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Anorak News | Liverpool move to sign another Southampton star from the black box academy

Liverpool move to sign another Southampton star from the black box academy

by | 22nd, November 2016

Transfer Balls: Liverpool are ready to pick up the hotline to Southampton FC and buy two more Saints’ players. The Star leads with news that Liverpool have £40m to spend on Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk and Sam McQueen.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, we read, is “confident” he can prise Van Djik away from the South Coast. Well, he has reason to fancy his chances. Southampton have been willing to sell lots of talent to Liverpool in the past few years –  Sadio Mane, Nathaniel Clyne, Dejan Lovren and Adam Lallana are ex-Saints playing in the Liverpool first XI.

Oddly, the Star’s scoop contains not one single fact to support it.

And such is the way of Transfer Balls that when one newspaper says it, the others slavishly follow.

“LOYAL CUSTOMERS – Liverpool transfer news: Virgil van Dijk and Sam McQueen the latest Southampton players lined up by Reds,” says the Sun. “Jurgen Klopp believes the Dutch giant and classy full-back can help bolster the title-chasing Reds’ leaky defence.”

“Liverpool eyeing Sam McQueen swoop as Reds identify Southampton starlet as defensive target,” echoes the Mirror. The Mirror then guesses: “But they are unlikely to pursue a move for the defender until the summer, when he would become a free agent, after failing to agree a new contract with the south coast club.”

Will McQueen sign a new deal? The Southampton Echo wrote in October: “For McQueen, born and bred in Southampton as a Saints fan, it was an almost overwhelmingly emotional moment to play at St Mary’s.”

McQueen told the Southampton FC website: “…you learn quickly, and Southampton has been amazing with coaching me and teaching me through the years, and recently becoming a left-back, with the manager giving me little coaching points here and there, which have been fantastic. So I’ve been learning a lot and enjoying it a lot, but there’s plenty, plenty more to learn – I know that.”

So will another product of Southampton’s prolific academy leave the club? Maybe. What is clear is that Southampton are getting something right.

In August, Southampton’s academy hosted an experiment. Youth players were grouped not according to age group but by a measure of size and physical maturity. The idea is to counter the Relative Age Effect, “a phenomenon that suggests that athletes at elite level are more likely to be born in the first 3 months after the eligibility cut-off date for a particular age group in sports.” The bigger boys in a school year get picked for the team. The rest get downhearted and discarded.

Gareth Bale’s football teacher at Southampton, Malcolm Elias, told the Times: “He [Bale] was injured a lot and some coaches used to think he was soft. Lots of people questioned whether he wanted it badly enough. I said, ‘Get off his case. He’s a July birthday, is left-footed and can run for fun; what more do you want?’”

But what of money? “You see kids now getting all these things and demanding £50,000 a week,” says Elias. “He[Bale] came here on an ordinary scholarship. There was no haggling, no pro contract. The family was just delighted he was getting an extended opportunity. He was on £45 a week.”

Southampton call McQueen “an incredibly well-spoken young man”. Look at Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, two Southampton graduates sold for big money at a young age to Arsenal. Both speak well and can articulate their thoughts.

Matthew Syed says this is not an accident:

Southampton now have an educational and skills programme running alongside the usual academy functions. This is about building leadership qualities in their young players. They want their future stars to be involved in decision-making on training and rehab, to broaden their minds with education, to widen their social skills, rather than treating them like infants.

“If you want leaders on the pitch, you have to develop their qualities off the pitch,” Les Reed, the technical director, said. “In many academies, education is seen as a waste of time, a distraction from the game. We think that it is central to player development. We need England players who don’t crumble when they are on a big stage and go one-nil down.”

Technology is harnessed and deployed:

In the black box, Koeman can ask to see detailed footage and stats on any player in the world or at the club’s academy. The aim is to make sure that the manager does not need to spend money on a new player when they have one in the pipeline who fits the bill. The complex is shiny and lovely but the principles have been honed over many years. While Arsenal and Manchester United curse how many of their players pick up injuries, Southampton seem serenely to be at full strength. They realised, while at their lowest ebb, in League One, that they simply could not afford to let Lallana become injured, so they devised a way of making sure that all their resources went into making sure their talisman stayed fit.

Southampton aim not for one player to make it thought the ranks and into the first team, but for four or five to progress and play the ‘Southampton way’.

“Our academy vision is to produce a first team year-on-year made up of 50% Academy graduates who are world-class in their technical ability on the field and behaviours off the field competing on the European stage,” say Southampton.

It would be another blow for Saints fans to see McQueen leave. But the club is in great shape. Liverpool, Arenal and other clubs might care to spend less time looking at the end product and more at the process.

 



Posted: 22nd, November 2016 | In: Back pages, Key Posts, Liverpool, Sports Comment | TrackBack | Permalink