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England's Future Should be Found in Southampton

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The Saints have had a phenomenal start to the season, but that's not the only reason why England should follow their model

Julian Finney

Three seasons ago, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert were playing in League One. Today, they sit fifth in the Premier League after a meteoric start to the season, including a hard-earned victory at Liverpool.  Lallana and Lambert are the faces of this success story, with the former recently earning his first caps for England and the latter becoming a bit of a fixture since scoring against Scotland on his England debut. What sets the Saints apart from other early pace-setters is what is under the hood.

Southampton has one of the best academies in the league. In recent years, Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale and Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain have come and gone, the cream of a successful youth system.  The current class, however, has the potential to out-do them all. Luke Shaw is arguably the most coveted fullback in England, immensely mature for his age and still growing - almost as quickly as the list of his suitors.  At the other end of the back four, Nathaniel Clyne balances the line perfectly with Shaw; were it not for Carl Jenkinson, Clyne would be the highest-rated young rightback in England, and is definitely underrated as it stands.  In the middle of the park, James Ward-Prowse (he of the insanely posh name) is starting to reap his full potential, creating moves and controlling play.  He threatens to achieve the promise that comes with regular playing time - developing into a true centre mid in the Lampard/Gerrard mould.  With the centurions approaching retirement (at the international stage, at least), it couldn't come sooner.

Lallana, another academy product, is the old man of the bunch.  Having shown the promise of Walcott, Bale and Oxlaide-Chamberlain, injuries staggered his career, and he has remained at the club with stood by him through the trauma.  The same is almost certainly won't be said of Shaw, Clyne and Ward-Prowse.  Shaw reportedly turned down several clubs, including Manchester United, in the hopes of joining Chelsea, the club he supports; as Clyne and Ward-Prowse continue to excel, doubtless the clubs will come calling.

Beyond the academy, Jay Rodriguez and Rickie Lambert have formed an impressive tandem for the Saints, and the former's first cap is a testament to this.  Among other Englishmen at the club, former Chelsea product Jack Cork impressed under Nigel Adkins, but, with playing time limited under Pochettino, would probably be best off at another club.

Southampton are somewhat emblematic of English football.  With some fine academy products at hand, their billionaire owner has also elected to invest in some of Europe's finest talent (and Dani Osvaldo) to strengthen the squad.  Nevertheless, their squad maintains their English core, and, with their hot start to the season, fumbles at Arsenal aside, this cannot be ignored.