Rangers Look To Southampton For Inspiration
Wednesday, 1st Jun 2016 09:45
Glasgow Rangers are urguably the biggest club in Scotland depending on what side of the divide you fall on, they are on their way back after adversity and now they are looking at the way Saints do things as a blueprint for the way forward.
Officials from Glasgow club Rangers have spent time at Southampton FC recently looking at the way Saints now do things and are looking to build a similar "One Club" philosophy where the club look to play an identical style of football from the first team at the top down to the youngest teams in the structure.
But it is more than just the One Club philosophy that Rangers have been looking at and have also been impressed by the way that Saints at their academy levels put development ahead of results.
This means that they like to loan players out rather than letting them plod around at U21 level, the downside of this is that it weakens the teams that Saints can put out and can give the impression that the group of 18-21 year olds is not as strong as in the past.
However that is not the case in that those players who might well be the foundation of that years U21 team are often out on loan meaning that the squad is not as strong as it might be with often younger players being stepped up a level to fill the gaps.
This impacts down to U18 level, meaning that although Saints U21 squad finished a crediable sixth in the Premier League division 1 this season, the U18 squad were second from bottom in their division.
However the long term strategy is do put development of players ahead of results, Saints would much rather see players achieve their potential than have a youth medal in their trophy cabinet.
That means using the loan system to its full and Saints have loaned out five of their academy squad players in the second half of the season to varying degrees of success.
But loaning players out is not just about giving them experience it is about assessing their quality and ability to play at the highest level, in the past couple of years Saints have made great steps forward in terms of Premier League standing and ambition and those that they might have taken a gamble on giving them a further year as a professional sadly might not get that opportunity now.
But it should not be forgotten that a youth programme has to be financed and over the past 50 years or so going back to the days of Ted Bates it was not just the sale of big names that helped pay for the academy, but the sale of those who did not quite make it at first team level and were sold for smaller fee's that when added together produced a decent chunk of the youth systems costs and that is still the case today, yes it is now a million pound big business, but the club is now run as a business and every department has to bring in income.
All of this has certainly impressed Rangers who are no looking to use Saints as a blue print for their own resurgence back to the top of their country's Premier League after a journey very similar in terms of drop to Saints.
Rangers academy boss Craig Mulholland feels that his club are now on the right track after spending time at Saints.
"We've just spent time down at Southampton. They finished second bottom of the English Under-18 Premier League. Nobody cares ! nobody cares, because they are producing players for the first team", Mulholland said on Rangers TV.
"Their best ones are out on loan and the younger ones come up.
"Now with Rangers I think one of the things we have achieved this year hopefully is educating the staff, the players and the wider fan base to say that doesn't matter. What matters is producing players for Rangers."
"And it's getting that balance because Rangers players must be winners and when they pull on that blue jersey they must realise that they must go on and win the game, that will never change.
"But it's the decisions that we take should be for the players' development as opposed to winning football matches"
It is interesting that so many teams now see Saints as groundbreaking in youth development, it is also satisfying because it is a system that has been in place since the 1950's when Ted Bates came into the club, completely overhauled it and took it up from Division three to the top flight for firt time back in 1966.
Since then Saints have always been known for producing players through the ranks and although it is a system that has constantly been changed and upgraded to suit the changing face of football, it is one that with the exception of a couple of barren periods has in the main produced some gems.
The problem is with academy set ups though, is that you never find out if you are getting it right until 10 years up the road, if you take our last golden period of 2010-12 when the likes of Alex Oxlade Chamberlain Luke Shaw, Calum Chambers, James Ward Prowse etc al broke through, they had all been at the club for around 6-7 years at this point, what this told us was that the set up was getting things right in scouting the talent back in 2005.
Now we are finding out how good we were back in 2009-10, in truth we were just coming out of a period where before that date we were strapped for cash, so perhaps money was not invested in the youth system because it was not there.
But the main thing is that it is now still being invested in and seen as a priority, although the problem is as mentioned earlier is that it is becoming harder and harder for youngsters to break into the first team when it is competing at the top of the premier League.
That can be evidenced by the fact that 18 months ago our bench would often have youth players like Harrison Reed, Lloyd Isgrove, Sam Gallagher, Jake Hesketh etc on it, now that is becoming rarer as the squad in general becomes stronger.
That is a by product of our success, but I hope that youth does still get its chance at St Mary's in the future and that we don't become like Chelsea where their youth players are almost bred purely because they have to have a youth system and not with any real ambition that they actually produce first team players.
But the fact is eve back over the past 40 years, if the youth system produces one genuine first team regular and talent in a 2-3 year period then it is doing it's job, if it produces two then it is doing very well, more than that was exceptional even back in the 70's.
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