profile exits from St.Mary’s, with the nucleus of the side that won successive promotions into the Premier League ripped apart. Compounding this, prior years have also seen Southampton academy youngsters poached by bigger clubs, one in particular becoming the world’s most expensive footballer.
So those on the red side of Hampshire’s footballing divide may well spend their quieter, more reflective moments putting together a first XI of former Southampton players.
Here’s my take on what a Southampton XI could have been – bittersweet reading for Saints fans with the realisation of talents lost. I line up the ex-Southampton boys in an attacking looking 4-1-3-2 (wide) for any Football Manager buffs.
Not a glamourous selection compared to some of the others featured in this XI, but Boruc represents a solid, competent selection – literally a safe pair of hands. Now plying his trade further west along the South Coast at Premier League newbies AFC Bournemouth, Boruc joined Saints in 2012 when they themselves were newly promoted to the top flight. The 35 year old stopper has a wealth of experience with games at the highest level in his native Poland as well as Scotland, Italy and the Premier League. The 60 cap man is a dependable choice, and an assured start to our line-up.
One of the most recent departures from St.Mary’s, Nathaniel Clyne is a member of a seemingly ever-growing clique – ex-Saints at Liverpool. Southampton signed Clyne from Crystal Palace in 2012 and the right back has featured heavily in all three of Southampton’s Premier League seasons until this current campaign. Blessed with an abundance of pace and with seven full England caps to his name, the 24 year old justifies his £12.5 million pound price tag. In this formation Clyne may have to reign in his attacking instinct and play more like an old fashioned full back to provide cover for his defence, as his compatriot on the right wing is likely to be high up the pitch. However, he is still a fantastic option at right back.
A natural right sided defender, but also adept at playing in the middle, Calum Chambers is still very much a work in progress at the age of just 20. Chambers only got one full Premier League season under his belt in a Southampton shirt before Arsenal pinched the Petersfield born man for around £16 million (with add-ons). However with a further year’s development with the Gunners and three full England caps in 2014, Chambers shows much promise and sophistication on the ball, as you’d expect from someone schooled both on the South Coast and at Arsenal. With time very much on his side, expect big things from Chambers, and that is why he will slot in perfectly at centre back in this XI.
Lovren, like Clyne, now plays for Liverpool and the Croatian international could be a physical and nasty compliment to Chambers in the heart of defence. At 6 ft 2 Lovren is certainly an aerial threat in both boxes and can bring some physicality within the laws of the game, utilising his experience from playing at the top level in Croatia, France and the Premier League. The Croat’s performances did suffer during his debut Liverpool season, but that will make Lovren more determined than ever to rectify that this season at Anfield. If he can replicate his form from his solitary Saints season then the XI will have another quality centre back.
Luke Shaw was the Southampton pin-up boy of the 2013/14 season. It’s fairly easy to see why, with his evident talent on the left, his boyish good looks, and the fact that he was an academy graduate playing Premier League football as a teenager. In fact, Shaw could well have gone down in Southampton folklore with the likes of Channon and Le Tissier if he had stayed at St.Mary’s. All the ingredients were there as aforementioned – talent and being an academy graduate. Southampton fans will argue that Shaw could have played Premier League football for his entire career without leaving Hampshire. Unfortunately for them he did not see it that way and joined Louis Van Gaal’s self-proclaimed “Red Army”. The £30 million pound teenager initially struggled at Old Trafford (especially with fitness) but this year looks set for a breakout season in Manchester. Set to be England’s left back for some time, Shaw is a no-brainer selection.
Had he had his own way, Morgan Schneiderlin would likely have left Southampton a summer before he actually did. However, to his credit, he stayed an extra season and did not let his desire to leave effect his performances. This summer the move finally came, but not to Arsenal or Tottenham Hotspur as many imagined but to Manchester United, with Schneiderlin signing on the same day as German midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger. On his day one of the best midfielders in the Premier League, Schneiderlin is expert at interceptions and also has a fantastic pass completion percentage. The beating heart of the midfield, Schneiderlin is noted for being a ballast of a side and this stability and balance is just what this XI needs to counter the attacking width and flair.
Attacking midfielder (right):
In some ways it’s hard to believe that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is still only 22. The current Arsenal player has played 22 times for his country including at the previous European Championships and FIFA World Cup, as well have having two FA Cup winners’ medals to his name. Affectionately known as “The Ox”, Oxlade-Chamberlain moved to Arsenal from Southampton in 2011 after just one full season, and days before his 18th birthday. It was a gamble by Arsenal to spend up to £15 million with add-ons on a player who had only played 36 times in League One, scoring 9 goals. However, this has proved to be money well spent with “The Ox” starring in every Arsenal Premier League campaign since, mostly out wide, but also sometimes through the middle. Saints fans cannot begrudge Oxlade-Chamberlain’s birthplace of Portsmouth considering the money received for him, and his role played in Southampton’s promotion to the Championship in 2011 (for which he was rewarded with a place in the PFA League One Team of the Year). Blistering pace is in his possession, and that would be fantastic on the right hand side of this XI.
