The 2020/21 season has provided an opportunity for many of Southampton’s youngsters to shine, perhaps none more so than 21-year-old Nathan Tella.
Despite making his debut for Saints last season against Norwich, it was the 2020/21 season that really saw the youngster flourish.
Having now featured in 22 matches for Saints, Tella reflected on his experiences with the first team in a somewhat out-of-the-ordinary season.
“I’ve done a lot better than I expected really,” he admits. “Since the first game of the season I’ve been involved in most of the games which has superseded my expectations.
“Obviously after I made my debut last season during lockdown, I thought after that I’d go back to the under 23’s because I’d only just come back from my injury.
“I thought I’d go back there, play with them up until Christmas and see what the future holds for me from there. But the fact that I’ve been able to be in the matchday squad, experience all the other stadiums and play world class opponents, even start some games, it’s an amazing feeling.”
Tella made his first full debut for Saints against Brentford in the Carabao Cup, while the result wasn’t a favourable one – it positioned Tella well for the next few months.
“I was shocked," Tella declares on receiving the news. "It’s hard to put into words but I guess being in that first team environment you don’t really have time to show nerves.
“Once we finished the training session I told my mum, told my friends, told my dad that I was starting and yeah, it was just a great day and even though the result wasn’t the greatest I can look back on it and think that was the start of my journey.”
Tella has also been introduced to FA Cup action this season, even providing the assist for Stuart Armstrong’s last gasp goal against Wolves in the fifth round.
“The fact that I played 7 minutes in the FA Cup and again that was my first FA Cup involvement.
“The fact that I was able to get an assist in that game was just another great feeling and the fact that my friends were videoing me when I got my assist, they could all see how happy I was."
“My family sent me so many messages. My friends, my cousins, everyone – it was just an amazing feeling.
“Personally, I felt like that was the start of me to kick on now. That was the confidence boost I needed, I got my assist for the team, we got through to the next round and I was able to impact the game, help Stu get the goal and help the team win.
It really was a decisive moment for Tella, who continued to play a pivotal role in both the league and in Saints’ impressive FA Cup run.
The youngster is quick to credit his teammates in aiding his progression this season,
“They’ve all helped me, defenders have helped me, midfielders have helped me, goalkeepers have helped me, strikers have helped me.
“I just feel like they’ve all given me that confidence to go out on that pitch and show what I can do. They all say I’m here for a reason, I must be doing all the right things."
“Just hearing professional players who have played in the Premier League for seasons upon seasons, it helps me.
“The fact that they’ve said that just gives me even more confidence to go out and express myself and play with no fear and not to be nervous about who I’m up against, whether it’s an experienced player or another young player making their debut.
“It’s just an amazing feeling knowing they’ve given me that confidence to go out and perform on the level that I’m able to perform at. I’m just thankful to them as well.”
As the Premier League season draws to a close, Tella reflects on the absence of fans and his desire to impress on a wide scale.
“I’ve only played one game in front of the fans, that was the Man City game. At the time that was my longest minutes with the team and the fact that the fans were there gave me an extra boost as well as the team."
“Even though we lost that game, we had that extra push to go out and impress the fans. We wanted to score more, we wanted to attack more and we wanted to play good football.
“I felt that even though we lost the game, we were still able to hold out heads high and we were able to show the fans that we’re an attacking team, we’re here to play football.
“I think the fans give everyone the confidence, I just hope that if I do get the opportunity to play in front of the fans they’ll see what they’ve been seeing from me this season, that I’m confident, I’m direct and I continue to do the right things.
“More importantly, so the team can see that I’m doing the right things and regardless of the fans being there or not I still stick to my principles, still do all the right things to help the team and then do the things for me which have helped me get into the position I’m in now,”
Positivity and ambition radiates from the 21-year-old, and having recently scored his debut senior goal, there’s no telling what the future holds for this Southampton starlight.