Built on Saints
built on youth
The past 20 years have seen many great players step onto the St Mary’s turf. However, perhaps the most significant have been those who made the step up from the Academy to become fully fledged Saints.
The club has always been committed to identifying and developing exceptional young players who can flourish as professionals, with a raft of well known talent having graduated from our Academy.
Here we celebrate those players that were particularly significant because of how they went on to become stars that have lit up the Premier League and beyond - through helping the club to progress out of the lower leagues and back to the top table, or for the huge impact they made on the game globally, helping to build our reputation as a club that strives for excellence and champions youth.
5. Luke Shaw
28th January 2012
Millwall vs Saints, FA Cup fourth round
16 years and 200 days
Progressing through the ranks from the age of seven in the same youth team as James Ward-Prowse and Calum Chambers, Shaw made his debut as a substitute in a 1-1 draw at Millwall in the FA Cup. Ten months later, he became the youngest Saint ever to start a Premier League match, and never looked back. Boasting a stocky, powerful physique, the left-back was already tailor-made for men’s football and quickly became a regular starter under Nigel Adkins and Mauricio Pochettino, earning a place in England’s World Cup squad at the tender age of 18. A move to Manchester United followed, where injuries initially hampered his progress, but 2020/21 was the best season of his career to date, capped by some outstanding performances at the Euros, including the opening goal in the final.
4. Adam Lallana
23rd August 2006
Saints vs Yeovil, League Cup first round
18 years and 105 days
Slightly later to bloom was the slight figure of Lallana, who relied on exceptional balance, intelligence and dazzling footwork to earn his chance with the big boys. Helping to set up the opening goal 25 minutes into his first outing was a sign of things to come, but the midfielder did not nail down a place until his 20s. Instrumental in Saints’ rise from League One to the Championship, Lallana’s dancing feet were a joy to watch, leading to 60 goals and an avalanche of assists over the course of his six seasons as a regular. Later named captain under Pochettino, he had a formidable understanding with Rickie Lambert, and the pair were both selected for England for the first time in 2013. Lallana won the Premier League and Champions League with Liverpool, who he joined in 2014.
3. James Ward-Prowse
25th October 2011
Crystal Palace vs Saints, League Cup fourth round
16 years and 358 days
Debuting just shy of his 17th birthday, Ward-Prowse played the full 90 minutes at Selhurst Park, before scoring his first goal in his second appearance, in the FA Cup at Coventry. Trusted in the Premier League from an early age by Adkins, Pochettino and Ronald Koeman followed suit as Ward-Prowse became a mainstay of the Saints midfield. Blessed with a unique talent for delivering a dead ball, the 26-year-old has proved he has plenty more to his game by flourishing into the complete package under Ralph Hasenhüttl, adding more aggression and goals. Now the driving force of the team, Ward-Prowse was given the captaincy in 2020 and currently has eight England caps to his name, having previously skippered the Three Lions at Under-21 level under current senior boss Gareth Southgate.
2. Theo Walcott
6th August 2005
Saints vs Wolves, Championship
16 years and 143 days
A trailblazer for many more to follow, Walcott was Saints’ original boy wonder when he burst on to the scene as a 16-year-old. Introduced from the bench on the opening day of the 2005/06 Championship campaign, it soon became apparent the teenager was more than just an impact substitute. With five goals to his name before the end of January, Walcott was snapped up by Arsenal in a deal that helped to stabilise Saints’ finances following relegation from the Premier League. Included in the World Cup squad at 17, Walcott has gone on to amass 47 England caps and won three FA Cups for Arsenal, for whom he scored more than 100 goals. Now back where it all began, Walcott is a key figure at St Mary’s once again and an inspiration to the next generation of Academy graduates.
1. Gareth Bale
17th April 2006
Saints vs Millwall, Championship
16 years and 275 days
A four-time Champions League winner and Wales’ record goalscorer, Bale has catapulted himself to global stardom, but it was through the Southampton school that his talent was nurtured. Born in Cardiff, he joined Saints’ Bath Academy at the age of nine, and seven years later he was representing the first team. A precocious young left-back, he started the last two home games of the season against Millwall and Leicester, both of which Saints won without conceding. In 2006/07 Bale took off, making a name for himself as a scorer of spectacular free-kicks, whilst showcasing outstanding attributes in defence and attack. Still only 17, Bale joined Tottenham at the end of the season and soon moved further up the pitch, adopting an influential forward role and twice winning the PFA Player of the Year award before signing for Real Madrid to play alongside Cristiano Ronaldo. With over 200 career goals to his name, including one of the most iconic in Champions League history in the 2018 final against Liverpool, Bale also inspired Wales to reach the semi-finals of Euro 2016 to cement his place as a modern great and arguably the finest British player of all time.