Attacking midfielder (centre):
“Adam Lallana makes Messi look sh*te”
So went the perhaps ambitious song, before the man with the most games for Southampton in this XI (265) ventured to Merseyside in the summer of 2014. Lallana, another academy graduate played for Southampton across the top three divisions of English football, like the man behind him in this semi-diamond like formation – Morgan Schneiderlin. During the League One spell Lallana made the PFA Team of Year along with club teammate (then and in this XI) Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and funnily enough the season after did the same in the Championship, only this time alongside Crystal Palace’s Nathaniel Clyne. Saints made a cool £25 million from Lallana’s sale, and considering his tepid first season at Liverpool that looks good business, although when on-song he can be the key to unlock a stubborn opposition defence which wins him many admirers – former England (and ironically Southampton) boss Glenn Hoddle a particularly vocal one. Lallana can play on the left or in an attacking central position, and it is the latter that he will be deployed here. His creativity to thread balls through to our pacey striker or wingers will be invaluable.
Attacking midfielder (left):
Gareth Bale (C)
The world’s most expensive footballer, and the focal point of a nation’s footballing hopes and dreams: Gareth Bale. Cardiff boy Bale is now a global superstar and plays for the one of the most financially lucrative sides in the world – Real Madrid. Lining up alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, Bale does well to not be overshadowed, and after a slow start to life at the Santiago Bernabeu is now a fan favourite. Bale is also a hero for Wales and has played a significant part in their qualification for the 2016 European Championships.
Bale played a full season for Southampton (2006/07) winning a place in the PFA Championship Team of the Year at just 17. Tottenham Hotspur then purchased the Welshman for an initial fee of £5 million, which could have risen to £10 million, but Spurs paid Saints an extra £2 million in 2008 when the latter desperately needed cash which settled the extras. Probably the worse bit of business done by Southampton in this XI, although you can see why with the financial ruin the club were in.
In 2013 Real Madrid paid somewhere between £77 and £80 million, making the £7 million Spurs paid an absolute steal. Like his time in Spain, he struggled initially in North London and was almost sold to Birmingham City for £3 million in 2009/10 *shudders*. But Bale proved the doubters wrong, winning a place in the Premier League team of the year for the next three seasons. Quick, a threat at free kicks and even recently adding headed goals to his game Bale is obviously the star of this XI, even taking the Captain’s armband.
Target men don’t come much better than two metre Peter. Wherever he has played the 6ft7 forward has scored goals, as well as having infamous “good feet for a big man”. Yet another to leave St.Mary’s for Liverpool, Macclesfield born Crouch played for Southampton in the 2004/05 season, scoring 12 Premier League goals and 16 in all competitions. Despite two separate spells at Portsmouth, Crouch did the business when at Southampton and gets the nod in this XI over Rickie Lambert. Lambert was very close to featuring as the target man in this XI, but with Bale on set pieces and with Crouch having more international pedigree and goals in the top flight, the former Bristol Rovers man misses out. With Bale and the Ox on the wings there will be plenty of balls into the box, and who better than Crouchie to be on the end of them. He will also compliment the other striker in this line up exceptionally well.
Like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Calum Chambers, Theo Walcott is currently an Arsenal player, and like Gareth Bale left Southampton almost a decade ago. Walcott made his debut against Wolves for Southampton at just 16 in August 2005. He then went onto play a major role for Saints that season before Arsenal came knocking in the January of 2006.
Again, like Bale, the initial fee of £5 million was supposed to rise to £12 million with further installments, but due to the South Coast side’s fiscal difficulties a final fee of £9.1 million was agreed in March 2008 – very good business for Mr. Wenger indeed. Walcott didn’t feature at all for Arsenal until the start of the 2006/07 season, but regardless still received a shock call up to Sven-Goran Eriksson’s 2006 England World Cup squad.
Despite suffering from occasional injury problems, when fit Walcott is remarkably consistent for Arsenal and can be deployed either on the right wing or down the middle. The 2012/13 season was Theo’s most successful, scoring 14 Premier League goals and 21 in all competitions. The former Swindon Town and Newbury youth player also has 41 England caps to his name. In this XI he could be very dangerous down the middle, running onto Crouch flick-ons or Lallana threaded through balls – 11 goals in his last 11 Arsenal matches shows the form he’s in.
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